Magazine article Screen International

Steppe in a Global Direction

Magazine article Screen International

Steppe in a Global Direction

Article excerpt

An exciting new Kazakh director is earning comparisons with Guy Ritchie and Timur Bekmambetov and has attracted an illustrious international team to shoot a coming-of-age film aimed at global audiences. Liz Shackleton reports

Surrounded by snow-capped mountains, Kazakh director Akan Satayev is shooting a scene from Myn Bala in which his young hero, Sartai, returns from a hunting trip. This section of the shoot has been delayed for a few days due to rain storms, but the breathtaking scenery makes the wait worthwhile.

"We're shooting 95% on location so we're at the mercy of the sun, wind and rain," says Satayev, who has prior experience of the wilderness; two years ago he shot psychological thriller Strayed on the vast Kazakh steppe.

Another challenge is the intense and fast-changing light. The film's DoP, Khasan Kydyraliyev, is used to these conditions. He comes from neighbouring Kyrgyzstan and worked on award-winning Kyrgyz drama The Light Thief. "On a big movie like this we do wide shots in the morning and evening, and close-ups in the afternoon," he explains.

Myn Bala is a $7m historical adventure and an important milestone for Kazakhstan's burgeoning local film industry. It is also being made with the international market in mind.

State-owned Kazakhfilm Studios started developing the project just over a year ago when young writers Zhaik Syzdykov and Mouhamed Mamyrbekov approached them with the basic concept for the script.

'It was important to us that this story could be understood all over the world'Anna Katchko, producer

Kazakhfilm agreed to fully finance and under its policy of developing public-private partnerships, sought private production companies for development and production. The winning bids came from Satayev's Sataifilm and New Film Format, founded by Aliya Uvalzhanova, an Almaty-based producer with credits including The Gift To Stalin.

A big difference between this film and previous Kazakh epics such as Nomad (2005), also financed by Kazakhfilm, and Sergei Bodrov's Mongol (2007), a co-production with Russia and Germany, is that Myn Bala is aimed at the youth market with its coming-of-age story and mostly teenage cast.

Sartai is played by 17-year-old Asylkhan Tolepov, selected from an open casting call in which 22,000 young Kazakhs auditioned. The lead actress, 18-year-old Aliya Telebarisova, has starred in a top-rating local TV series.

Satayev has strong appeal for a youth audience. His credits include gangster movie Racketeer (2007), which remains the territory's highest-ever grossing film four years after its release, while his most recent title, Liquidator, released in April, is a revenge fable featuring UK actor Vinnie Jones.

Myn Bala is taking him in an entirely new direction. Set in the 18th century, the story follows a young Kazakh boy who rises up against the powerful Dzhungar tribe to help secure the independence of his people. The film's climactic battle is based on the 1729 Battle of Anyrakay between the Kazakhs and Mongolian Dzhungars, while Sartai's story is drawn from a local myth about a thousand boys (the "myn bala" of the title) who band together to fight the invading hordes.

Filming took place between April and July this year, with production and post-production done simultaneously. Unlike most Kazakh productions, the film was shot in sync sound with multiple cameras and some of the CGI team were present on the set. …

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