Film by Kazakh Director to Compete at Berlinale

ASTANA – For the first time in Kazakhstan’s history, a film directed by a Kazakh director has been chosen to enter the Berlin International Film Festival. “Harmony Lessons,” by Amir Baygazin, will be part of the main competition in this year’s 63rd Berlinale.

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Amir Baygazin hopes his “Harmony Lessons” will impress the critics and judges of the Berlinale.

The Berlin International Film Festival, held every February since 1951, is one of the world’s leading film festivals. In contrast to the Cannes Film Festival, the Berlinale focuses on progressive geopolitical cinema.

This year, there were over 3,000 applications from all over the world seeking to participate in the Berlinale. The final 19 films in competition represent 21 countries. Steven Soderbergh’s “Side Effects,” “Closed Parde” (“a curtain” in Persian) by Jafar Panahi, “An Episode in the Life of an Iron Picker” by Oscar winner Danis Tanovic, films by Bruno Dumont and Gus Van Sant and other well-known names in the world of cinema will compete alongside newcomers. Russia will be represented by a film by Boris Khlebnikov, “A Long and Happy Life.”

“Harmony Lessons” first declared itself at the synopsis at Open Doors film forum on a film festival in Locarno, in 2010. In 2011, the film was awarded with the main prize of “The Kazakhstan Market for Film Projects.

Shooting of the film was completed in early July 2012, and few days later the first cut was presented at the International Film Festival in Sarajevo, where the film won first place in the special projects competition of works-in-progress. A competition for films in post-production (works-in-progress) has been held in Sarajevo for several years.

The main criteria for selecting projects – participants of the work-in-progress must have international rental potential and interest of large festivals in their films. “Harmony Lessons” also won the Berlinale World Cinema Fund Prize in 2012, becoming the first Kazakhstan film to be supported by the fund.

The Berlinale World Cinema Fund was established in 2004 by the Berlin Film Festival to support films that “come laden with innovative aesthetic approach, tell the powerful stories and have a unique artistic vision.” The Berlinale World Cinema Fund annually gives several monetary awards to projects in production.

The international jury was impressed by the film’s aesthetics, but shocked by its cruelty.

“Harmony Lessons” is a psychological drama. The film is about a teenager, Aslan, who is trying to stop violence in his school, but eventually finds himself caught up in a crime. The main role in the film is played 14-year-old Timur Aidarbekov, a resident of Almaty’s orphanage.

Scriptwriter and director of “Harmony Lessons” Emir Baygazin has participated in the Asian Film Academy at the Pusan International Film Festival and the Berlin Talent Campus at the Berlinale. His short films have won awards at international film festivals. In 2005, he played a role in the film “Night Watch” by Timur Bekmambetov. He went on to produce the independent film “Silhouettes of Almaty.”

Only once before has Kazakhstan been represented in the main competition at a festival of this scale, in 1995, 18 years ago, in Venice, with the film “Cardiogram,” directed by Darezhan Omirbaev.

The Berlinale will be held from February 7-17. The winners will be announced on February 16.

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