Kazakh Local Stories Find Global Audience at International Film Festivals

ASTANA – Kazakh cinema is having its moment this autumn with three acclaimed films nominated for the 16th Asia Pacific Screen Awards (APSA) which will take place in the city of Gold Coast, Australia on Nov. 3. Additionally, films addressing nuclear tests and women’s rights will premiere at international film festivals in Busan and Tokyo.

Still from the “Brothers” movie nominated for the ASPA Best Director category. Photo credit: kazakhcinema.kz

Presentation of Kazakh films at international film festivals is a celebration of untold stories that transcend borders and allow international viewers to experience the dynamism of Kazakh society and history.

Three Kazakh films in Australia

Three distinct stories presented at APSA do not necessarily compete with Hollywood but tell important local stories that may find a global audience.

Aisultan Seitov’s debut movie “QASH” (Run) is in the running for both Best Cinematography and Best Film nominations at APSA, competing with films from Japan, China, and Georgia. Notably, among its competitors is “Evil Does Not Exist” by Ryusuke Hamaguchi, the esteemed winner of the Grand Jury Prize at the 80th Venice International Film Festival.

Kazakh filmmaker Aisultan Seitov won Best Director Award at the 25th Shanghai International Film Festival. Photo credit: Qara Production.

“QASH” tells the story of the tragic Kazakh famine as a result of the Soviet collectivization campaign in the 1930s through the personal story of two brothers. 

Earlier this year, the film won the Best Director Award at the 25th Shanghai International Film Festival.

Askhat Kuchinchirekov’s debut film “Bauryna Salu” (Adoption) is competing in the Best Youth Film category, while “Brothers” by Darkhan Tulegenov is nominated for the ASPA Best Director category.

“Bauryna Salu” is a coming-of-age story told from a young boy’s perspective, who was given at birth to his grandmother for upbringing, following the age-old Kazakh tradition known as “bauryna salu.” It premiered at the 71st edition of the San Sebastián film festival competing in the New Directors category.

Still from the “Brothers” movie. Photo credit: kazakhcinema.kz

Tulegenov’s “Brothers” is another testament to the creative prowess of the emerging Kazakh filmmakers. It follows an orphan who is convinced that his father is alive and embarks on a determined quest to find him upon leaving the orphanage.

Last year, “Brothers” received the Spirit of Cinema award at the Internationales Filmfest Oldenburg in Germany and this year it was recognized by the Association of Film Critics of Kazakhstan as the Best Drama in 2022.

Film “Aikai” in Busan, South Korea

Kenzhebek Shaikakov’s film “Aikai” (Scream), which sheds light on the plight of the victims of the Semipalatinsk nuclear test site, was presented to the South Korean audience during the Busan International Film Festival on Oct. 4-13, as reported by Khabar 24 news agency.

Still from the “Aikai” movie. Photo credit: inform.kz

While the film wasn’t part of the primary competition lineup, it secured a spot in the Window on Asian Cinema section. It stood out as the sole Central Asian representation among 30 showcased films.

“We drew from real-life accounts for certain details and scenes. Local people told us their stories. I think the idea of the movie and its atmosphere will be relatable to Asian audiences because the atomic bombings of Japan are similar to the nuclear tests in Kazakhstan,” said director Shaikakov.

The premiere was an eye-opener for many attendees, with some discovering for the first time that Kazakhstan had been a site for nuclear tests. Among the audience was an individual who had personally experienced the aftermath of these nuclear detonations.

Film expert Hong Sang Woo stated that the film opens the chapters of nuclear testing history largely unknown to the world.

“Through this movie, we can understand some of Kazakhstan’s history, particularly the harrowing era of nuclear weapons testing during Soviet rule. Very little is known about this in South Korea,” he said.

Film “Madina” in Tokyo, Japan

Kazakh filmmaker Aizhan Kassymbekova’s “Madina” has been selected for the Tokyo International Film Festival to be featured in the Asian Future competition section. 

Aizhan Kassymbekova. Photo credit: personal archive/inform.kz

Due to be unveiled on Oct. 28, the film follows the story of a single mother, the family’s sole breadwinner, who struggles to take care of her old grandmother, a withdrawn younger brother, and a two-year-old daughter.

“Madina” delves into the struggles faced by many Kazakh women, while keeping their stories private.

“Society often does not accept women who decide to give birth and raise children without a spouse, leaving them to grapple with challenges such as seeking alimony on their own. Many women in the country and in the world find themselves in this situation,” said Kassymbekova in an interview with Kazinform news agency.

“The Kazakh film industry often features films about the hardships of women, thus drawing attention to the problems of domestic violence,” she added.

On the topic of who can truly grasp and portray women’s emotions, Kassymbekova said: “I don’t agree with the opinion that only female directors should make movies about women. I believe that a man can also feel the depth of women’s problems. Anything beyond that is stereotypes.”

Her interest in making films can be attributed to her early exposure to the industry and movie classics.

“My father was a director, mostly making children’s movies. I inherited my passion for cinema from him because my whole childhood was spent watching big-budget films,” she said.

Nonetheless, drawing her talent out into the world was not straightforward.

“My father once explicitly told me: ‘Aizhan, never go into the film industry, because you will suffer endlessly, you will have no money.’ Taking his advice to heart, I went to study international relations. Then somehow life brought me to the movie world. After university, I did not start filming right away. I took time to mentally ready myself for the journey,” said Kassymbekova.

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