Central Asia state pumps money into pics, facilities

ALMATY, KAZAKHSTAN — A new wave of local films and co-productions is set to put Kazakhstan on the international movie map.

The oil- and gas-rich central Asia state — politically stable with good relations with Russia and Western powers — regards film as a tool of national unity and international prestige, and is pumping money into movies and facilities.

Government-owned Kazakhfilm, the country’s biggest production facility, has 76 projects, including eight features in the works and a three-year budget of $70 million.

An extensive modernization program, launched two years ago, means the studios — situated on the outskirts of Almaty, the country’s biggest city — already has the best-equipped sound, digital transfer, color correction and other post-production facilities in the region. A revamp of the studio’s two soundstages is under way.

Didar Amantai, head of script development, says the appointment of new management two years ago had given the studios a new lease on life.

“The studios now perform a much wider role than in the past. We have a center for project development, liaise with producers and support the regional and international distribution of Kazakh films,” he says.

In a market still dominated by Hollywood, the studio is proud of the increase in local film’s market share in the past two years: from 3% to 7% today.

As many as 90% of films are made with state money, including this summer’s cult hit “Tale of a Pink Bunny,” a Russian-language story about the edgy world of Almaty’s gilded youth, from 27-year-old director Farkhat Sharipov.

Although Kazakhstan is a market in which a 30-35 print release is considered big, the potential for funding, as well as increasingly modern facilities, are attracting outside interest.

Gerard Depardieu stars in Sabit Kurmanbekov’s Kazakh-language new release “Unexpected Love” about a trio of older men friends seeking love and companionship.

Russian director Egor Konchalovsky is shooting an Afghan war story “Vozvrascheniye v A” (Return to A), while Kazkah-born producer and director Timur Bekmambetov has used Kazakhfilm’s post facilities for some of his recent Russian projects. Other Russian producers are in development on co-productions destined as much for international as local markets.

Anna Katchko, one of Moscow’s most active young producers, is working with Kazakh producer Aliya Uvalzhanova on a $7 million historic epic “Myn Bala,” directed by Akan Satayev, whose first film, 2007’s “Racketeer,” took $1 million at the local box office.

“Kazakhfilm is the single source of state money and is an important partner in most productions,” says Katchko. “The idea is to create their own market and support national projects, but after the international success of films like (Sergey Bodrov’s) ‘Mongol’ and ‘Nomad,’ there is interest in other big epic films, like ‘Myn Bala.’ ”

European partners will be sought for post-production funding, and the project gets its official international launch at Pusan’s co-production market.

The studio is also reviving its strong Soviet-era tradition of cartooning. The government is backing “Kazakhsky Narod,” a 50-seg series of five-minute films about the development of the Kazakh nation currently in development. Feature length cartoon “Yer Tostyk” about a national hero, is also being prepped.

With the funding, facilities and international interest, it looks like Kazakhfilm is moving into focus.

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