Government pushes for biz growth

ALMATY, KAZAKHSTAN — Hollywood could soon have a new partner for international co-productions if Kazakhstan’s state-owned film studio gets it way.

Ambitious plans by the oil-and-gas-rich central Asian nation to bankroll movies could bring the biz to Almaty — the country’s historic former capital nestled beneath towering snow-capped mountain peaks — or Astana, its brand-new high-rise, high-tech capital situated on the northern steppe.

Ermek Amanshaev, head of Almaty-based Kazakhfilm, is hoping state-of-the-art studios, fabulous locations and healthy financial perks will lure major Hollywood productions.

“We’re now working with Chuck Russell on ‘Arabian Nights’ … (he’s) location scouting about 200 km from Almaty, where there is a medieval city set that was built a few years ago for Sergey Bodrov’s ‘Nomad.’ There are also sandy hills and gullies at Altyn Emel that could be used in the movie,” Amanshaev says.

Details of Kazakhfilm’s involvement in the $70 million project are still under discussion, but Amanshaev anticipated that the studio’s share of the budget would be between 10% and 15% and expected a deal memo to be signed soon with U.S. producer Bill Johnson of Inferno Entertainment.

Once that’s done, set building can begin in November or December, with principal photo-graphy slated for May.

Russell told the aud at the seventh Eurasia Film Festival last week that he welcomed Central Asian participation in Hollywood projects.

Armanshaev’s plans for luring foreign shoots to the country is part of a strategy blessed by Kazakhstan’s powerful president Nursultan Nazarbayev.

The presidential backing sparked a major investment program at Kazakhfilm and has helped spawn a resurgence in the domestic film industry.

Last year 30 features were produced (23 of them with state support), a threefold increase since 2007. Box office was $50 million, of which domestic movies’ share was $7 million.

On Sept. 22, Spotlight: New Kazakh Cinema, organized by Russian producer Anna Katchko, featured eight local filmmakers pitching projects to international film industry experts, including Berlinale selector Ralf Schenk.

“Harmony Lessons” by Emir Baigazin was unanimously voted by foreign experts at the Spotlight as the top project. Script tells the story of a young man who overcomes bullying at school to become a success in life.

The selected project will get Kazakh funding and support to help find in finding a co-production partner.

Anna Katchko, the Russian producer and organizer of the Spotlight, said: “It was an amazing experience, the pitching of projects were, according to the industry experts, on a good international level, and the experts showed themselves as very interested and motivated.”

Amanshaev has great expectations for both the local industry and the prospects of creating a Central Asian Hollywood. He cites the area’s facilities, English-speaking crews and a film-friendly environment among the attractions he hopes will lure major projects.

His ambitions don’t end there.

“We want to make a $30 million historic epic ‘Tomoris’ about the ancient tribes of the steppe and hope to find (U.S. investors) interested in taking part in that,” Amanshaev says, adding that Kazakhfilm will be taking meetings at the upcoming American Film Market.

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