MOSCOW — Julien Leclercq’s actioner “The Assault” has been sold to Kazakhstan, which reps the first direct sale of a French pic to the Central Asian country since it gained independence from the Soviet Union.The deal between Almaty-based Arman and French sales company Elle Driver is significant because until now all films released in Kazakhstan and other Central Asian territories have first been bought by Russian distributors before being resold to former Soviet states individually. Joel Chapron, deputy director for Central and Eastern Europe at Unifrance, France’s national film promotion body, said the deal could pave the way for the development of a distribution market in Central Asia that was independent of Russia. “Russia continues to dominate the film market in the former Soviet Union space, which is hampering the development of markets in this region,” Chapron told Variety. But he added that it remains simpler for many distributors to deal with Russian or Ukrainian distributors, who have the technical expertise and international business experience lacking in Central Asia. Leclercq’s movie is one of seven features and 27 shorts screening at the third annual French Cinema Today festival, which opens Thursday at Almaty’s Aman cinema, a member of the EU-backed Europa Cinemas network. Kazakhstan has around 200 cinema screens, a third of them digital, and produces more than 15 features a year. Cinema admissions average 10 million annually in a country with a population of 15 million.