Kazakhstan: Minister Shares Borat-Style Cultural Learnings
Filmmakers should harness the power of the silver screen to make feel-good movies about Kazakhstan and avoid churning out hard-hitting productions that “shame” the country. So says the guardian of the nation’s cultural values, in remarks which sound like something out of the mouth of the fictional Kazakhstani journalist Borat.
Instead of tackling hard-hitting subjects like violence and corruption, moviemakers should direct their creative efforts toward “fighting what is negative in society,” not showing “human passions that abase our senses,” Arystanbek Mukhamediuly, Kazakhstan’s minister of culture and sport, said on July 22 in remarks quoted by Tengri News.
It arouses “indignation” when movies depicting “contemptible human qualities” are made, he added, especially when they go on to represent Kazakhstan at international film festivals.
Mukhamediuly’s latest broadside came a month after he took aim at movies that “shame” Kazakhstan – such as Harmony Lessons, an award-winning production by Emir Baygazin that won a Silver Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival in 2013.
Described by The Hollywood Reporter as “formally disciplined and psychologically gripping,” the movie tackles the topic of bullying (which is rife in many schools in Kazakhstan, where the film has never been shown in mainstream cinemas).
Also on the culture minister’s blacklist were The Owners by Adilkhan Yerzhanov (which tells the tale of a poor family cheated out of their property by a venal official and was shown at Cannes this year) and Rieltor, another hard-hitting movie about property rights by the same director which won six international awards in 2012.
The culture minister’s attack on movies that have won plaudits for Kazakhstani cinematography led the Kursiv newspaper to dub him the “culture-less minister.”
Yerzhanov reacted by pointing out sarcastically that the “flag of Kazakhstan, which was raised in Cannes thanks to The Owners, did not shame the country any more than our cultural bureaucrats would have liked,” and suggested that it is the “absence of truth in cinematography” that “shames the nation.”
His films tackle the harsh realities of everyday life much in the way that Russian director Andrey Zvyagintsev did in last year’s Leviathan, a depressing tale of provincial corruption that incurred the wrath of Russia’s culture minister for its “existential despair.”
For many cinema-goers worldwide, however, the country remains best known for the 2006 satire Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, in which British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen imitated a Kazakhstani journalist to raise laughs.
Joanna Lillis is a journalist based in Almaty and author of Dark Shadows: Inside the Secret World of Kazakhstan.
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