Kazakhstan: Movie of Nazarbayev’s Childhood Offers Cinematic Surprises
As a new movie about the childhood of Kazakhstan’s president premieres in Almaty tonight, cinemagoers expecting a eulogy to the Leader of the Nation are in for a surprise: The Sky of My Childhood, directed by Rustem Abdrashov for Kazakhfilm, is no piece of simplistic post-Soviet propaganda.This Kazakh-language movie certainly offers a flattering picture of a young Nursultan Nazarbayev, but it also presents a reflective look at Soviet Kazakhstan in the 1940s and 1950s. It was filmed with a budget of $3 million against a background of the luscious countryside in which this rural-boy-made-good grew up.The action features a boy named Sultan, born into a family living on the rolling zhaylau (alpine pasturelands) of Ushkonyr outside Almaty. It traces his early childhood in the countryside growing up in a yurt with his mother, father and grandmother, and their move when he was a young boy to the village of Shamalgan.The tone is upbeat: Despite the backdrop of World War II and the latter Stalin era, the hero -- played by three different actors -- enjoys a carefree childhood galloping across the zhaylau on horseback, learning falconry, and playing the stringed dombyra.Not surprisingly, Sultan is a high flier, winning the local bayga (horserace) through a feat of horsemanship and outshining his classmates with his intellectual prowess.The movie -- which premiered in Astana last week -- hints at great things ahead: In a moment of unmistakable symbolism, Sultan thoughtfully creates a mock town out of stones, a harbinger of the building of his brainchild capital, Astana, a few decades on.The Sky of My Childhood may have a feel-good atmosphere, but there’s also a serious message. It takes a gentle look at some sensitive issues, including the mass deportations of Caucasus peoples to Kazakhstan and the Soviets’ ruthless attitude to the lands the Kazakhs depended on for survival.Director Abdrashov told journalists after a press screening April 14 that the movie isn’t a bid to promote a Nazarbayev cult of personality, but “an attempt to re-assess [the Soviet era], to tell a truth that, to be honest, wasn’t very often told at the time.”
Joanna Lillis is a journalist based in Almaty and author of Dark Shadows: Inside the Secret World of Kazakhstan.
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