The sparkling azure Great Almaty Lake in the Tian Shan mountains outside Kazakhstan’s commercial capital is usually a tranquil spot, but this summer it is a hive of activity: a film crew has descended to shoot a Kazakh historical epic, a tale of love and war set against the backdrop of some of the country’s most sumptuous scenery.
“He wanted to protect his loved ones, and ended up freeing his country” – so goes the promo for the movie, based on a true story.
Directed by Akhan Satayev for the state-run Kazakhfilm studio with a budget of $7 million (minute by Hollywood standards, but significant by Kazakhstan’s), the film, Myn Bala, or 1,000 Children in English, culminates with hero Sartay, played by Asylkhan Tolepov, leading his army of teenagers to victory in battle in 1729 against the marauding Mongolian Dzungars.
Kazakh moviemaking has been enjoying a renaissance lately – as Kazakhfilm President Yermek Amanshayev put it after the recent screening of another film; “Kazakh cinema has found its place in the sun.”
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Joanna Lillis is a freelance writer who specializes in Central Asia.