World Cinema Amsterdam | Internationaal filmfestival | 18 – 27 Augustus 2016

Hello Kazachstan!

In the former Soviet Union, film was seen as a crucial propaganda tool in the fight against capitalist ideas, both in the Western countries and at home. No wonder then that the Soviet empire had an extremely well-organized, professional film industry, with its main centres in the major cities Leningrad (present-day Saint Petersburg) and Moscow.

When the Germans invaded the Soviet Union in 1941, and initially advanced rapidly towards these cities, the Soviet authorities took radical measures to protect their film industry; the large Lenfilm and Mosfilm studios, all their technical facilities and expertise, were evacuated to Alma-Ata (present-day Almaty) in faraway Kazakhstan. Ironically, this move triggered the beginning of a boom in Kazakh cinema: the first feature film was not produced in Alma-Ata until 1939, but towards the end of the war 80% of all Soviet domestic features were shot there. The renowned Soviet film academy VGIK was also relocated to Alma-Ata and became the alma mater of filmmakers who went on to establish the 'New Wave' of Kazakh cinema in the 1960s.

The boom ended with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Though films were still produced, budgets were low. Cinema exhibitors preferred to play safe and tended to show only Hollywood films and big Russian blockbusters. Independently made Kazakh cinema could occasionally be seen at foreign film festivals, but rarely in its country of origin. The past ten years, however, have brought a cautious change. Now we are even seeing commercial films made in Kazakhstan becoming domestic box-office hits - a trend that impacts on Kazakh independent cinema. This has led to the rise of a new generation of talented Kazakh filmmakers making art films that are remarkably often represented at the main European and Asian film festivals.

The Owners 3

World Cinema Amsterdam features a brief overview of this new development, with four noteworthy Kazakh films. The festival's competition also includes a Kazakh film, THE OWNERS. Drawing on a rich cultural tradition, all these films give a razor-sharp analysis of Kazakhstans generally rather bleak status quo, but they also tell universal stories of people struggling with authorities and their arbitrary decisions, poverty and corruption, love and loss. In short, stories that portray the absurdity of life. Kazakh cinema is back!

For a complete overview, see Films A-Z