- - Friday, October 5, 2012

ALMATY, Kazakhstan — Central Asia’s film festival season is in full swing, and as movie buffs in cities like Almaty, Bishkek, Tashkent and Dushanbe sample some of the region’s latest cinematic works, the debate on censorship and limited film funding is gaining fresh attention.

“Only in post-Soviet countries do we have this situation where [nearly] all cinema is sponsored by government,” said Nikita Makarenko, producer of the Central Asian Festival of Independent Film in Tashkent.

“Directors want to create relationships with the government — those who don’t, struggle.”

Last month, the eighth Eurasia International Film Festival opened in Almaty. For regional filmmakers with limited opportunities for funding and distribution, the festival offers a great chance to network.

“It is very important to meet with international filmmakers and discuss how to find opportunities to support new projects,” said Iskandar Usmonov, director of the Tajik film “Telegram,” which was screened at the festival on Sept. 18. “Tajikistan, especially, is a country where we have little information about funding available.”

Tajikistan, like other Central Asian states, saw film studios built during the Soviet era, but those fell into disrepair after the Soviet Union collapsed and civil war ensued.

“We lost many [film industry professionals] who left Tajikistan during the civil war,” Mr. Usmonov said. “We also lost money. The government couldn’t support films because, after the war, we had a very bad economic and political situation.”

Kazakh Film

By far the richest country in the region, Kazakhstan rebuilt its film studios in Almaty in 2008 — part of a major push to revitalize the country’s film industry that included the selection of eight projects by up-and-coming filmmakers for funding by the state production company Kazakh Film.

One of those selected, Adilkhan Yerzhanov, says he has yet to see any financial support for his project, a satire on the media and its reporting on terrorism.

Mr. Yerzhanov says he believes the reason for the lack of funding is that Kazakh Film is focused on the second installment of a trilogy about the life of Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev.

As a result, Mr. Yerzhanov is directing his attention to a different project — “Construction,” the story of a rural family’s battle against corruption, which is in post-production.

“I was helped by the Soros Foundation. Without this support, I wouldn’t have found the money,” Mr. Yerzhanov said. “The country has a lot of oil money, and there is quite a rich class of people, but the movies that get funding praise the tribal ancestors or how fun life in sunny Astana [Kazakhstan’s capital] is.”

Kazakh Film’s biggest release this year was the historical epic “Myn Bala,” which used the country’s steppes as a backdrop for the romantic tale of a young Kazakh horseman battling Dzungar invaders — Eurasian tribes of the 17th and 18th centuries.

Despite the predictably patriotic subject matter, some say that in combining high production values with gripping storytelling and accomplished acting, “Myn Bala” marks a new high in Central Asian filmmaking.

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