Kazakh cinema is going through a period of rapid development. More and more young filmmakers are entering the industry, making films that are attentive to the pains and aspirations of the audience. A self-sufficient creative industry and a new cultural space are gradually being built around them.
We spoke to an independent producer Anara Zhunusova about the future of Kazakh cinema and the support that young talents need in the early stages of development.
– How do you assess modern Kazakh cinema? In what condition is it, what are its prospects?
– Kazakh cinema is on the rise. Filmmakers are increasing both production volumes and the quality of production. But the competitiveness of Kazakh genre cinema today, unfortunately, is still low both in the domestic and foreign markets. The exception is, perhaps, comedies, which our audience loves so much.
To change the situation, you need a viewer-oriented approach, the ability to understand trends well and freely operate with cultural codes. In no case should they be copied – such an approach instantly repels the viewer.
Another important factor is the presence in the local cinema not only of actors and directors, but also of strong producers who are responsible for the quality of the project – from the conception to the screen.
– Are there not enough staff? We all know many young Kazakhstani filmmakers who have gained fame in just 4-5 years.
– Of course, but it is important not to “lock” in the domestic market, but to set ambitious goals – not just to give young talents the opportunity to prove themselves, but to go with them to the international and world level.
Our movies should be watched and wanted to be bought. This requires the development of international film distribution, for example, the creation of a Kazakhstani analogue of A24 (American independent entertainment company specializing in the production of films and television programs, as well as the distribution of films – approx.).
This is especially important now, when there is a steady demand for Asian cinema. There is no need to think that the colossal success of, for example, Korean cinema on world streaming sites is something unattainable. Modern Kazakhstani directors are quite capable of reaching Netflix.
But we need systematic measures to develop the industry as a whole and certain key areas. For example, work on duplication and creation of subtitles in Kazakh for world classics and premieres is proceeding at a slow pace. On the same Netflix, there is not a single picture with dubbing or subtitles in the Kazakh language.
– What systemic measures, in your opinion, are needed for the development of Kazakhstani cinema? Perhaps a change in the law is required?
– Unfortunately, the law “On Cinematography” does not correspond to the realities of modern film production and international standards. Its provisions do not take into account the interactions of even a small part of the complex mechanism of the film industry. This is a vivid example of a fragmented approach to solving accumulated problems. And we need comprehensive, systemic measures.
But blaming the state for everything is wrong. We are looking for a solution within the initiative group of the NGO “National Film Academy”, we are developing a comprehensive approach to reforms. It is reflected in the draft concept for the development of the film industry in Kazakhstan.
But the state does not pay attention to our efforts. So far, even the creation of a working group is out of the question.
– What, in your opinion, is the optimal role of the state in the development of the film industry? There is an opinion, for example, that in order to eradicate vulgarity and lack of culture on the screens, the intervention of the state as a regulator is necessary.
– The state is trying to help the film industry, but not always effectively. For example, the launch of the State Center for the Support of National Cinema (SCNC) is also very difficult and strange. No feedback has been established with the authors who submit their projects. Producers are mired in bureaucracy, they are not even producers, but directors of films who have to master the budget.
The intervention of the state in the creative process does not make sense at all. You can’t fool the audience. She is not interested in “sleek”, “combed” stories. People want more truth on the screen, more “true” stories. In essence, they want to see themselves and stories similar to their own on screen.
Everyone – from producers to public funds – when starting to create a film, should ask themselves the question “Where are the main experiences of the audience? What is their pain?” This is the question I ask myself most often, as I am convinced that cinema should resonate with the pains of the audience.
If we choose specific priorities for the state, then it is better for it to invest in children’s films, to create animated films. There is very little high-quality children’s content on the Kazakhstani market, and the number of children in the country is growing at a tremendous rate. And so far, our children are forced to watch foreign content – very high quality, informative and interesting, we must admit.
– Are there any time-tested and experienced solutions to support young professionals by the state?
“We should start with the educational system. There are not enough highly qualified teachers in dramaturgy and production in creative universities. As a result, the sphere is moved by self-taught enthusiasts, for example, the scripts are written by talented guys from JAIDARMAN. They do well, but then what do the profile universities of the country do, who do they graduate from? In addition, universities do not train producers who could create a film from idea to implementation.
From the very first courses, you need to start introducing students to the industry, offering them to shoot short films, appoint producers and work on scripts. Practice is very important in this matter. You can create small creative teams right away so that when they graduate they have a clear idea of how the whole industry works. The more the guys shoot and make mistakes, the more of their unique experience they get.
– Where to find new actors and new talents?
– We have a huge amount of talent, they do not need to “find”. They need to be supported, understood, guided as a mentor. But, unfortunately, few of us are ready to invest in youth like that.
We have only two youth film festivals – “Baikonur” and “Bastau”. “Baikonur”, which has existed for many years, Anuar Kenzhibaev organizes on his own, without any support. And it would be great if the state paid attention to it.
That is why we, my senior colleagues and I, thought about a program for the development of youth cinema. The basis of success in the film industry is networking, and I am ready to gladly help young people in this matter. I go to festivals, look at submitted works, meet, listen, try to teach, take with me to projects, support. It takes a lot of time, but it’s worth it, because the main task of a producer is to find talented people and help them develop.
– And how can young actors and directors get into the industry? What is the shortest way?
“It’s easier than ever for young actors and directors to get into the industry. The shortest way for a director is to shoot a short film, show it at a local festival, and then get the first contact with the producers there.
As for the actors, young directors, as a rule, prefer to work with young actors who are mentally similar to themselves and do not have a “loop” from previous films.
– What genre of cinema is it better for young directors to go to now? For example, domestic auteur cinema may not earn much, but it is popular at major world festivals.
– I am a supporter of a more modern interpretation of the term “author’s cinema”, but to answer your question, I will talk about its traditional definition as a means of self-expression of directors without regard to the interests of the audience. That is, let’s talk about arthouse cinema, club-festival, often experimental in form.
The prospects for selling on wide screens abroad for such films are zero, one should not have any illusions. The best they can hope for after receiving this or that statuette at the film forums is a limited club screening in several cinemas.
Being in demand at film festivals does not at all mean being in demand among a wide audience. To combine both, you need to break out of the boundaries of art-house cinema and understand how the mainstream works, how to conquer it without losing the uniqueness of your own vision. This is an extremely rare skill in our realities, if not yet discovered.
I can remember, for example, the series “Sheker”. The film “Zhanym, You Won’t Believe It” and the children’s series “Queen of the Court” had good sales.
– If we talk about commercial cinema, what is the state of the Kazakhstani film market now? Where can he get budgets for development?
“Given that so far most of the funding comes from the state, two radically different approaches collide here: responsibility for the final result and responsibility for the development of budgetary funds. And only, of course, the choice of “approach” depends on the author.
TV channels are able to pay only small amounts for the right to show. Streaming is non-existent, and foreign productions account for the bulk of the market, leaving domestic films with an already tiny profitable niche. Under these conditions, only films with a micro-budget can pay off, which is about 100-200 million tenge.
Web series stand apart, which made it possible to discover new names, to express themselves to the creators in their best manifestation. It was a breath of freedom without editing, imposed technical tasks and topics. Viewers have accepted and appreciated this approach, web series are now very popular.
– What is the phenomenon of Kazakh web series, why are they popular and successful?
– First of all, of course, it is mentality. There are many features in our country that are interesting both for our market and for the external one – the entire global industry is now striving to find new images, to tell new stories.
Secondly, it’s all the same “truestness” – an honest conversation with the viewer. When creating web series, we have learned to feel our audience well – its needs, interests, social topics that are important to it. Thanks to this, the viewer cannot remain indifferent. This approach has been and will be relevant for other markets as well. For example, at the Busan Film Festival, it was noted that the problem of synthetic drugs in the Sheker setting is global, affecting not only Kazakhstan or the countries of Central Asia, but also Europe.
– What is more profitable: to release web series or films for cinemas? How much does it cost to film a web series?
– One episode of a web series costs an average of about 3-5 million tenge. Usually they are removed at the expense of investors. Monetization depends on the project, in the same YouTube there are many factors – two episodes of the same series can receive different monetization, there are not even average prices.
In a big movie, of course, there is an opportunity to earn money, but only on condition that the content itself is interesting. The metric of success can be considered the figure of 200 thousand viewers. But there is a risk of not getting a film distribution certificate, it is issued by the Ministry of Culture and Sports. So everything has its pros and cons.
What project or projects are you currently working on?
– Now we are approaching the stage of filming a very important project on a sensitive topic for the whole country. As a producer, I entrusted the implementation of this project to the debutants, and to those who were directly affected by the events described in the film.
Unfortunately, there is a problem that slows down the filming process and jeopardizes the release of the film as a whole. It’s about lack of funding. I managed to collect a certain part of the budget thanks to patrons who are interested in the development of auteur cinema in Kazakhstan. But this, alas, is not enough.
This is the key problem of independent projects – to find funding and at the same time not “sell out”, not give an outsider the opportunity to “get into” the script or production. Therefore, I am looking for funding from those who believe in the film, imbued with its emotions, and will share our values.
– A few short questions at the end of the interview. What recent Kazakhstani works do you remember?
– “Black Court” by Diaz Bertis and “5:32” by Alisher Utev.
– Which foreign film would you single out among the latest?
– “Everything Everywhere, At Once” by Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert.
– Which city after, of course, Almaty can be called the “second film capital” of Kazakhstan?
– Astana. The capital’s university “Shabyt” is a very good school that produces good shots, known both from short films and serials.
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Producer Anara Zhunusova: Kazakh directors can reach Netflix
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