The Kazakh film industry has taken over the industrial town of Temirtau, where it is being used as the backdrop for a trilogy about the country's president, Nursultan Nazarbaev.
The trilogy, titled "The Way Of The Leader," began filming in 2009. The first film, "The Sky Of My Childhood," about Nazarbaev's early life growing up in a yurt, was released in 2011. The second film, "Iron Mountain," is being shot concurrently with the third, "Fire River," and covers the remainder of Nazarbaev's life.
The second film will show a young Nazarbaev arriving from the Komsomol, the Communist youth league, to Temirtau, where he gets a job at the Karaganda metallurgical plant. He is then sent to Dneprodzerzhinsk, in Ukraine, where he works in a factory and qualifies as a blast-furnace operator.
'To Tell A Truth'
In Soviet times, Temirtau, a city of 180,000 in the northern Kazakh Karaganda region, became the center of the republic's steelmaking industry. With rich iron deposits in the surrounding area, the name in Kazakh means "iron mountain." It is also where Nazarbaev met his wife, Sara.
According to the film's director, Rustem Abdrashev, "the film is based on a true story, there is no fantasy, there is no fairy tale." "The information was taken from the people around him. When the script was written, [the president] read it, and approved it," Abdrashev said.
A promotional image for the first film in the series "The Sky Of My Childhood," depicts a young Nazarbaev.
When "The Sky of My Childhood" was released, Abdrashev told journalists that the movie wasn't an attempt to build a cult of personality, which some government critics have alleged, but "an attempt to reassess [the Soviet era], to tell a truth that, to be honest, wasn't very often told at the time."
The filmmakers are shooting at locations around the city, including the Palace of Culture, a power plant, a steel mill, and a tram depot. Advertisements have been placed around the city to attract extras and ask people to donate items and clothes from the 1950s and 1960s.
'For The Homeland'
The source of the film's funding is still a little opaque. A source involved in its production told RFE/RL's Kazakh Service that the budget and funding information for the movie would be released once the films were finished. It is unclear whether either the government directly or Kazakhfilm, the state-run production company that's producing the trilogy, is financing the movies.
If the cash injections are still a little murky, Kazakhstan's film industry is certainly being injected with a dose of official enthusiasm. In March, Nazarbaev called on the country's filmmakers to produce more "patriotic movies."
Nazarbaev criticized foreign films
for being too individualistic and failing to adequately reflect society. He said that they "seldom show the quest for knowledge, genuine friendship, true love, supporting one another, or simply the desire to work for the country, for the homeland."
State-run Kazakhfilm is being used for more than just funding and producing domestically made films for a local audience. It's also promoting films that show the country in a good light on the international stage.
After the huge popularity of Sacha Baron Cohen's "Borat: Cultural Learnings of America to Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan," Kazakh officials, buoyed by oil wealth and hungry for international credibility, have become particularly sensitive to negative portrayals of their country. (A later Baron Cohen film, "The Dictator," disappeared from Kazakh cinemas after two weeks.)
The Kazakh government invested $40 million in "Nomad," a historical epic that was distributed in Kazakh and English, although it bombed at the U.S. box office. Much more successful was "Mongol," a joint production of Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Russia, and Germany, which told the story of the early life of Genghis Khan. That film was critically well-received and a minor financial success internationally.
Come One, Come All
Kazakhfilm is also trying to lure foreign filmmakers to Kazakhstan with cheap production costs. "The Sky of My Childhood" was made with a budget of $3 million, a relative pittance in Hollywood terms.
In an attempt to ape the popularity of American superhero movies, organizers of the Astana International Action Film Festival in May called on Kazakhs to conceptualize and design a Kazakh superhero. There were only two requirements: that the superhero be named after the capital, Astana, and represent the best that Kazakhstan has to offer.
The Nazarbaev trilogy is not the first project to document the life of the country's president. An official biography of Nazarbaev was published earlier this month. Eurasianet reported that the book is being billed by state media as the first attempt to offer "a historical biographical study of the life and activity" that follows "his path from simple rural guy to national leader."
A glowing biography of Nazarbaev, "Nazarbaev and the Making of Kazakhstan: From Communism to Capitalism," was written by Jonathan Aitken, a former British member of parliament who served jail time for lying under oath during a libel trial. That book has been published in English, Kazakh, and Russian.
Reporting by Yelena Veber in Temirtau. Written by Luke Allnutt.