Organizers of the third annual Astana International Action Film Festival are putting out an all-points bulletin for young Kazakhs to take part in an unusual competition: to conceptualize and design a Kazakh superhero from scratch. Officials have set just two guidelines: that this man or woman of action be named after the capital, and that he or she be a representative of the best that Kazakhstan has to offer.
"He should become the symbol of the young, energetic, vibrant capital of Kazakhstan,” an official press release says. “[The] character must be original, special, close to the spirit of the Kazakh people, to embody its values and ideals, to reflect its history, culture, traditions, and customs.”
Astana, which simply means “capital” in the Kazakh language, will mark its 15th year in December as Kazakhstan’s seat of government. The city’s development is closely linked to the two-decade rule of Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev, who decided to move the capital from its previous location, Almaty, shortly after Kazakhstan gained its independence from the Soviet Union.
Nazarbaev’s move transformed Astana (previously named Akmola) from a sleepy town in the middle of the harsh Kazakh steppe into the country’s second-largest city, strewn with sleek new monuments and glitzy prestige projects underwritten by Kazakhstan’s considerable oil and gas wealth.
With all of that growth, city fathers decided that Astana is long overdue for a heroic figure around which Kazakhs could rally. “It’s time,” they say, “to show that we have our own advocate and fighter for justice.”
Competition participants will have the chance to submit entries in four categories, from drawing up a costume for “Astana” to outlining on film the birth and rise of a young superhero in the Kazakh capital. The winning concepts are scheduled to be announced July 3, at the close of Astana’s action film festival.
Festival president and top Kazakh filmmaker Timur Bekmambetov -- his latest release is “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter,” due out this June -- says that “on the eve of Kazakhstan’s capital’s birthday...the festival has become an original present from [the] filmmakers of the world to Astana citizens.”
Soon enough, perhaps, Astana’s citizens will be poised to return the favor with a dynamic new action star of their own.
-- Charles Dameron