Kazakhstan offers the world its first would-be blockbuster

Complete with epic battles, fancy camerawork and breath-taking stunts, “Nomad” could be the latest, blood-drenched historical blockbuster coming to a cinema near you… from Kazakhstan.

In its bid to take on Hollywood, the film from the ex-Soviet Central Asian state boasts international stars, spectacular crowd scenes and a $33-million production budget. Versions in both the Kazakh language and in English will be released.

Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev has made the film, which took two years to shoot, a pet project. Funding for Nomad, which was shown for the first time on Monday at the opening of Almaty’s second Eurasia International Film Festival, was funded almost entirely by the government and Kazakhfilm studios.

At first glance, this historical saga may appear to be a hard sell, unless you happen to be Central Asia history buff.

Nomad recounts the suffering of 18th century Kazakh tribes under attack from the blood-thirsty Dzhungar people.

That is until the young son of a tribal chief named Mansur—played by Mexican actor Kuno Becker—manages to unite Kazakh clans and defeat the enemy.
A real historical character, who lived from 1711-1781, Mansur later became known as Ablay Khan and remains Khazakstan’s revered national hero.

Nomad follows Mansur’s rise, amid a whirlwind of betrayals, revenge, beheadings and horseback stunts, all set against the wild steppes of Central Asia.

Kazakh authorities left nothing to chance to ensure the success of the project, and liberally tapped into Hollywood’s pool of blockbuster specialists.

The film, which was edited in Los Angeles, stars several action B movie veterans, including Mark Dacascos and Jason Scott Lee, who say their lines in English. The executive producer is legendary filmmaker Milos Forman, of Amadeus and One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest fame.

“Nobody thought that such a project was possible. Now, we can see how great the result is,” said the film’s producer, Los Angeles-based Ram Bergman.

It has been anything but a smooth ride for Nomad, though. The shooting had to endure strikes by technicians, changes of filmmakers and capricious weather, causing repeated delays.

It also had to face controversy. Some criticised the cost in a country where poverty is widespread, while others denounced liberties the script takes with history, as well as the casting of a foreign actor to play the hero.

While Bergman said he was pleased with the result and confident of the film’s chances, he admitted that additional scenes still had to be shot at the cost of a few more million dollars. Indeed, viewers here on Monday were only shown a working version.

Nevertheless, Bergman said: “Hopefully, the final version will be presented in Cannes next year. It would be the perfect place.”

Hollywood also seems to believe in the film, with Miramax studios having pledged $20-million to distribute it in the United States, Canada and Britain.

The only dissenting note was reportedly sounded by Nazarbayev himself, who is rumored to have hated the movie when he saw it. - AFP

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