Kazakhstan’s Growing Film Industry Aims to Counter Borat Image

Sacha Baron Cohen may have put Kazakhstan on the map half a decade ago, but the country has been working hard to tell the real story since then

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New Film Format / Reuters

In this June 2011 photo, hero Sartay (Asylkhan Tolepov), right, sits with Zere (Aliya Telebarisova) near the Big Almaty Lake in the Tian Shan Mountains where the film Myn Bala was shot.

The Central Asian country of Kazakhstan has struggled to reclaim its national identity since Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan‘s wildly popular reception in the U.S.

Following the movie’s release five years ago, Kazakhs were angry and embarrassed about the movie’s portrayal of their countrymen, according to ABC News. Kazakhstan’s leader Nursultan Nazarbayev banned it, and some citizens had some harsh words about Sacha Baron Cohen.

“He’s the devil, the devil’s accomplice, the anti-Christ, the Satan. Your Harold Holt disappeared without a trace so will Borat disappear too, but on dry land. Damn it I’ll shoot him, I’ll destroy him,”  Erkin Rakishev, Kazakh film director, told ABC.

Since then, Kazakhs have been working hard to restore their esteem and make a name for themselves with their own burgeoning film industry. Thanks to flowing oil profits, the country’s government has made ambitious investments in cinema, positioning itself as an up-and-coming motion picture producer with its state-run movie company KazakhFilm, reports the New York Times.  In 2007, the country earned its first Oscar nomination with Mongol, the story of Genghis Khan as a young man.

This year, the government has funded 90% of upcoming pictures coming out of Kazakhstan, according to BBC News. Following this wave of new films, the country recently produced its priciest and most epic national film, Myn Bala. Costing $7 million, the movie revisits how Kazakhs ousted their Mongolian oppressors two centuries ago and portrays the people as brave, honorable rebels fighting for freedom.

“Making films is really important for our image building for an international audience. I think it’s a good stake investment to put money into it. After all, it’s just advertising the country abroad and hopefully attracting people in,” Talgat Yermeghiyayev, Minister of Tourism and Sport, told the BBC.

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