Kazakhstan anticipates that its first national epic film, Myn Bala, will put the country on the world map — this time, in a positive light.
Ever since the 2006 release of Borat, Kazaks have dealt with stereotypes portraying them as backwards. Since very little is known about Kazakhstan, the perceptions developed from Borat remained. Kazakistan fights back and overcomes the stereotypes from Borat through its own blockbuster, Myn Bala, that not only showcases the valor and strength of its people but also depicts the modernity of the country through the big-budget film.
In efforts to combat these negative perceptions of the Kazakhstani people and reinvent the national image, Kazakh filmmakers undertook a massive reinvention of one of the country’s famous epics — the legendary battle between the “The Thousand Boys” and the Dzhungers, a race of Mongol warriors descended from Genghis Khan, who were occupying the country in the 1800s. The film whose name means “The Thousands Boys” tells the story of Kazakhstan depicts a group of teenagers, who after fighting, defeat the Dzhungars and reclaim Kazakhstan for their own for the first time in the country’s history. Meant to showcase the beauty, prowess, and skills of the country, Myn Bala was made to be as authentic as possible by filming on location, using an internationally-renowned Kazakh stunt group known as “Nomad,” and Kazakhistani actors in all main roles.
Though this may be seen to some as a form of propaganda by the government who financed the film, Myn Bala is a movie that captures the culture and legacy that is Kazakhstan and its people. It’s akin to producing an American movie that captures the quintessential American dream. Patriotism, sacrifice, love, duty, betrayal, honor, and pride — all seen in Myn Bala — are shared values that transcend politically-created boundaries and cultures.
Kazakhstan, which gained its independence from the USSR in 1991 and was the last state to do so, is still trying to establish an identity and noticeable presence on the world stage.
Funding movies is a smart political strategy by the government. What better way to reach the hearts and souls of viewers in Kazakhstan and, hopefully, around the world than through a movie that, at its core, serves as a triumph of good over evil, of David beating Goliath? Movies serve as a link to culture. When people enjoy a movie, they relate in some way or another, to some element of the story that’s being told. Though one movie may not change foreigners’ opinions about Kazakhstan, it can serve as a bridge that’s necessary to get there — a tentative building block. It can do so by using the momentum created by Borat.
At this point, Kazakhstan can only gain from additional exposure. Arguably, though Borat did introduce negative stereotypes about Kazakhstan, it also tentatively placed the country on the world’s map and in viewer’s minds. People were discussing the country, talking about it, and sharing what they knew with others. This precursory dialogue did establish a somewhat tenuous connection between Kazakhstanis and the rest of the world. Now instead of severing this preliminary dialogue, Myn Bala can take over, continue the conversation and showcase another side of the country and its people to eager audiences around the world, starting with the Cannes Film Festival where it will be shown.
Kazakhstan has a story to tell, and through Myn Bala with its world-class fighting, stunts, and the famous Kazakhstan horses, the country finally has the opportunity to do just that. With such tantalizing promises, the “Myn Bala” hopes to showcase the real Kazakhstan, a country where its people and its national pride represent more than just backwards nomads.
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