As the Almaty Film Festival, an important new Kazakh event, gears up to unspool its second edition, set to run from 14-20 September, Cineuropa met up with its president, well-known producer-director Akan Satayev, to discuss the goals of the gathering, the evolution of the local industry, the role of the Almaty Film Commission and its impact on world cinema.
Cineuropa: This is the second edition of the Almaty Film Festival; what was the impulse behind its launch?
Akan Satayev: The festival was initiated by the Almaty government. A special need for it was observed by the former mayor of the city of Almaty, Bauyrzhan Kydyrgalievich Baibek, who is now serving as the first deputy chairman of the Nur Otan political party. After the Eurasia International Film Festival, which was previously held in Almaty, moved to the capital of Kazakhstan, we faced a festival vacuum, as there was still a need for the city to be expressed culturally through cinema. Thus, through joint efforts, we created a new film gathering in Almaty, which will be held again this September.
What are the main goals of the Almaty Film Festival, and what differentiates it from other gatherings in the region?
The main objective of the festival is firstly to bring different cultures together and, as a result, to further invest in future film co-productions – not only on a national level, but more importantly, on an international one. One of the main ideas behind initiating the festival was to raise the world film industry’s awareness of our city and our region, and to showcase the versatility of our territory, as we believe it will make it even more attractive for international filmmakers and producers, and consequently, they will want to shoot their upcoming movies here.
Have you already seen any positive results in terms of international co-productions?
Yes: last year, we organised our first project pitching session, and the winner was acclaimed Kazakh director Adilkhan Yerzhanov (The Gentle Indifference of the World [+]) with A Dark-Dark Man, produced by Serik Abishev. The film was shot in our region, and it will premiere in San Sebastián’s Official Selection. It’s also a strong co-production with France (via Arizona Productions), and I hope we will be able to watch it soon, as it is one of the results of how we are changing and developing the film industry in Kazakhstan, and especially in Almaty. Since this is mainly a local production, the movie is also an indicator of our interest in introducing new solutions in order to develop Kazakh cinema, which is very important.
The launch of the Almaty Film Commission was announced recently; is it already active, and what is its scope?
We are developing the Almaty Film Commission further. According to our plan, any producers or filmmakers that wish to co-produce with Kazakhstan should get in touch with the commission, which will be the regulatory body and will coordinate all the details. Also, tax incentives will be introduced, and the commission will help producers to take advantage of them and also to promote their upcoming productions in the region. This, of course, also applies to local directors who are collaborating with international partners and who pick Almaty as their location.
What is special about Almaty in terms of its location?
Almaty has always been one of the main locations for filming in Kazakhstan. Even though some productions pick the country’s capital, Nur-Sultan, Almaty has always been a special place for filmmakers, especially since the majority of the film industry resides here. In terms of locations, the region is also unique – for instance, from the snowy Shymbulak ski resort, you can reach the sand dunes near Kapchagay or the Charyn Canyon in just two hours. We can practically have all four seasons at once, encompassing natural beauties from lakes to deserts and from mountains to valleys.
How do you think the festival can affect the local film industry and the Almaty audience?
Any film festival – and Almaty is no exception – is a big event in our industry, as it provides a chance to communicate, exchange experience and obtain new knowledge. When recognised filmmakers visit us and share in all of this, it’s a boost to our further development. Certainly, the longer the festival exists, the more beneficial it will be for our film professionals. Moreover, within the framework of the festival programme, unique films are screened here that probably won’t have the chance to be distributed in cinemas, and this helps to give the audience new, acquired tastes as well. In general, the Almaty Film Festival creates new opportunities for networking and informal meetings, but more importantly, it provides a chance to indulge fully in the atmosphere of world cinema and to be inspired.