While Kazakhstan’s capital city Astana is celebrating its 20th anniversary this week, some of the world’s most fashionable movie stars gathered together in what is Central Asia’s largest country to attend the Eurasia International Film Festival.
The seven-day festival, running from July 1-7, has brought together Emir Kusturica, a Serbian filmmaker, who won the Palme d’Or twice and the Cannes Film Festival Best Director Award; rising star, Léa Seydoux and the iconic French movie star Vincent Cassel, who received the honorary Cesar award for starring in Mesrine.
“Such events are very important for any country, including Kazakhstan, [as] they help to build and express the ‘individuality’ of the country in the film industry,” Cassel said Monday in an interview with Khabar24 television news channel.
The first Eurasia International Film Festival was held in 1998 in Almaty, Kazakhstan’s largest city and former capital. Winning films, directors and actors over the years have represented countries from the Caspian region, including Azerbaijan and Iran, and nearby Georgia as well, amongst other countries around the globe.
Now in its fourteenth year, the festival’s official program this year features 12 feature and 45 short films from all over the world and produced over the past year. More than 1,000 applications were submitted for this year’s awards cycle, similar to numbers for 2017.
More than 50 films are being screened during the festival. Works by Bulgaria’s Milko Lazarov, Russia’s Alexei Fedorchenko, Latvia’s Janis Nords, the U.S.’ Jeff Vespa, Georgia’s Mariam Khatchvani, and South Korea’s Heejae Jeong are being shown.
Meanwhile, the festival also includes films featured within its ‘out of competition’ program. This year’s screenings include some that have already received international awards at other competitions, such as the Japanese film Shoplifters, Ward from France, the Iranian film Lock and the American movie Search.
The festival’s “From the Heart of Eurasia” program features new Kazakhstani films and a selection of films from Turkic-speaking and other countries and regions. This year’s “Caravan” group presents nine movies from Turkey, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Russia, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Azerbaijan.
Azerbaijani film director Elvin Abdulla is screening Khennas, meaning “devil” in Azerbaijani. Filmed in 2017, this is the only Azerbaijani movie being represented at the festival this year and the very first Azerbaijani mystical thriller.
The film tells the story of Ilkin, who, under a strong influence of repetitious dreams lasting for days, wants to pay a visit to the house where his grandfather and father died by unknown circumstances. In one of his dreams, Ilkin sees his father desperately trying to hide from someone in the house and calling him for help.
“We are lucky to represent Azerbaijan at such a grandiose festival, and we are very proud of it,” Elvin Abdulla told Caspian News, reporting from Astana.
“I think the whole country should be proud of the fact that Azerbaijani films have already started appearing on international screens, serious screens.”
“Even here people come up to me and say that they thought that Azerbaijani cinema has not developed,” Elvin Abdulla explained, “but here at the festival they realized that they were wrong.”
Khennas has become a debut work for the 28-year-old filmmaker, who told Caspian News that he was extremely impressed with the festival underway in Kazakhstan.
“I am very impressed because here you can meet all those people who solve the main issues in the world of cinema, and thanks to them, the reputation and significance of this festival keep growing,” Elvin Abdulla said.
Meet-and-Greet events and panel discussions are part of the weeklong program in Astana, where world-famous filmmakers are sharing their stories and recipes for creativity, while answering questions from enthusiastic fans and aspiring film industry leaders.
“This year’s festival, in my opinion, is one of the most useful, bright and effective film events for the whole existence of the Eurasia Film Festival,” Saken Belgibayev, the head of Kazakhstan-based AIFF Irbis movie company, said in an interview, according to a post on Facebook.
“The platform provides us with a real opportunity to negotiate with producers, directors, writers in a bid to develop and create our Kazakhstan cinema.”