Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Nomad Arrives on January 26 March 9?

(02/16/07) Updated information via Nathan at Registan.net
According to a news bulletin from the Kazakhstani Embassy in Washington -- at last, a (somewhat) nationwide release date for
Nomad, the epic film of ancient Kazakh history, is set for January 26, 2007. postponed to March 9 As far as I can tell so far, it's really only going to be shown in theatres in the Los Angeles area and in New York City, but that's progress for the film, which began production in 2003 (while Sascha Baron Cohen was still doing Ali G). The trailer (above) has been on YouTube for almost a year but apparently there's newer English one for the American market.

KZBlog has a detailed entry on the film, the book it's based on (The Nomads, by Ilyas Yesenberlin), and the local KZ reactions to the film, written after opening night in Astana. I've got a download of the novel in English (thanks for the link, KZBlogger), and am working my way through it. The translation can be, shall we say, humorous in places, but it paints a vast canvas of life on the pre-Russian steppe. At least I now know who my street in Almaty was named after.

The main storyline is of the rise of a boy named Mansur, who becomes the warrior leader Ablai Khan. Ablai Khan unites the three bickering hordes (Greater, Middle and Lesser) of the steppe into a single Kazakh people, to defend Taraz against the invading Dzhungars (or Jungars, kin to contemporary Uighurs of northwest China).

The story of the making of the film is almost as epic, with starts, stoppages, changes of producers & directors, & financial woes. It was purchased for US distribution after last year's Cannes festival, but nothing happened for ages. And, I can't help but feel the irony in a film heralded as a monument to Kazakh national pride that stars Mexican, Hawaiian-American, and Mexican-American actors.

Still, the majority of players in the film are Kazakh, and the steppe scenery is bound to be stunning as well. Nomad is Kazakhstan's first ever entry for the Academy Award, in the Foreign Language Film category. Maybe it's not the most accurate rendition of Kazakhstan's history, but dubious historical accuracy never stopped anyone from seeing Gone With The Wind or Ben Hur . . .

I hope Nomad comes to a theatre near me very soon.

ps -- lots of "behind-the-scenes" photos are online. See some here.

(2/16/07) Based on early US viewer reviews (here and here), I'm betting that if you're not in New York or LA, you'll be looking for this film on DVD by the end of the summer. Schizo went the same way a couple of years ago -- audience response was so lackluster that the distributor withdrew it, and went to DVD release.


Ian said...

I hate to be a naysayer about a film that clearly speaks to Kazakhs, but this is not going to survive a week outside of Central Asia. "Nomad" and its hype remind me of the Russian movie "The Barber of Siberia," also an Ibrahimbekov screenplay, which was heralded as Russia's entrance onto the world stage of high-budget, western-star-studded film. It was a dud, and mostly because it played to nationalist emotions. Nomad won't get any box office in the United States, either. If someone like me, actually somewhat knowledgeable about Cent Asia, can't stomach two hours of it, imagine how many will. Compare also the failure of recent action movies about medieval Palestine and ancient Greece. If this is Kazakhstan's big answer to Borat, well...

Anyway, you're right to say there will be an American DVD version soon

Nyura said...

Ian, I have to say that the more I hear about the finished product, the less attractive it sounds. Too bad, since it wasn't even an answer to Borat. Is the scenery good at least?

Question -- in your opinion, could the same novel have been successfully shot as an "art film," a la The Last Emperor, or other decent box office epic films from East Asia -- and gotten somewhere in the US? The novel's got the dramatic elements, and there are plenty of to-die-for Kazakh men (and women) out there for the starring parts.

Ian said...

Nyura, of course the scenery is nice. I don't mean to be so mean to Nomad, but I just know that there's a way to have great Kazakh films that don't have to play to (or invent) some exclusive notion of Kazakhness.

I haven't seen The Last Emperor, but I agree that this kind of "national" storyline is done better in the art-film genre. I'm thinking of Malick's The New World as an example a founding American myth done right. Have you had a chance to see Dusumbaev's version of approximately the same plot as Nomad? It's an attempt at artsiness, but gets bogged down once again in national glory.

BTW, I wouldn't group Schizo with Nomad--other than their box office potential--Schizo is a great movie.

Federico Fellini said...

You, 2 guys, have no idea how it works in Kazakhstan about big historical movies. Money laundry, bribes, stealing. They were waiting for approving a budget of this movie for 5 years...
I'll tell you about this next, 2008, year.
And you have no idea how good other movies are. Nomad is a bullshit! Kazakhstan won awards in Cannes, Turin, Locarno, Berlin, Tokyo, Taormina, and many other Film Festivals.
Filmdirectors Darezhan Omirbaev, Amir Karakulov, Serik Aprymov, Timur Suleimenov and others, - are the nation's proud (or should be).

Nyura said...

Federico -- Welcome to the conversation!

Not for a minute do I think that Nomad is the best KZ has to offer, it's just the only one on the American cinema horizon.

The problem is, how do we see films by the directors you mentioned? I hear about film festivals in Europe with several Central Asian films spotlighted, but for a North American audience, these films are impossible to find (I have tried, honest). Can you suggest any sources (Region 1 encoded, ideally with English subtitles. I know that's asking a lot, but . . .)

federico fellini said...

Unfortunately, the Kz movies were bought by the french distributors only. So, you can either buy video in France or in Kz. No English subtitles though...