Akan Satayev’s sweeping national epic MYN BALA is the official entry from Kazakhstan for foreign language at the 85th Academy Awards.
In the spirit of a Kazakh BRAVEHEART, inspired by true events that took place in Kazakhstan in the early 18th century, MYN BALA (translated ‘the thousand boys’) tells the epic story of young people who rose up against a brutal Mongol army (the Zungharian oppressors) occupying their lands.
With its spectacular landscapes, fascinating historical subject matter, lavish costumes, flawless production values, strong narrative, enthralling action scenes and compelling performances, MYN BALA, fittingly commemorates the 20th anniversary of Kazakhstan’s independence from the Soviet Union. “The story of the film is a legend in Kazakhstan,” says Producer Aliyah Uvalzhanova, “every region of the country claims Sartai (the hero) as their own.”
Akan Satayev is one of his country’s most internationally-recognized young directors, Akan Satayev previously directed “Strayed,” which was Kazakhstan’s submission for the Academy Awards in 2010, the gangster drama “Racketeer” and “Liquidator,” among others.
Satayev was nominated for the Grand Prix des Ameriques at the Montreal Film Festival 2009 for “Strayed”. He won the Denis-de-Rougemont Youth Award and was nominated for the Narcisse Award for “Strayed” at Neuchatel International fantasy Film Festival in 2010.
Cinema Without Borders: How did you come up with the idea of making MYN BALA?
Akan Satayev: The project was initially being developed by the special group at “Kazakhfilm” studio. When the synopsis for the future film was already finished, the President of “Kazakhfilm,” Yermek Amanshayev, offered me this project. We made a few changes since then but the main storyline remained the same.
CWB: MYN BALA is a historical epic. Can you tell us about the research stage in this project?
AS: We were in contact with many historians while writing the screenplay and during the pre-production stage. They helped us achieve historical authenticity, recreate the culture and lives of our ancestors. We did not take any steps without their approval or their recommendations.
CWB: How challenging was making this film?
AS: I think that every film is challenging. At the beginning, I had a discussion with my team. We knew our objectives and the amount of work needed to be done. And when we finally decided to commit ourselves to this project there was no going back.
CWB: Please tell us about your casting process for MYN BALA.
AS: For the 50 leading and supporting roles we considered about 22,500 actors. The Dzhunghars were played by the actors from Mongolia and Russia.
CWB: Did you do a lot of rehearsals or did you just work with actors and crew on the set?
AS: After the leading actors were approved, they spent two months studying horse riding and stage combat. That is why the actors were physically prepared before the filming.
CWB: Did you allow any improvisations proposed by your cast or crew?
AS: I always allow an area for improvisation for actors and the director of photography. However, I believe that this freedom should be within the assigned task only.
CWB: How did you come up with the visual style of your film?
AS: The film was shot to reflect the tones of the landscape of the Kazakhstan steppes employing the best natural locations. We wanted to tell a truthful and entertaining story. That was our main idea. Everything, including location scouting, costume design, scenery, filming techniques were within that concept. Certainly, we were inspired by the best examples of world cinematography but at the same time we wanted to tell our own story about our nomad ancestors.
CWB: How much of film found its final form in the editing process?
AS: There were 14 cuts of the film during the editing process. And we had really good editors!
CWB: Please tell us about the critics and audience responses to MYN BALA.
AS: Our film was well received by the Kazakhstani audience. It broke the box office records in our country. The film also received generally favorable reviews from critics.
CWB: Any future project that you can tell us about?
AS: It is hard to say right now. There are some ideas that are planned to be developed… But, regardless of what project will be chosen next we will try to make a good movie!