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Award-Winning Kazakh Film 'Harmony Lessons' Finally Screened in Home Country

Harmony Lessons Still - H 2013
"Harmony Lessons"

Emir Baigaizan's controversial debut finally gets a local premiere nearly a year after earning a Silver Bear in Berlin.

The award-winning Kazakh film Harmony Lessons has been screened for the first time in its home country on Wednesday, nearly a year after it picked up a Silver Bear at the Berlin Film Festival in February.

The controversial debut by Emir Baigaizan, set in a grim provincial school where bullying and casual cruelty turns a teenage boy into a killer, was finally seen in Kazakhstan last week at a low-key premiere in Almaty. The premiere, which took place with no red carpet, publicity or press screenings, was followed by screenings at the Arman and Cesar theaters in the city.

But the audience reaction to the three daily screenings had been "amazing," said the film's Berlin-based Russian producer Anna Katchko to The Hollywood Reporter, noting, "People are deeply impressed, and are posting about the film on social networks." She also added that press reaction had also been positive, despite the last-minute cancellation of a press conference that had been scheduled before the premiere.

"The reviews are also very good; critics are talking about the best Kazakh film ever, talent cast and crew, how the film is multi-layered and a 'true local discovery'. We are hoping the film will be Kazakhstan's nomination for best foreign Oscar next year."

The film, which won the Silver Bear at its international premiere in Berlin for cinematography, was made by state film studio Kazakhfilm. It has picked up more than 20 major awards on the festival circuit since, including best film, debut and for the young cast.

But its themes, featuring police brutality and indifference to suffering by school authorities, made it a controversial film in Kazakhstan, ruled by president-for-life Nursultan Nazarbayev, and where filmmakers usually toe a politically-correct line.

The film was produced after its director won the first of the country's Kazakhfilm-sponsored 'Spotlight Young Kazakh Cinema' awards at the Eurasia International Film Festival in Almaty two years ago. It was absent from the program in September at this year's edition of the festival, the country's top annual movie showcase.