Dialogue: Gulnara Sarsenova


The 13th Pusan International Film Festival will present producer Gulnara Sarsenova of Kazakhstan with the Asian Filmmaker of the Year Award, the first woman to receive the award in its six-year history. Although she doesn't have a credit on PIFF's opening-night film, the Kazakh-made "The Gift to Stalin," the film owes its existence partly to Sarsenova's work to build up Central Asian filmmaking since the collapse of the Soviet Union. To bring co-productions to Kazakhstan, she established Eurasia Film Production in 2004, and last year she scored a made-in-Kazakhstan hit with "Mongol," Russian director Sergei Bodrov's Oscar-nominated movie about the life of Genghis Khan. A student of philosophy and journalism who trained at the Moscow Film Institute, Sarsenova is an entrepreneur, with hands in French fashion and Kazakh newspapers. As The Hollywood Reporter Asia editor Jonathan Landreth found out, she's also a raconteur, even in translation.

The Hollywood Reporter: What does it mean to be the first woman and first Central Asian named Asian Filmmaker of the Year?
Gulnara Sarsenova: I'd never even dreamt of it. When they told me about it I felt confused and almost burst out crying. Oh, God, I was so happy! This recognition is vital for all of our filmmaking. We were a part of the huge USSR for so long. Throughout those years we created wonderful works of art, but most of it remained in the shadow of the great empire and was unknown to the rest of the world. Now we are revealing ourselves to the world.

THR: Who were the first backers of Eurasia Film, who are they now and where will the next money come from?
Sarsenova: Who initially supported us? Nobody. I supported myself. I'm not a poor person as big business has brought me some income that has allowed me to get into the film business. But understand that film production in our region always had only one financier, one investor, one sponsor. All films made in the Soviet period were financed exclusively by the state. And it only approved production and finance of films that answered to its ideology. Those were the golden times. Directors did not think at all about how to find money for a film. They did not even reflect. The state solved it all: money and distribution, the destiny of a film. There was no job as producer at all.

How did you ensure "Mongol" was a true portrait of the region?
Sarsenova: Sergei Bodrov is a Russian film director. But he shot his first feature film, titled "Non-Professionals," here, in Almaty. As a film director, he was born in Kazakhstan. From then on, Sergei often visited Kazakhstan and worked with our filmmakers. He has called Kazakhstan his second home. Sergei took a risk since historical film was a new genre for him, and he felt great responsibility. He needed the support from his friends. I consider us real friends. That helped him make a wonderful movie. And it helped me to become a real producer. As for the image of our country, I am sure that Sergei managed to do the main thing. He showed Genghis Khan not only as a brutal conqueror but also as a son of his great land. This genius child's harsh childhood took place on the Asian steppe and in the mountains. The great power of nature gave him his strength, not only to survive but also to become great.

THR: Who are the most promising Central Asian filmmakers today?
Sarsenova: If forced to name the most advanced filmmakers in Central Asia I would name all the young ones. At the Eurasia International Film Festival we were delighted to watch the works of the young. It seems to me that this is an absolutely new generation and they are absolutely unlike us. They think in another way, they even feel in another way. Films they make today are absolutely different. I remember how I was amazed with a short picture by Nariman Turebaev called "Anti Romantica." Simple, graceful, elegant. Another name that comes to mind is Guka Omarova. We worked together on "Mongol." She became the most important person for this film.

THR: What do Central Asian directors wish to tell to the world?
Sarsenova: I think the same as all of the filmmakers in the world: They wish to tell about those miracles that hide in their souls. I think that the majority of filmmakers in Central Asia are romantics inside. The romanticism that we see in the films from our region is inherent from birth. Kazakhs are a nomadic nation. Since each nomad is inclined to contemplation and meditation, it is reflected in our films.

Nationality: Kazakh
Date of birth: Aug. 6, 1961
In Pusan: Recipient of Asian Filmmaker of the Year Award
Selected filmography (as producer): Bertrand Tavernier's "In the Electric Mist" (in postproduction), Ben Hopkins' "Pazar -- Bir ticaret masali" (2008), Sergei Dvortsevoy's "Tulpan" (2008), Sergei Bodrov's "Mongol" (2007)