The Partisan Movement, or Kazakhstan's New Wave Cinema

in 37th Moscow International Film Festival

by Eduardo Guillot

The Moscow International Film Festival has been the forum for the international launch of Toll Bar (Shlagbaum), a Kazakh film directed by Zhassulan Poshanov which, in the end, provided its lead actor Yerkebulan Daiyrov, with the Best Actor award. Yet the film’s significance surpasses its presence among the winners of the Main Competition program.

This is due to the fact that Toll Bar is the first film resulting from the so-called “Partisan Movement”, which brings together several Kazakh filmmakers around a manifesto for guerrilla cinema based on three pillars:

1. No budget. Films must be made without a budget. This rule must be strictly followed.
2. Social Realism. The subject of the films is the present, realistically approached and from a social view point. Would you like to use social realism’s old definition? Please do. We like that.
3. New ways. Rejection of the standard ways of bourgeois cinema.

Despite the third point, the Partisan Movement advocates a change in content rather than in the ways of narrating. According to Poshanov, his source of inspiration are the British “Angry Young Men” of the 1950s and, subsequently, Free Cinema, as the Partisan Movement expressly mentions Tony Richardson, Lindsay Anderson and Ken Loach in the founding text. “We are trying to do the same they did in our country, without allowing governmental interference of any sort”, says the filmmaker. “The Kazakh government is involved in film projects through production grants and supports films far removed from reality and from the real social problems. We don’t want to hide anything, but to take the cameras to the streets”.

That’s what was done in Toll Bar, a film where the actors worked for free, which was shot with borrowed cameras and whose total cost amounted to USD 15,000, corresponding almost entirely to transport and catering. Poshanov, who had previously worked under the conventional industrial production system for the film Zhel Kyzy (2010), chose a real event to provide a very personal view at some of the burning issues in his country, such as class struggle. “It’s not something affecting only Kazakhstan. It’s happening worldwide, but particularly in the countries of the former Soviet orbit, so everyone can relate to the problems shown in the film”. Communication and understanding between parents and children, or the difficulties of adaptation to the big city that people from the countryside face are some of the issues addressed in the film, based on the contrast between two radically different characters. On the one hand, there’s Rauan, a poor man longing to become a professional boxer, but working as a security guard at a residential complex and as a doorman at a nightclub. On the other hand, there’s Aidar, an upper class young man whose main concern is to complete his studies and go abroad to show his father that he can fend for himself. They both meet every day on both sides of the barrier that separates their worlds, sooner or later bound to clash.

Poshanov —whose previous works were the TV series Sunkar (2013) and Kuliash (2013), — shoots each character differently, opening the frame in Aidar’s case and reducing the space when Rauan is shown. “Initially, this happened unconsciously, but the intention was to try to visualize the opportunities each one of them had. The shooting was difficult. There is a fight scene in a nightclub’s toilet that should have been shot in the street, outside the venue, but we did not have enough light, so we had to relocate it inside the club”.

These are the disadvantages of working with budget constraints. However, they are not an obstacle to the Partisan Movement. Only a year after the drafting of their manifesto, there are three more ongoing projects sharing the same goals: “We do not think about festivals, but about the people in our country, who are suffering on a daily basis from the problems that we show in the movies. We’re just pointing out what’s going on. It’s very important for us to communicate with society, showing what’s happening without trying to sugar-coat reality. That’s why we don’t want to depend on the government, but to do things our way, so that we don’t have to be accountable to anyone afterwards”.

Edited by Birgit Beumers