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Kazakhstan: Tulpan, Sergei Dvortsevoy’s Amazing Film on the Country’s Nomadic Shepherds

Making Connections in Kazakhstan
Tulpan, Amazing Film on the Country’s Nomadic Shepherds
This is Part 1 of the Skyline Stories series “Making Connections in Kazakhstan.”
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Tulpan Film Poster

Saw the amazing Kazakhstani film “Tulpan” at Film Forum this week. (Update: Now on DVD.) Set in the windswept “Hunger Steppe” of southern Kazakhstan, the film follows Asa, a young man who returns home from military service with the Navy to his family of nomadic shepherds. He intends to court Tulpan, the area’s only woman who can be married.

The film, shot with mostly non-professional actors and natural effects — including a 10-minute sheep birthing scene, is part ethno-drama, part coming-of-age tale. It won the 2008 Cannes Film Festival’s Prix Un Certain Regard for “original and different” work.

In a post-screening interview with Film at Lincoln Center during the 2009 New York Film Festival, director Sergei Dvortsevoy said, “All audiences loved the film, but some officials said this was worse than Borat, very bad for Kazakhstan. They ask, ‘Why you want to present to the world Kazakhstan as a poor country?'”

Dvortsevoy continues on the filming process:

“I asked the family to live together one month before the shooting in the yurt, him working as a shepherd, her as a mother to look after children, prepare everything and cook. That’s why you see children so natural, it’s like family.

“The shepherd is an opera singer in real life from Almaty. Samal [Esljamova] (who plays Samal) is a professional theatrical actress, but she was 19 years old, so it was hard for her to cook, live on the step, look after children, because she was just a child herself.”

So…I knew that Kazakhstan will not be like Borat, and I don’t think Almaty will be like this, either. What will the trip be like?

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This is Part 1 of the Skyline Stories series “Making Connections in Kazakhstan.”