The feature film “The Crying Steppe” from Kazakhstan is the country’s official entry to become a nominee for Best Feature Foreign Language Film at the 93rd Academy Awards on April 25.
The film is based on events that happened in Kazakhstan between 1920 and 1930 when up to 3 million people died of famine due to the Bolsheviks’ policies of ‘War Communism” and Stalin’s collectivization, a policy that devasted the Kazakhs’ nomadic way of life. The violent campaign of confiscation that was enforced by the Soviet government doomed the Kazakh people to near-extinction.
The story centers on a berkutchi (eagle hunter) named Turar and his wife Nuriya. The two try to save their family and other village residents from hunger.
“The crackdown on free-thinking and the annihilation of ethnic culture and human values led to a spiritual starvation and the killing of the soul,” Marina Kunarova, the director of the film, said, as quoted by goldenglobes.com.
“The film raises the question of ‘why?’ Why did our forefathers have had to pay such a terrible price? And why, up until now, have we been afraid to admit what really happened and, instead, conceal our tragic history from the rest of the world?” she said.
Kunarova is the first female director from Kazakhstan to be nominated for an Oscar. The film was presented in November 2020 in Los Angeles, the film also participated in the Golden Globe competition for the Best Foreign Language Film Award.
“(It is) the history of our people, our ancestors who died innocently. It took all of us five years and two years of preparations. We are now on the long list. The shortlist for the Oscar will be announced at the end of February,” said film producer Yernar Malikov, as quoted by Tengrinews.kz
The tragedy caused by the Great Famine has affected every modern family in Kazakhstan, including myself. For example, my maternal grandmother Gaini told me that she lost her husband and small children during the time of famine.
“I cried a lot and missed my dead children. It was scary to be alone in those years,” my grandmother told me.
Left as a widow, she married my grandfather Bilyal, who at the same time stayed with two young sons, the youngest was two years old. My grandfather’s first wife died of hunger along with the newborn. My grandmother Gaini raised two sons from my grandfather’s first marriage, then my mother was born. I belong to the second generation of Kazakhs born from those who were able to survive the Great Famine.
For Kazakhstan, the historical topic has become especially relevant today in connection with the statements of some Russian politicians about the alleged lack of statehood among the Kazakhs. The Central Asian republic is celebrating the 30th anniversary of its independence following the collapse of the Soviet Union.
At the beginning of this year, Kazakhstan’s President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, in his article “Independence is the most precious thing”, outlined his program, saying that today historical stories are in demand in the world film industry and that “Netflix, HBO and other large film companies are heading to Asia.”
Tokayev added that Kazakhstan has a history that covers many important events that can form the basis of such films, for example, the history of the Mongol Golden Horde, one of the largest and most empires in the history of the world.
The President noted that in the future, Kazakh film critics should pay special attention to the history of the country, saying, “We need to preserve our strong roots, not to break away from our national identity, culture and traditions,” while adding that the younger generation should know the value of the country’s independence.