By Natasha Elkington
ALMATY (Reuters) - The biggest film to come out of Kazakhstan in a decade aims to get the country's younger generation excited about its ancestry and history.
"Myn Bala" (meaning 'a thousand boys' in Kazakh), tells the tale of 18th century Kazakh legend Sartay with a budget of just $10 million.
An orphaned young warrior who faces battle, betrayal and first-time love, Sartay has to rally troops to fight fearsome Mongol warriors known as the Dzhungars, who are descended from Genghis Khan.
"The main thing for me is that the young generation should know the cost that our ancestors paid for our current independence and our freedom," the film's director Akan Satayev told Reuters at the Kazakhfilm studios in Almaty.
Exploring the history of the world's ninth largest country, Myn Bala was shot in more than eight different locations around the Tien-Shan mountains which form the southern edge of the Kazakh Steppe.
The changeable weather of the mountains proved even more challenging than the feat of directing battle scenes with up to a thousand people, Satayev said.
Meticulous research went into creating a film which depicts the battle of Anyrakay in 1729, where the Kazakhs finally defeat the Dzhungars and take control of their land for the first time in their history.
"Cinema is a myth-making industry and although we focus on the accuracy of the historical background the main thing for us is the legend - Sartay, the legendary hero," said Ermek Amanshayev, head of Kazakhfilm which funded the project, and the man usually associated with saving the local film industry in the post-Soviet era.
"Robin Hood lives in Sherwood Forest and Sartay lives in the Steppe, so he is a kind of Steppe Robin Hood."
Recreating the early 18th century involved historians from Kazakhstan, China and Mongolia, creating sets that reflected the past and costumes including furs, armor and weaponry that were sourced from around the globe.
"We made sure we didn't have nails for example because they didn't have nails at that time," said Kuat Tleubayev, the film's art director.
"The focus was that nothing should look new, it should look as if it came from that time."
After 40,000 hopefuls auditioned, the teenagers who made it through to the leading roles shot the movie after only two months of stunt-training, horseback riding and learning to speak in the old Kazakh dialect.
A global team of scriptwriters and editors were enlisted to help shape the characters and more importantly appeal to younger audiences both nationally and internationally.
"It is a romanticized epic of historic characters, because this is a story about teenagers similar to teenagers worldwide, it will be interesting to the young generation," Amanshayev said.
The film is due for release in 2012
(Edited by Paul Casciato)