For the first time in the history of the Berlin Film Festival a Kazakh film is in the official competition program. It was a triple premiere as it was at the same time also the world premiere of “Harmony Lessons”, director Emir Baigazin’s first feature movie. The 28-year- old filmmaker from Kazakhstan was quite moved on the red carpet for the opening of his film., but he has been here before. In 2008 he took part in the festival’s “Talent Campus”.
“I am extemely excited – there are too many feelings coming to me right now, I am overwhelmed,” said Emir Baigazin.
“Harmony Lessons” centres around a 13-year-old boy who lives with his grandmother somewhere in the Kazakh countryside. Every day he has to endure school bullies who blackmail anyone weaker than them. It breaks him psychologically, and he retreats into obsessively washing himself, and torturing cockroaches, before developing a strategy to survive and exact revenge .
Most of the adolescent cast are non-professional actors. The film director was himself a theatre actor before studying film and television, and says working with amateur actors is a challenge.
“It was important to find the right balance between the freedom these adolescents need, their urge to improvise and the rigor and the necessary discipline that our work requires. You always have to make it very clear to youngsters that the rigorousness of the visual idea I decided to convey must be respected: They have freedom; they can improvise but only up to a certain point.,” he smiles.
The screenplay was written by Emir Baigazin himself, basing the story on memories of his own schooldays. The movie has several layers and evokes existential questions from Gandhi to Darwin.
The film was supported and co produced by Kazakhfilm Studio.Yermek Amanshayev is the studio President .
“We produce about 12-14 films a year in Kazakhstan and 10 films are produced by KazakhFilm Studio. We are the national film studio, the state company and studio that supports and co-produces with many private studios, but this is the only system promoting and encouraging studios in Kazakhstan,” he says.
This existential coming-of-age revenge movie was well-received by the critics at the Berlinale. “Harmony Lessons” will be a strong contender for the Golden Bear award which will be handed out this weekend.
“To walk on the red carpet at the Berlinale film festival was not only a great moment for the young film director Emir Baigazin, it was also a good reason for the entire Kazakh film industry to be proud,” says our man in Berlin, Wolfgang Spindler.