OCA PEOPLE: TALGAR ZHANIBEKOV

OCA Magazine: Tell me about yourself and your creative work. How did your journey start?

Talgad Zhanibekov : I was born in Semipalatinsk and was raised there until I was 5. In 1978, me and my family moved to the Almaty region. From the 1st to 11th grade I studied in the school named after Furmanov in the Shamalgan village. Since my childhood, I’ve been listening to the rock band ‘Deep Purple’, ‘Whitesnake’, ‘Iron Maiden’. In the 11th grade I decided to try to play such music myself. Of course, I didn’t have any skills for that, but there were teachers either. By trial and error, step by step I learnt how to play heavy-metal. But I thought it wasn’t enough, so I decided to enter the Kemerovo Institute of Culture and chose the speciality of “Conductor of Russian folk instruments” in order to learn about the theory of music. In Kemerovo city I had my first stage performances which were also my first unforgettable experiences. My music and lyrics were becoming heavier and heavier, and indeed I was influenced by such bands as Metallica, Megadeth и Slayer. Upon returning to Almaty, I started to work as a sound engineer in the Kazakh Drama Theater named after Mukhtar Auezov. At the theatre I created a music studio and recorded my long-awaited thrash-metal style music album. My debut on the stage of the academic theatre happened in August 1996. At that time, the directory of the theatre was quite shocked when they saw a completely different side of me. 

OCA: What does Eurasianism mean for you?

TZ: I live in the world’s biggest continent called Eurasia. Its length covers the entire eastern hemisphere from Portugal to Japan if we don’t count Island states in Southeast Asia. But to be honest, I’m a cosmopolitan and I feel good in any place as long as I can create art works. 

OCA: Name your favourite artists

TZ: In music – Ritchie Blackmore, Dave Mustaine, Mick Jagger, Armen Grigoryan. In films – Ingmar Bergman, lars von Trier, Guy Ritchie, Christopher Nolan. In literature and poetry – Mikhail Bulgakov, Edgar Allan Poe, Sergei Esenin. 

OCA: How did your journey in the film industry start?

TZ: As I’ve mentioned above, I worked as a sound engineer in a theatre. At that time, the director of the theatre was People’s Artist of Kazakhstan Tungyshbay Zhamankulov who staged a play called “Salt desert”. I was responsible for the arrangement of music in it. And during one conversation, he told me that my way of thinking was like a producer. So then I entered the Institute of theatre and cinema, the workshop of Ardak Amirkulov. He is a powerful teacher and thanks to him, I acquired my first skills in film-making. At first, we did small projects. During my second year, Ardak Amirkulov launched his film ‘1997 – Rustem’s Notes with pictures’ at the ‘Kazakhfilm’ base. All members of our group directly took part in the creation of it. I played a supporting role and wrote the music for the film. Bedises, we learnt almost everything: wrote a director’s script, learned to put on light, tucked in film, were holders of camera rails and so on. In short, we got all the practical experience. In my third year, we started to defend our courseworks which were short films. I had three of them: “French lesson”, “Thaw” and my graduate work “Lory”. In 2001, I got a film producer diploma but only in 2006 I started my first steps in the film industry. At the beginning, I worked as a screenwriter and at that time Rustem Ibragimov bought my scripts (“White Sun in the Desert”, “Burnt by the Sun”, “Siberian Barber”), and a year later a company “Kazakhfilm” purchased the rights of my script for “Meat King”. In 2011, Russian producer Renat Davletyarov (who filmed “Love Carrots” 1, 2, 3, “Steel Butterfly”, “And Dawns Are Quiet Here”), bought the rights of my script for “Conversation”. Then, this movie was a breakthrough of the Montreal film festival in 2012. During that year, I also filmed the feature movie “Joker”, in which Birch Tree Entertainment (USA), JSC Kazakhfilm, JSC CPC and CAMD LLP also participated. This was a black and white noir story, almost completely filmed on the green background in a pavilion. All the rest was added through computer animation. The style of  “Joker” quite resembled the film ‘Sin City’ filmed by Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller. The movie was released in October 2013. In 2014, I started to work in the company “Kazakhfilm” with a science fiction movie “Phoenix” which we wanted to relate to the 55th anniversary of the world cosmonautics. This is because the first flight to space was made from the Kazakh land by Yuri Gagarin, who opened that era. We received financial support from the government, but then tenge was devalued and as a result, that amount was not enough anymore for such a big project and I needed to find additional investors. So, I attended the Cannes Film Festival because I thought this was a perfect place to find investment, and I wasn’t mistaken. The first person who accepted my offer was Sergei Bespalov. He was a General producer of such films as “Sin City 2: A Woman Worth Killing For”, directed by Robert Rodriguez (“From Dusk Till Dawn”, “Alita: Battle Angel”), “Chef on Wheels” directed by John Favreau (“Iron Man”, “Avengers: Infinity War”, “Avengers: Final”). Me and Sergei got along really well and signed a cooperation agreement. In fact, we planned to film the movie in Hollywood, however, uncareful actions by some officials brought the project to end, unfortunately. Later on, I filmed two auteur  projects using my own budget – “Charm of Life” and “Kuanysh”. Actually, I want to present “Kuanysh” at the “Eurasia” Film Festival in London.

OCA: Have you ever taken part in the Eurasian Creative Guild (London) events?

TZ: Of course, as a member I always take part in events organised by the Eurasian Creative Guild (London) if I have a chance to do so. Even recently, on the 6th of May I participated in the zoom conference on ‘Virusology in movies’ as a moderator. I would like to thank Marat  Ahmejanov for trusting me and providing me with an opportunity to share my views on the film industry.

OCA: What does the Eurasian Creative Guild mean for you and how did it influence your creative activity?

TZ: The Eurasian Creative Guild is doing an important work, it brings together all us into one big creative union. Although all the members of the guild are from different countries, with different mentality and religion, different views, we all are united by the common desire of self-realisation. Every member tries to be useful to other members and this is so important in current times. I’m really grateful that I became a member of such a union as the Eurasian Creative Guild. Thanks to the guild, I opened new horizons and new possibilities that would help me to find like-minded people and allow me to work in my favourite field which is film-making!

OCA: Please tell our readers about your own project or film. 

TZ: Currently, I’m working on two film projects – “DNA: chapter 1” and “DNA: chapter 2”. Both projects are quite similar, but the difference is that in one film there is a male actor playing in 7 different hypostases, while in another one there is a female actor playing in 3 different hypostases. The film will be recorded in one room, with a green background and no decorations at all. So, it’s totally minimalistic. This is all I can say about it for now.

OCA: What projects or exhibitions do you plan to participate in the future?

TZ: I already participated in the film festivals “Go East”, “Weisbaden” in Germany, “Eurasia” in Astana (Kazakhstan), Cannes festival in France, and I would like to to participate in other film festivals as well. 

OCA: What would you wish for people that have just started their journey in the movie industry?

TZ: I’m not the biggest expert in the movie industry so I cannot really give any advice. But I want to say just one thing – be sincere. 

OCA: In general, what is your attitude towards the movie industry in Central Asia? What problems do you see and how would you solve them?TZ: This is a very difficult question for all the movie makers. For the domestic market, private companies release movies with small budgets, usually comedies, and they are quite successful in terms of making a profit. But there are also big governmental companies which allocate large budgets to their movies, but they are not profitable because their theme and message is about patriotism, ideology and country image. Such movies can be profitable only if the country’s population exceeds 50 million people, as said by a famous German producer Karl Baumgarner, and I completely agree with him. The answer is obvious. I would personally recommend those companies to co-produce with other countries in order to reach a wider audience and earn corresponding profits. But if it’s an auteur cinema, it should be supported by funds, film festivals and those who simply love movies!