Soaring falcons, horses rushing at full speed, the horizon in the rays of the setting sun. Epic soundtrack: violins, choir, drumming. All this is interspersed with thoughtful remarks by the former authoritarian leader of Kazakhstan and his unexpected interlocutor, Oscar-winning director Oliver Stone.
This is what it looks like trailer one of Stone’s latest creations. In this documentary project, the notorious Hollywood director and producer interviews former Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev.
An eight-part mini-series and standalone feature film will be released in 2021. Qazaq: History of the Golden Man celebrates Nazarbayev as he reminisces about his years in power and reflects on the country’s future.
As it turned out, the Nazarbayev Charitable Foundation allocated at least five million dollars for the shooting. No conflict of interest reported. Last year, Stone and film director Igor Lopatenok told The Guardianthat the government of Kazakhstan had nothing to do with filming. At the same time, the authors refused to discuss funding issues.
The film received few reviews, but regional experts panned it, calling it “a grotesque… hagiographic ode” and “a contribution to the creation of a cult of personality.” [Назарбаева]”.
Nazarbayev led Kazakhstan for almost 30 years. Against the backdrop of the oil boom relatives and associates got richbut the standard of living in the country remained low. During his time in office, human rights groups documented severe restrictions on freedom of speech and political opinion, torture with impunity, politically motivated persecution, and other violations.
In addition, Nazarbayev established several non-profit foundations, ostensibly to help the people of Kazakhstan. Kazakh media enthusiastically covered their good deeds. However, at the beginning of 2022, OCCRP with partner centers Vlast.kz (Kazakhstan) and Kloop (Kyrgyzstan) published materialfrom which it follows that the funds own multibillion-dollar assets, which, apparently, have nothing to do with their official activities.
One of these foundations paid at least five million dollars for Oliver Stone’s project. The payment was made through an intermediary, probably to hide the fund’s involvement.
The deal became known in August 2022, when Kazakh journalist Mikhail Kozachkov received and published an agreement between the “Foundation of the First President of the Republic of Kazakhstan – Elbasy” and the organization “State Center for the Support of National Cinema” (SCPC).
Under the terms of the agreement, the state center received seven million dollars from the fund to “organize the production, presentation and distribution” of the film, which bore the working title “Oliver Stone Documentary – Kazakhstan.”
In September, the chairman of the board of the State Center for the Support of National Cinema confirmed to Vlast.kz reporters the existence of a contract. He also confirmed that the GCCPC received the $5 million down payment and handed it over to the film’s production company, Global 3 Pictures. It is not clear if another two million dollars were later paid.
Global 3 Pictures is registered in California. Its CEO is Igor Lopatyonok, a director of Ukrainian origin who made a film about Nazarbayev. It is noteworthy that in 2018, even before the conclusion of the contract in Kazakhstan, the company was excluded from the state register of legal entities because it did not submit the necessary documents.
Another company with a similar name, Global Tree Pictures, was founded in 2020. Lopatenok also became the general director in it. Apparently, the company was engaged in the production of his films. On the IMDb website statesthat in addition to the film about Nazarbayev, the company produced Stone’s 2016 documentary about Edward Snowden.
Stone did not respond to requests for comment sent through his agent. Last year, he dismissed criticisms that his film was hagiographic and silent about human rights violations and other issues in Kazakhstan. “What’s wrong with celebrating the thirtieth anniversary of Nazarbayev’s rule? Stone told The Guardian staff. “You have to give him credit: he kept the peace and restored the country, and did not turn it into a garbage dump like Ukraine.”
Stone’s loyal attitude towards the Kazakh ruler is reminiscent of other projects in which he starred, acted as a director or producer. His series interview with President Vladimir Putin and film about Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez criticized for overly complimentary portrayals of the characters.
The film “Ukraine on Fire” was derided for supporting the Russian narrative about Euromaidan 2014: the revolution was portrayed as a nationalist coup orchestrated by the United States. The director of the film was also Igor Lopatyonok.
Lopatyonok did not respond to requests for comment. Last year, when the journalists of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty asked him about the film’s financing, he declined to comment, citing the journalists as “foreign agents”. In Russia, the status of foreign agents is given to the media and activists who are objectionable to the Kremlin.
Photo: Roberto Scarfone / Alamy Stock Photo Nursultan Nazarbayev’s portrait banner at Almaty University In 2021, a documentary film about Nazarbayev was shown on three Kazakh TV channels on December 1 – for many years it was the Day of the First President of the Republic of Kazakhstan.
In a few weeks, thousands of people openly spoke against the legacy of Nazarbayev, who retained vast powers even after leaving the presidency.
The cries of the demonstrators “Shal, ket!” (“Grandfather, go away!”) marked the beginning of a new era. Throughout the year, the President’s personally chosen successor Kassym-Jomart Tokayev tried to distance himself from Nazarbayev, criticizing the corruption that flourished under him.
In September, the holiday in honor of Nazarbayev was officially cancelled.
Another important question: where did the State Center for the Support of National Cinema get these 7 million dollars from? And I have an answer.
The film was ordered by the Foundation of the First President of the Republic of Kazakhstan – Elbasy. That is, the State Center for the Support of National Cinema acted only as an operator – through him, in fact, they found a contractor in the person of Oscar-winner Stone, for which the State Center for the Support of National Cinema received a commission – more than 100 thousand dollars.
By the way, later the private fund was reorganized and it became simply the Nursultan Nazarbayev Fund. This is an absolutely private legal entity, its only founder is Nursultan Nazarbayev himself.
It turns out that Elbasy himself ordered and paid for the film about Elbasy. And here, as it were, there can be no questions – the fund is replenished from voluntary donations from people and organizations, so money can be spent as you like.
But there is a nuance.
In August 2020, the Nursultan Nazarbayev Foundation terminated the agreement with the State Center for Support of National Cinema, in connection with which, the national company undertook to return all $7 million back. And then an assignment agreement was also concluded, according to which the rights to the film by Oliver Stone were transferred to pay off the debt. In other words, the State Center for the Provision of the Arts paid off its debt to the Nursultan Nazarbayev Foundation in full, and no public money was spent on the Oscar-winner’s painting.