Cinema and nationalism are two fundamentally modern phenomena, but how have films shaped our understanding of the creation -the 'imagining' - of Central-Asian nations? Here, Rico Isaacs uses cinema as an analytical lens to explore how the Kazakh national identity has been constructed and contested. Drawing on an analysis of Kazakh films from the last century, and featuring new interviews with directors and critics involved in the Central Asian film industry, his book traces the construction of nationalism within Kazakh cinema from the country's inception as a Soviet Republic to a modern independent nation.Isaacs identifies four narratives since the collapse of the Soviet Union: a warrior-like 'ethnic' narrative rooted in the 18th Century struggles against the Mongolian Oirat tribes; a 'civic' inspired narrative cemented in the Stalinist deportations of the 1930s and 40s; a religious narrative founded within the mystic and philosophical religion of Tengrism and the cult of the Sky God; and a socio-economic narrative which roots Kazakh nationhood and identity in contemporary social divisions, the lived day-to-day experiences of ordinary citizens and the struggles they face with authority.
These last two tropes demonstrate how cinema has emerged as a site of dissent against the country's authoritarian regime under President Nazarbayev. Film and Identity in Kazakhstan advances our understanding of Kazakhstan and nationalism by demonstrating the multiple and inessential character of each, and illustrates the important role of cinema in contesting political power in the post-Soviet space.
Rico Isaacs is a Reader in Politics at Oxford Brookes University. His research focuses on nation-building and institutions in post-Soviet Central Asia. He writes regularly on Central Asian politics and culture.
Chapter one: From Constructed to Contested Nations: Theorising and analysing nation and cinema Chapter Two: Kazakh Khanate to Kazakh Eli: Nation-Building in Kazakhstan in Historical and Political ContextChapter Three: Between two worlds: Kazakh film and Nation-building in the Soviet eraChapter Four: The Disruption of Time: the Kazakh New Wave 1985-1995Chapter Five: Naked in the Mirror: the ethno-centric narrative of Kazakh nationhoodChapter Six: May the Grass Never Grow at Your Door: the civic conception of nationhood in Kazakh cinemaChapter Seven: 'Hymn to Mother' - Tengrism, motherhood and nationhoodChapter Eight: The Steppe, disorientation, division and corruption: social and economic visions of modern nationhoodConclusionNotes