Elzat Eskendir was born in 1987 in South Kazakhstan. He studied Philology and Film Direction at the National Academy of Arts in Almaty, and worked as editor-scriptwriter at the Kazakhfilm National Film Studio. His first short film, Off-season (2016), won a Sonje Award for Best Short Film at Busan International Film Festival 2016, and also won Best Debut at the Kinoproba Film Festival 2018 in Russia. The film was in competition at several other significant film festivals in Europe. Currently, Elzat is working on his first full-length feature film, The Strayed. The Kazakh-Czech co-production is currently in post-production and is supported by the Swiss Fund Visions Sud Est. Production of his new project, Abel, is planned in 2021.
Born in Russia, and raised in Russia, the USA and Germany, Anna Vilgelmi graduated from the Free University of Berlin, with majors in Communications and Film Studies, before moving into producing films. She was part of the production team on several important international co-productions with a focus on Eastern Europe and Central Asia. She produced The Wounded Angel (2016), by Silver-Bear-winning director Emir Baigazin, which premiered in the Panorama at Berlin International Film Festival 2016 and received multiple awards worldwide. Anna was also one of the producers on Sea Tomorrow (Katerina Suvorova, 2016), the director′s first feature documentary (Critics’ Week, Locarno Film Festival 2016), and short film, Off-season (Elzat Eskendir, 2016), which won a Sonje Award at Busan International Film Festival 2016. She is currently producing Elzat Eskendir’s film, The Strayed, which is now in post-production, being supported by the Swiss Fund Visions Sud Est. Production of new project, Abel by the same director, is planned for 2021.
Kazakhfilm JSC is Kazakhstan’s national film studio, founded in 1941 and responsible for hundreds of productions, many of them internationally recognized; such as the films of Darezhan Omirbayev, including Kairat (1992), which won Silver Leopard at Locarno Film Festival 1992; Emir Baigazin, including Harmony Lessons (2013), which won Silver Bear at Berlin International Film Festival 2013, as well as the films of Adilkhan Erzhanov.
In the early 90s, during the disintegration of the Soviet Union, the property of the state collective farms (kolkhozy) is being divided up and privatized. In a kolkhoz in Southern Kazakhstan, no one believes that the property will be shared fairly, with leaders abusing their authority and allocating the sheep among themselves. An honest, middle-aged shepherd, Abel, who looked after sheep in this kolkhoz all his life, realizes that in order for him and his family to survive, he will have to take his share of the sheep by any means. He makes a secret agreement with the kolkhoz head, Bolat, to hide a good part of the herd in a remote barn, without entering it into the records and, after the “official” allocation is over, split the sheep between them both. Bolat also agrees that Abel should keep the horse he rides. While the tense process of divvying up the farm is underway, Abel’s older son arrives from the city to take one sheep, violently, for a feast with a group of racketeers to which he apparently now belongs. After the kolkhoz head lets someone take the horse Abel wanted, Abel decides to keep all the hidden sheep for himself. The kolkhoz head tortures Abel’s younger son to find out where the sheep are hidden and takes them away while Abel is at dinner at his neighbor’s. The next day brings news of the death of Abel’s older son. Abel and his wife go to the city, and the few remaining sheep that Abel owns are left standing untended in the rain…
I was always concerned about the destinies of ordinary people during major historical events and times of change; about their feelings, opinions and social conditions. In countries without democracy citizens are simply informed of those changes without any right to protest or disagree. If the economy of such a country collapses, the people experience social and psychological difficulties which can lead to depression ? as happened after the Soviet Union disintegrated in 1991. I observed this period in my native Kazakhstan and it had a great impact on me as a child. The story of Abel is based on the life of a shepherd, named Abel, who was devoted to the Soviet government, but who became unwanted as the Soviet Union collapsed. He couldn’t even receive proper reward for his work. Gradually and tragically, he loses faith in the state, in justice, in people and even family - just as, one by one, he loses the sheep he hoped to keep for himself in the course of state privatization. The title, Abel, loosely refers to the biblical tale of Kain and Abel, where one brother kills another, with family trust being destroyed like the trust of an old shepherd in his state. On the other hand, it also refers to the chaotic times of the 90s, when a dramatically impoverished and brutalized people were ready to commit fratricide. The film will be shot in the style of Aleksei German (Khrustalyov, My Car! , 1998), with a multi-layered, dynamic mise-en-scene.