EXCLUSIVE: Los Angeles-based Russian-Kazakh director and producer Timur Bekmambetov has secured Turkish backing for his animated feature about iconic Middle Eastern and Asian folk hero Hodja Nasreddin.
Bekmambetov’s company Bazelevs has signed an agreement with Yeni Dusler Animation, a production company and content provider for the national public broadcaster of Turkey, the Turkish Radio and Television Corporation.
The previously announced English-language production marks Bekmambetov’s first foray into animation and is underway for a planned 2024 release. The voice actors will be attached later this year.
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Nasreddin is a wandering philosopher and prankster who gets into absurd situations, but ultimately always emerges victorious thanks to his wit, wisdom, and humor. He appears in thousands of folk tales across the Middle East and Asia, dating back to the 13th century.
“For people from the Middle East and Asia, he has superhero status. In this part of the world, he is known under different names, but for each country, he is a national hero. In Kazakhstan, they know him as Aldar Kose, in Turkey as Hodja, in Arab countries as Joha, in China as Afanti,” explained Bekmambetov.
“If there’s a legacy that embodies the authenticity of the culture and unites peoples of this part of the world, it is Hodja.”
Bekmambetov also expects partners from China and other Arab countries to board the co-production later this year.
Turkey is the third country to join the project after Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, which helped greenlight the production in 2021, with the support of the National Cinematographic Agency and Kazakhfilm respectively.
The production is a passion project for Bekmambetov, whose directorial credits include 2018 thriller Profile, which played in the Berlinale’s Panorama sidebar, and the 2008 assassin action film Wanted starring James McAvoy and Angelina Jolie.
The project is designed to grow into an entertainment universe, with a TV animated show, a graphic novel, and a VR experience in the works.
In each partner country, Bazelevs has committed to opening an animation school, where Bekmambetov plans to train professional actors as animation designers.
“It is a common misconception that only designers can create animation. Modern software allows us to create stunning visuals, but it takes an understanding of the principles of acting to create a character behind them,” said Bekmambetov.
The inaugural school is already in operation in Uzbekistan, and its first 30 graduates are already engaged in the production of Bekmambetov’s animated feature.
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