Page last updated at 08:47 GMT, Friday, 23 May 2008 09:47 UK

Genghis puts Russia on cinema map

By Mark Savage
Entertainment reporter, BBC News, in Cannes

Eduard Ondar as Genghis Khan
Eduard Ondar plays Genghis Khan in the film

To many in the West, Russia is one of the bad guys of the film industry.

Hard-nosed KGB types are reliably cast as stock villains in mainstream fare, but the country's piracy problems are perhaps more troubling to the businessmen of Hollywood.

But Russia's own burgeoning film industry has been gaining confidence for several years, with breakouts like Timur Bekmambetov's action adventure Night Watch achieving a modicum of success outside Europe.

Bekmambetov has already made the leap to Los Angeles, where he directed James McAvoy and Angelina Jolie in forthcoming blockbuster Wanted.

Meanwhile, budgets and ambition are on the rise in Moscow.

Director Andrei Borisov has come to the Cannes Film Festival with an ambitious epic based on Genghis Khan, the Mongol warrior who built a vast 13th Century empire.

Everybody on the set was pretending they were Genghis, even the producer!
Andrei Borisov, director

By The Will Of Genghis Khan took two years to complete, and recasts the warrior as a hero, rather than the feared killer he is often perceived to be in Western narratives.

But, with production costs reaching $10m (5m) - nearly five times the average budget for Russian movies - the film will need to find an audience outside its home territory, hence its presence at the world's most prestigious film festival.

Borisov hopes that the film's grand scale and international cast will attract foreign audiences.

"Our actors are from Germany, the US, Mongolia, Russia," he says, admitting "it was really difficult to put them all together".

The cast includes US actor Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, who has appeared in the likes of Heroes and Memoirs of a Geisha, and Orgil Makhaan, who played Genghis Khan in the BBC's critically acclaimed 2005 documentary about the warrior.

Genghis Khan
The real-life Mongolian army acted in the battle scenes

This time round, he plays Khan's best friend - although he had been keen to try for the lead role.

"Did he audition for the main part? Yes, of course!" says Borisov.

"Thirteen people who played Genghis Khan in different projects took part in this film, so everybody on the set was pretending they were Genghis, even the producer!"

For authenticity, the film was shot in the very places where Khan walked 700 years ago, including the Gobi Desert and the ice-covered Kihlyakh mountains in Yakutia.

The modern-day Mongolian army also took part in the film's massive battle scenes.

With no CGI, and up to 500 men on horseback in any one shot, the army pulled off stunts that the professionals from Japan and the US did not dare to try.

Battle scenes

"The professionals we brought over needed a lot of equipment for their stunts, but the Mongolian army could do it without," says producer Vladimir Ivanov.

"These local nomads said: 'Oh, it's so difficult for you, and it takes so long for you to put all this equipment here to perform these tricks, let us show you.'

"So they showed them all these very difficult manoeuvres with the horses and so on, and the Japanese and American professionals said: 'Oh no, we refuse, we don't know how to do this.'"

Despite the majestic sweep of the film's locations and the intense battle scenes, the film may prove to be a difficult sell outside Russia - not least because its dialogue is a mixture of nine Turkic languages.

But its presence in Cannes is a convincing sign that Russian film-makers are ready to take their place on the world stage.




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