Oliver Stone’s documentary about former leader of Kazakhstan, Nazarbayev, was funded by a Nazarbayev foundation

The documentary has been criticized for its hagiographic view of Kazakhstan’s longtime dictator. It turns out that a foundation controlled by Nazarbayev paid for his production.

Soaring hawks, galloping horses and sunset-lit horizons. A dramatic soundtrack of lofty strings, unearthly vocals and soaring percussion. And interspersed with serious statements from the former authoritarian ruler of Kazakhstan and an unexpected interlocutor – Oscar-winning director Oliver Stone.

This is the trailer for one of Stone’s latest cinematic vehicles, a documentary in which the controversial Hollywood figure interviews the former president of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev.

Released in 2021 as an eight-hour miniseries and feature film, Qazaq: History of the Golden Man turns a flattering lens on Nazarbayev as he reminisces about his years in power and shares his thoughts on the future of the country.

It turns out that a charitable foundation named after and controlled by Nazarbayev paid at least $5 million for the production, an undisclosed conflict of interest. Last year, Stone and the film’s director, Igor Lopatonok, told the Guardian that the Kazakh government was not involved, but declined to discuss who funded it.

The film was not widely reviewed, but regional experts considered it a “hagiographic ode” that became “part of [Nazarbayev]the permanent cult of personality.

Nazarbayev ruled Kazakhstan for nearly 30 years, presiding over an oil-fueled development boom that enriched his family and close aides, even as ordinary Kazakhs saw little benefit. During his rule, human rights groups documented severe restrictions on freedom of speech and political expression, impunity for torture, politically motivated prosecutions and other violations.

During his tenure, Nazarbayev also established several non-profit foundations, ostensibly to help the people of Kazakhstan. Although they were frequently praised in the local press for their charity work, a story released earlier this year by OCCRP and its Kyrgyz and Kazakh partners, Kloop and Vlast.kz, showed they held assets worth billions of dollars that appeared to have little to do with their stated missions.

It is one such foundation that paid at least $5 million for the Oliver Stone vehicle, masking its involvement – intentionally or not – by making the payment through an intermediary.

The arrangement was revealed last August, when Kazakh journalist Mikhail Kozachkov obtained and published a contract between the Foundation of the First President of the Republic of Kazakhstan – Elbasy and a government organization called the State Center for National Cinema Support .

The contract stipulated that the state film center would receive $7 million from the foundation to “organize the production, presentation and distribution” of the film, which bore the working title “Oliver Stone Documentary Film – Kazakhstan”.

Last month, the chairman of the board of directors of the cinema center confirmed the arrangement to Vlast.kz journalists. He also confirmed that the center received an upfront payment of $5 million and passed it on to the film’s production company, Global 3 Pictures. It is unclear whether the remaining $2 million has been paid.

Global 3 Pictures is incorporated in California. Its CEO is Igor Lopatonok, the Ukrainian-born director of the film Nazarbayev. Curiously, the company was suspended from the state company register in 2018 – before the Kazakh contract – for failing to make the required deposit.

Another company with a similar name, Global Tree Pictures, was founded in 2020. It also features Lopatonok as CEO and appears to have taken on the role of producing his movies. In addition to the film Nazarbayev, the company produced Stone’s 2016 documentary on Edward Snowden, according to the IMDb film database.

Stone did not respond to requests for comment sent by his agent. Last year, he dismissed criticism that his film was hagiographic and ignored human rights issues and other issues in Kazakhstan. “What’s wrong with celebrating Nazarbayev for 30 years in power?” Stone told the Guardian. “Give him credit for building the country and keeping the peace and not turning it into a heap of garbage like Ukraine.”

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