EXCLUSIVE: Indie international feature Balaban has wrapped principal photography in Kazakhstan.
The coming-of-age drama is inspired by true events in 2006, when one hundred and sixty infants were infected with HIV as a result of tainted blood transfusions, administered in four public hospitals in the country. The story hones in on two Kazakh teenagers who devise a plan to steal a prized Balaban falcon to help fund their dream of moving to Paris.
Aysulu Onaran makes her feature debut on the project, which she scripted with Sam Roffey. Adilet Yessimov produces with Poms and Fatima producer Rose Ganguzza aboard as executive producer.
Kamila Fun-So, Irina Gylko, and Chingiz Kapin lead cast.
The movie was shot on location in the Almaty region of Kazakhstan, which is known for its dramatic mountains and vast nomadic steppe.
Kazakh-born Onaran worked for a decade in a charity with HIV-positive youth in Kazakhstan. In 2021 she initiated the My Body My Choice educational program supporting girls and women facing gender abuse.
“It is so empowering being able to write and direct this special story that has been very important to me,” said director Aysulu Onaran. “I am extremely proud of Balaban and incredibly blessed to be undertaking a journey that champions the destigmatizing of HIV-positive girls and sexual diversity in my home country. To date, the HIV & LGBTQ+ communities continue to face discrimination and many economic and social challenges.”
Executive producer Ganguzza added: “Many years ago in the midst of the AIDS crisis, I became very involved in raising awareness about this disease and how it would affect the world. It was clear to me that it was something which would affect every sector of the population and be with us for a long time. I was impressed with Aysulu’s dedication to the young ‘orphans of AIDS’ in her country and this story about the need to soar above the constraints of nature and illness. Her film is lyrical and reinforces the belief that there is hope in even the greatest struggle.”
The film’s behind-the-camera team includes cinematographer Nursultan Bazarbay, editor Brin Dood, casting director Altynay Aumalikova, production designer Beken Narbay, set decorator Leonid Pivovarov, costume designer Adelya Adilbek, and composers Reeve Carney and Dominic Shovelton.