In 1997 the Republic of Kazakhstan moved its capital from the peripheral Almaty to a place known as Akmola at that time. Akmola was renamed as Astana and a total makeover started. Astana is growing ever since mainly due to the erection of governmental bodies. This massive task is backed by the country’s impressive natural resources.
But such a vast enterprise requires more than just money and in order to be regarded as successful must bestow more than edifices. Notably in the context of post-socialist societies it can become a matter of national identity as genuine cultures were suppressed for generations.
The Triumph of Astana explores this process guided by the very questions of cultural identity and prestige projects as a communicative means of political agendas. But the film neither tries to explain nor criticize what is happening, but painstakingly observes in order not to adopt a perspective that might be seen as local affirmation or Western arrogance respectively. It rather inherits the role of a flaneur as it appeared in 19th century Paris and later was described by Walter Benjamin. The film visits places, follows people, gives them the opportunity to express themselves and thereby the audience the chance to form an own view.
Among the locations the film takes us to are the ubiquitous construction sites. In this state the buildings still seem accustomed – some quality they loose once finished and a part of the cityscape. One of the sites is a prospective entertainment and shopping center designed by Sir Norman Foster’s office. The project is delayed and features an ambitious tent construction. People, who can afford to have doubts, do question whether it ever will function properly. Most other buildings are by architects nobody really knows. Maybe that’s just fine as the buildings have some engaging gushiness about them that doesn’t ask for an author. The President’s palace looks like an oversized Muslim counterpart of the White House in Washington. The Ministry of Trafic with its oval foot print already was called ‘The Lighter’ before its top floor catched fire some years ago. And there’s The Triumph of Astana, the most prestigious apartment complex in town that simply shouts out Stalin. At least that’s what foreigners hear, when they come to Astana. For locals its nice, impressive and state-of-the-art as its just looks like the recently built Triumph Palace in Moscow. So it ain’t a copy but the copy of a copy. Does that make it less or more original? We see people traveling, working, playing with their kids in the courts of old and new panel building blocks. And we see them strolling around on the Left Bank as the new government district is called. They adopt these places, take pictures of themselves in front of key buildings or the numberless models of the city. The city models are a main attraction for Kazakh tourists. They give them the opportunity of virtual trips not to distant countries but to their own prospected future.