Kazakhs are peaceful, kind and definitely not anti-Semitic – basically, nothing like portrayed in the controversial film “Borat,” said Shamil Assylbekov, a CSU student originally from Kazakhstan.
“Jewish people are like the salt of our nation,” he said, adding that Jews are represented in all levels of life in the former Soviet republic, including the arts, sciences and politics.
In fact, even the name Shamil is Jewish, just more proof that the nation isn’t anti-Semitic, Assylbekov said.
The controversial film – the full title is “Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan” – lampoons American culture for most of its 84 minutes, but also portrays the Asian nation in an unflattering light.
One scene even features a “Running of the Jew,” in which people dressed as horrible monsters (the Jews), chase the Kazakhs to get their money.
Assylbekov and two CSU instructors will be part of a panel discussion about the film today at 3:30 p.m. in Room 207 of the Lory Student Center.
The ethics of documentaries – in this case, mockumentaries – along with the dark satire of the film and the portrayal of Kazakhstan will all be topics of discussion.
“I think it’s one of the funniest films I’ve seen,” said Pete Seel, an associate professor in the journalism department and panelist. “As a work of comedy, I had tears streaming down my face.”
Still, he said, the film was insulting to Kazakhstan, and it wasn’t necessary to use a real country. It could have been just as funny with a fictional country, Seel said.
“Borat” is played by British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen, who travels across the United States and dupes the film’s characters – who were paid to sign waivers for their images to be used – into believing he’s a Kazakh journalist making a film about American culture.
He catches Americans saying a host of racist, sexist and idiotic quips.
Seel said the message of the film was that in America, people often hold bigoted views, but that they’re below the surface.
“(Cohen) was able to draw those out,” he said.
Seel plans on showing “Borat” in his class in the future, he said, as it’s a perfect conversation starter for in-class discussions, especially those that focus on the ethics of documentary production.
Not misrepresenting oneself and making sure one’s subjects are portrayed fairly and accurately are key tenets of documentary production, he said, adding: “But when you do a mockumentary, you’re in that gray area.”
Meanwhile, Assylbekov said he laughed at times during the film, but that it was unfair, inaccurate, and overall, no laughing matter.
Ultimately, life in Fort Collins isn’t too different from life in the Kazakh city he grew up in – the people are friendly, the climate is similar, and there are big mountains everywhere.
“I don’t believe we’re a ‘glorious nation,'” he said. “I think we’re just an OK nation, an average nation. We have good people and bad people, just like everywhere else in the world.”
News managing editor Vimal Patel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A panel discussion about the film “Borat” will be held at 3:30 p.m. today in Room 207 of the Lory Student Center.