The Secret History of Genghis Khan

Andrei Borisov’s epic film By the Will of Genghis Khan presents the historical figure Temujin not as the terrifying bogeyman of European lore, but as he is remembered across much of the East, as a just ruler, a lawgiver, and a man of honour. It places the lifestyle of the steppe peoples front and centre, presenting the ever moving, herd-following Mongols, Naimans and Buryats as the norm, and questioning the “civilised” notion of putting down roots in one place. The history of Central Asia has long been a story of tension between nomads and farmers; By the Will of Genghis Khan deliberately pushes a nomad’s eye view of the beauty and wonder of life on the steppes.

“In the province of Yeka Mongol, there was a certain man called Chinghis. This man became a mighty hunter. He learned to steal men, and to take them for prey. He ranged into other countries taking as many captives as he could, and joining them unto himself. Also, he allured the men of his own country unto him, who followed him as their captain and ringleader to do mischief.”

— Friar John of Pian de Carpini, 13th century AD

“Not long ago, Genghis Khan evoked only unpleasant memories; he was thought of as a tyrant,” producer Vladimir Ivanov told Variety. “The film will strike a wide audience with its honesty about complex historical facts.”

Temujin (played here by three actors at different stages of his life) might have been a famous Mongol, but the extent of his empire from the edges of Europe to the Pacific coast ensured that his memory had a much larger footprint. The activities of his grandsons, who conquered Hungary, Persia and China, ensure that the name Genghis Khan is a bankable movie idea across the whole of Eurasia. By the Will of Genghis Khan is a truly international production, growing out of a novel and play first performed in the Republic of Yakutia, adapted into cinema form with co-producers in the USA, and a cast including members from China, Germany and a dozen Russian republics. But the bulk of its talent and industry is rooted not in Mongolia as one might expect, but in the vast region of Siberia – once ruled by Genghis Khan, now the Russian Far East. Continue reading