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Realism and the Kurds extraordinary documentary Peshmerga

PostPosted: Tue Nov 28, 2017 12:32 am
Author: Anthea
The state of Kurdish cinema

Film-making in Iraqi Kurdistan is far from straightforward and often prioritises nationalistic narratives. But those who have migrated to Europe find funding and exposure

When Zaradasht Ahmed, a Norwegian-Kurdish director, began shooting his war documentary, a complicated process spanning more than five years awaited him. “Nowhere to Hide” (2016, pictured), an immersive account of a male nurse working and raising a family in Iraq, was shot collaboratively by Mr Ahmed and the nurse himself, Nori Sharif. Living in the “no-go” zone of Jalawla, Mr Sharif could access people and places which organisations and journalists could not. Mr Ahmed taught him how to film—and ended up taking the documentary in a whole new direction.

Although the Kurds’ contributions to defeating Islamic State (IS) turned the world’s eye on this population of 40m—spread across Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran—little is known about their creative cultural output. For decades, politics made it nearly impossible for them to make films: the Kurdish language was banned in places, poverty was rife, and the Iraqi-Kurdish civil war lasted throughout the 1990s.

But in recent years, Erbil, the largest city in the Kurdish autonomous region in Iraq, has seen both a state- and citizen-led cultural revival that has buoyed its film industry. Artrole, an international organisation facilitating cultural links with the Middle East, found that the lack of a formal arts infrastructure in the region has resulted in artist-led initiatives and self-organised groups. Meanwhile, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) has sought to position Erbil as a regional destination: a joint Iraqi-Lebanese project opened 14 new movie theatres there in 2013, and it was named the 2014 Arab Capital of Tourism. These developments introduced newcomers to low-budget film- and documentary-making.

Kurdish film-makers have a small but celebrated legacy to draw on. Yilmaz Güney laid the groundwork in the 1980s; his Palme d’Or-winning film “The Road” (1982) was a poetic realist film depicting hardship in south-eastern Turkey. Bahman Ghobadi, having assisted Abbas Kiarostami, an Iranian auteur, saved his earnings to make the first Kurdish-language feature “A Time for Drunken Horses” (2000). Jano Rosebiani sold production equipment to the Iraqi Ministry of Culture to fund “Chaplin of the Mountains” (2013). These were stories of daily struggles and of coming of age.

The region’s film-makers are now engaging with conflicts both past and present. “14 July” (2017), directed by Haşim Aydemir, is a stirring but edifying retelling of a 1980 hunger strike by Kurdish prisoners. Apo Bazidi’s documentary “Resistance is Life” (2017), set in a refugee camp on the Turkish-Syrian border, follows an 8-year-old girl who idolises the female Kurdish fighters taking on IS. These films have tended to designate ambiguous figures as martyrs, and strip the nuance from complicated events.

So it is Kurdish artists in the global diaspora that are making the most exciting and varied new work. Many now dual citizens, they have grown up with access to a film-making education, affordable digital equipment and international contacts. The funding that comes from production companies based in Germany, Turkey and the Netherlands, as well as European cultural institutions, is obviously not subject to the fluctuating circumstances of their homeland. The fifth Duhok International Film Festival (DIFF)—“a bridge between Kurdish film production and worldwide film-making”—was supported by the Goethe Institute and Cinema for Peace.

There are no heroes or neat resolutions in the haunting Iraqi-Kurdish production “A Dream Before Dying” (2017), which follows a bomb disposal technician working for the allies against IS and offers a vivid portrait of the psychological cost of war. The Kurdish-Dutch feature “Radio Kobani” (2017) has no flag-waving, but plenty of heart: it shines a light on the simple heroism of a young Kurdish woman who sets up a radio station in the devastated Syrian town, giving surviving inhabitants a voice.

Many of these diasporic works search for a return, and probe questions of belonging. “Beyond Dreams” (2017), directed by Rojda Sekersoz, a Swedish Kurd, screened at DIFF to high acclaim. It tells the story of Mirja, a young ethnic Kurdish woman putting her life in Stockholm back together after jail time. In “Zer” (2017, pictured above), a man journeys from New York to the Kurdish heartlands to trace his grandmother’s story; a similar tale of self-discovery, home seems to hold every promise yet resolves little.

The Kurds’ controversial independence referendum, followed by the dramatic conflict over Kirkuk, brings much uncertainty. The instability in the region may well bring this cinematic revival to a pause—but such setbacks have long dogged Kurdish attempts at cultural expression. Further migration from the region, meeting a productive diaspora, may actually allow more Kurdish voices to be heard. They are often worth listening to. ... ernculture

Re: The state of Kurdish cinema

PostPosted: Wed Nov 29, 2017 11:04 pm
Author: Anthea
Filmmaker brings Peshmerga to United Nations

French philosopher and filmmaker Bernard-Henri Levy screened his documentary Peshmerga at the United Nations on Tuesday night.

A champion of the Kurdish cause, Levy told the packed house of global ambassadors and public gathered in the UN General Assembly about Kurdistan’s independence referendum, saying, “They had traded the weapons of war for those of democracy. But we have not taken the measure of their magnificent gesture. We rejected this sharing of values and hope that they were giving us.”

“We have shamefully turned our back on them.”

In Peshmerga, which was released in 2016 with a special screening at the Cannes Film Festival, Levy and his team of cameramen spent months alongside the Kurdish fighters, covering a 1,000-kilometer frontline that separated the Kurdistan Region from ISIS militants to document daily fighting against the militant group.

Speaking to Rudaw TV before the screening, Levy said his film shows to the world the bravery of the Peshmerga and how the West “betrayed” the Kurds when they were in trouble after Baghdad rejected the independence vote and Iraqi forces moved into disputed areas.

The screening at the United Nations was proposed by France and the United Kingdom.

“Kurdistan has become like a sort of big jail under open sky,” he said, but Kurds have friends who brought this film to the United Nations.

The screening was hosted by France’s mission to the United Nations.

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Re: Filmmaker brings Peshmerga to United Nations

PostPosted: Fri Dec 01, 2017 4:01 am
Author: Anthea
Realism and the Kurds

Bernard-Henri Lévy presents his extraordinary documentary Peshmerga at the United Nations, but civilization isn’t listening
By Paul Berman

Why do the Kurds and their struggles arouse so little interest or sympathy or solidarity around the world? It is because of the doctrine of political “realism,” of which the greatest theoretician is Henry Kissinger—and, to be sure, Kissinger, as practitioner of his own theory, was the founder of America’s tradition of betraying the Kurds. The Kurds in Iraq in the early 1970s staged a rebellion against the Baathist dictatorship in Baghdad, and they enjoyed some American support. But, in 1975, Kissinger, as secretary of state, deemed the rebellion to be no longer in the American interest, and America’s support disappeared. With what consequences? The Kurds suffered terribly. Baathism flourished in Iraq. And, in time, the United States ended up at war with the Baathists, anyway.

Realism, the doctrine, affirms that, in matters of international affairs, the strong count, and the weak do not. That is because realism entertains a utopia, which is that of stability. And stability can be achieved only by a concert of the big and the powerful. It cannot be achieved by the small and the weak. Therefore realism is hostile to rebellions for freedom, hostile to small nations, hostile to invocations of morality or principle—hostile with a good conscience, on the grounds that, in the long run, the stability of the strong is better for everyone than the rebellions of the weak. Realism is, in short, an anti-Kurdish doctrine.

What good are the Kurds, anyway? From a realist standpoint, I mean. They are good for short-term interests, and not for long-term interests. Kissinger used them in the 1970s, and then tossed them away. The Reagan Administration in the next decade was content to see them gassed by Saddam Hussein. And in our own time? We needed the Kurds to fight the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, and they did fight. They are the heroes of the anti-Islamic State war. They ought to be parading in triumph along the boulevards of Manhattan and Paris. They are, in what appears to be their great majority, visibly the most progressive population in the Middle East, outside of Israel—self-reliant, tolerantly and beautifully Muslim, accepting of Yazidis and Christians and even of Jews, relatively open to women’s rights, reliably allergic to the mad totalitarianisms and apocalyptic fantasies of the modern age. But now that, for the moment, the insane Caliphate has been mostly defeated, our short-term interests have come to an end. And no one wants to hear about the Kurds.

Bernard-Henri Lévy has been telling us about the Kurds. A few months ago in Tablet, I commented on one of his journalistic documentaries of the Kurdish struggle in Iraq, The Battle of Mosul, and just now I have seen his other such documentary, Peshmerga, which might be regarded as Part One of the same film. The two films together are a feat of military journalism, stirring, appalling, and revealing. They are immense—Peshmerga more beautifully filmed, The Battle of Mosul more intense, both of them face-to-face with military courage and brotherhood and death. If these films were a poem, they would be composed in heroic verse. There is, in truth, something Homeric in the films. There are many extraordinary and dreadful aspects. I am writing in the minutes after having seen Peshmerga, and I cannot say that I have rebounded from having watched the prematurely white-haired Kurdish general, who, we learn, was shot and killed directly after the camera turned away from him—the general who seemed so high-spirited as he led his troops in battle, so animated, so confident, whose brother weeps to the camera, the general whose face we see once again as a photograph on a poster, presented as a martyr of the Kurdish cause.

But ultimately the most striking aspect of these two films is the articulation of political values by the Kurds themselves, some of them civilians, the rest of them soldiers. Words tumble from their lips that could never tumble from the lips of the man currently occupying the White House in Washington, D.C. These people are fighting for civilization, and know they are doing so, and say they are doing so.

Civilization, though, is not a category within the realist imagination. Realism is a matter of power, and civilization is a matter of principles. A realist analysis can explain many things, but it cannot explain why the Kurds have persistently fought, over the generations. It cannot see that a persistent rebellion in the name of civilization might amount to power, if only we would give it a chance. A realist analysis cannot see that our own power has to rest on something more than our own power, if it is to remain a power. It cannot see, therefore, what is obvious in Bernard-Henri Lévy’s magnificent films, which is that, in a world of vicious political movements and dangers on every side, the Kurds are our friends and allies, and perhaps they are our conscience. They gaze at the camera. We gaze back. They speak to us. We have nothing to say back to them.

The betrayal of the Kurds—will this be the black mark on our era, similar to the black mark of betrayal that fell across the foreheads of generations past, in the face of other persecutions and struggles for liberty? Twice now I have exited a hall where BHL’s Kurdish films have played, each time with my heart pounding and my head bowed in shame. ... -the-kurds