Breaking the silence through film:

Burning Paradise

Thursday, December 6, 2001  

ARAZ Rashid's story is almost ordinary. A Kurd born in Iraq and raised in an illiterate family, he left
his homeland in 1982 to escape the Iran-Iraq war, like a million of his compatriots. He built a new
life for himself in Sweden.

But that is where the story stops being ordinary. In his new
Scandinavian setting, Rashid learnt how to make films. He
went to the United States to push his art further and, back in
Sweden, he had only one desire: to return to his homeland
Sorani, one of two major Kurdish dialects. Rashid saved as
much of his own money as he could and headed down to
the city of Suleymaniye, in Kurdish-dominated southern Iraq.

“In cinema, Kurdistan is the desert”

The task was to prove more difficult than anything he had expected: there were no laboratories to
develop his film after days of shooting, no Sorani-speaking cinema professionals to work with, and
no film actors. "In cinema, Kurdistan is the desert," he says.

After a prolonged hunt, he found three stage actors willing to try the big screen -- and a handful of
generous villagers to play the main characters. "But it remained difficult because I was shooting all
my footage and I could not look at it every night like you usually do in order see if some things are
missing. I was lucky though -- all the parts came together in the end," Rashid told Gemini News
Service during a recent festival of Kurdish films in London.

Rashid's Burning Paradise was released in 1999, but he thinks he won't shoot another movie in
his homeland until it is possible to work there professionally with other Kurds.

"One hundred per cent of Kurdish filmmakers live in exile. They are in Canada, in Germany, in
Sweden, in England, in France, and most of them don't know each other," he says. "The first
Kurdish film, made with Kurdish money, with Kurdish actors, in Kurdistan with a Kurdish crew still
needs to be made!" he says, his eyes shining with the idea of overcoming that challenge.

Already, the efforts of Rashid and other Kurdish filmmakers such as Bahman Ghobadi are paying
off. The first Kurdish film festival was held in London in October. Organised by the Britain-based
Kurdish Diaspora, it brought together more than 15 directors and hundreds of filmgoers.

Kurdish film institute

"It was quite hard to organise because there is no Kurdish film database anywhere. We just got a
bunch of people to brainstorm and we made a list of the films we knew of and we started working
from there," says Mustafa Gundogdu, one of the festival organisers who recently started his own
film editing company in London. He hopes that the festival will draw more filmmakers next year.
The ultimate goal is to create a Kurdish film institute that could fund films and distribute them
worldwide. Gundogdu has another aim: "We also need to develop a common Kurdish film
vocabulary. Because the Kurds are separated between four countries, we use different words for
the same thing."

The festival gave clear proof -- if any was needed -- of how much things have evolved since the first
renowned Kurdish filmmaker, Yilmaz Guney of Turkey, shot The Herd and YOL two decades ago.
YOL, a harrowing account of the life of an ex-prisoner in Turkey, won a Palme d'Or award at the
Cannes film festival. It was considered by many critics to be a Turkish film. When asked by a
Western journalist why he did not use Kurdish as the language for his film, Guney -- surprised --
answered: "Because it is illegal to speak Kurdish in Turkey."

Kurdish people, numbering 20-25 million, are subjected to all forms of discrimination in the four
countries they inhabit -- Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Syria. In Turkey, propagation of the Kurdish language
and culture continues to be banned. The Kurdish regions of these four countries, plus a thin sliver
of southern Armenia, are together described as 'Kurdistan'.

About one million Kurds live abroad, mostly in Europe and the United States.

There is a world apart between Guney's reality and the conditions under which Rashid and
Bahman Ghobadi, director of the highly-acclaimed A Time for Drunken Horses, worked under.
Ghobadi, an Iranian Kurdish filmmaker, was backed by the Teheran government when he
undertook the shooting of A Time for the Drunken Horses in Iran's mountain region. The
characters in the film speak Kurdish; a decade ago, his film would have been impossible to make.
"A decade ago, Kurdistan was just seen as a very primitive place, sterile. I wanted to show that
there was so much more to it," says Ghobadi, whose moving film is about poor Kurdish workers
who put their lives in danger to smuggle merchandise across the border between Iran and Iraq.

Rashid's film depicts the life of villagers who were tossed around both by the IraqiState and
Kurdish separatist guerillas during the Iran-Iraq war from 1980-88. "Ghobadi's film and my film are
really dark and sad," Rashid says. "If it had been made by a non-Kurdish filmmaker, I would have
been offended, but the fact that Ghobadi is Kurdish it is quite obvious when you read between the
lines."

His own film, Burning Paradise, was criticised quite openly by some festival-goers in London. "You
show Kurdish as primitive people at a very preliminary stage of the Kurdish fight," yelled a member
of the audience after seeing the film. "You seem to forget that 85 per cent of Kurds live in villages
and that most of them are illiterate. I want to show Kurdish people the way they are, show that they
get fooled by different people and that they often carry guns without even knowing why they do it,"
Rashid replied. "I am against war and I wanted to show that war is not a solution."

Although Rashid's film is one of the first shot in the Iraqi Kurdish region, it shares an affinity with
other movies made by Kurdish artistes living abroad. Politics is the common thread. "Kurdish
cinema cannot get away from politics because we are a people in survival and we have so much
more to say about our own people," says Rashid.

Source: http://www.dispatch.co.za/2001/12/06/features/SILENCE.HTM

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