Interview with controversial movie director Laund Omar

By Vladimir van Wilgenburg

(KurdishMedia.com): Lauand Omar (25) was born in Beirut,
Lebanon, and grew up in North Africa and Germany. He is
the third director to ever shoot a film in South-Kurdistan. His
award winning drama movie, "Bekhal's Tears" takes a look
at women's rights and honor crimes in South-Kurdistan. His
movie has sparked some controversy in the Kurdish region
after it was shown on Kurdish television. Currently he is
working on a new movie called Mistress of Mesopotamia and
he is looking for new actors and talents. Also this movie will be controversial for the Kurdish
society, since it also includes love scenes. In this interview he explains more about his
movies and life.

-How did you start with making movies? And are you inspired by Kurdish movie directors?

I've been obsessed with movies since I was a little child. I started acting at the age of 15 in
some German theatres, but then got interested in the other side of making movies, behind
the camera, the whole preparation aspect of it.

I visited a film school in Miami, Florida and then a Film and Television Production Institute in
Toronto, Canada. In Toronto and Miami I started doing some short movies, worked on video
clips and documentaries. Learning about all aspects of movie making I realized that I
enjoyed writing and directing the most.

I visited Iraqi Kurdistan in 2005 and realized that nobody was doing anything for the youth,
not in society and not in the media. I also saw all the problems that were going one that not
many talked about. So I decided to use my craft to create something that would give a voice
to the youth and their problems, to the women and the suffering they still have to go through,
so I wrote Bekhal's Tears and started to seek support to be able to make my first feature.

I made Bekhal's Tears to cause some talks about the problems we have in Iraqi Kurdistan,
and also to offer the youth some entertainment. Young people need some fun, most
Kurdish movies made until now are looking at the past and not dealing with current
problems. And almost all of them are not entertaining at all. Cinema should be diverse, we
can't just keep doing the same genre for Kurdish cinema over and over. There hasn't been
any Kurdish filmmaker so far that has inspired me or affected my work I think, but there are
many talented new Kurdish filmmakers out there and I cant wait to see their works.

-Why did you pick the Cypriot Turk Ozzie Aziz to work with? Doesn't this create tensions
because she is Turkish? Or does she have a moderate view towards Kurdistan?

Well, Ozzie is a Cypriot Turk, and I'm a Kurd, we have known each other for a very long time,
have worked together many times, and have a lot of love and respect for each other. So we
didn't really give much thought about the tension that might come up because of her being a
Turk playing a Kurd in a movie. I tried to find a Kurdish actress for Bekhal's Tears, but that
didn't work out. Some local actresses read the script and liked it, but they had to accept the
fact that once the movie comes out, their life might get unpleasant in Iraqi Kurdistan. Some
people here still see a girl being an actress like something bad, and playing a part that
involves rape isn't very good looked at. So to be safe and not get any actress in danger I had
to look somewhere else. I talked to too professional well known Kurdish actresses that live
and work in Europe, but their schedule was already filled for the whole year. So I offered the
part to Ozzie. I knew how professional she was and how hard she works in anything she
does, I knew she would be able to learn her Kurdish text and deliver the best performance
for Bekhal's Tears. Ozzie is a chart topping singer and a well trained actress. Having her
play Bekhal was the best casting choice I made on Bekhal's Tears.

-For your new movie "Mistress of Mesopotamia" you are looking for a "Kurdish beauty, wild
one, not shy to do Love scenes". Did you already have Kurdish females responding to this?
How do you think the Kurdish community would respond to "love scenes" by Kurdish
women. Isn't there a taboo on that?

    Oh yes I'm getting great response to my casting call.
    Several beautiful Kurdish girls have contacted us
    already and we will choose one of them soon. The
    interesting thing about the Kurdish community is that
    its so diverse. You have Kurds in Syria, Iraq, Turkey,
    Iran and a huge number spread all over the world,
    mainly in Europe, so you have all kinds of Kurds. Some
    living in a strict environment, some not. Some very
    open minded and educated, and others not.
So yes, some Kurds will see nudity and love scenes in Kurdish films as a taboo, and others
will love it and encourage it. My main focus for my movies are the younger generations, and
like in any other cultures and societies, the new generations are mostly the ones who will
have an open mind for new things.

Mistress of Mesopotamia will have an international Cast and Ozzie Aziz, again, as the main
actress. The movie will be in English and Kurdish.

-In Bekhal's Tears one of the main subjects is honour killings. Are you trying to break taboos
with your movies? What do you think of honour killings in Kurdish culture?

Breaking taboos is not my main goal as a filmmaker, as much fun as it is. But telling the
truth is. Entertaining people is. Taking the viewers on a journey is.

And unfortunately there are still a lot of honour killings being committed in our culture. Or
girls and women so desperate and so unhappy that they decide to end their own life's.
Times change, the laws have changed, and there is help for everyone who is being abused.
Iraqi Kurdistan is a democratic society now, we have a growing economy, a lot of foreigners
coming here to work. People cant just live on how they used to. They can't go on and kill their
sister or daughter just because she falls in love with someone. Now it's about educating
people, showing girls, the Youth and women that they do have a chance and support, and
showing people that abusing or killing another human being is not legal anymore and not
the solution.

-How was Bekhal's Tears received by the Kurdish public? Was it shown in cinema's in
Kurdistan? Was it popular?

While filming Bekhal's Tears, the first Kurdish movie about women's rights, we already got a
lot of attention from the press. The movie was premiered in November 2005 in Erbil, Iraqi
Kurdistan, and we had a over-filled theatre with about 700 people, something not very
common in a city where directors and festivals have had a lot of trouble getting a big
audience. A lot of young people and women attended the premiere, we had applauses
during the screening and a standing ovation afterwards. It felt great, but as soon as we had
the press conference after the screening a total different picture emerged. Suddenly a lot of
angry people faced us, accusing us of not showing the truth, of making Kurdish society look
bad, accusing me of not knowing anything about Kurdish culture because I grew up in
Europe, or people just totally confused about seeing a rape, or a girl laying in her bed
wearing a nightgown. When a reporter asked me why I did not cast a Kurdish girl as Bekhal
instead of Ozzie who had an accent, I asked him if he would allow his daughter or sister to
act in such a movie. He didn't have an answer. We also had some live TV shows talking
about the movie, with people calling in and talking bad about the movie.

We shot Bekhal's Tears with a very low budget, minimal equipment, and most of the
Kurdish crew members were amateurs, so the end result does have some problems, but
when people accused me of showing a false picture of what is going on in our Society it
upset me. It took me some days after the premiere to realize what was going on. I had
achieved exactly what I wanted. I wanted to cause a stir. I wanted the people to face the
problems. And that's what happens when you do this, people get insecure and start getting

Another thing that upset me was that some Kurdish directors started to attack me too
instead of supporting me, I hope the Kurdish directors start to understand soon that we can
all work together, support each other, and that it is not about one director succeeding.
Everyone should be able to do his own style and all together we can establish a new
Kurdish cinema.

As we don't have movie theatres here in Iraqi Kurdistan yet, we only had this one screening
at the premiere, but the Movie was shown on the Kurdish Satellite channel Zagros in
February, and I got a lot of thank you emails through my website.

-Your movie also appeared on the Emirates Film Competition 2006. How were the reactions
of the Arabic public of the movie? And how did you experience the Film Competition as a
Kurd in the Arabic Emirates?

Bekhal's Tears was selected as a special screening at the Emirates Film Competition
2006. It was great! I met up with Ozzie in the UAE and attended the 1 week festival and we
had a great time. There is a huge Kurdish community in the UAE, and the day we screened
my movie 4 busses from Dubai filled with Kurds arrived at the Festival. The Kurds in the
UAE thanked me all because that was the first time for them to be able to watch a Kurdish
movie on the big screen. The Arab audience was very nice too and most of them seemed to
enjoy the movie. We also had a lot of press coverage, being the first Kurdish movie ever to
participate in an Arab Film Festival.

-Did you have any problems with filming Bekhal's tears? Did you get help from the Kurdish

Problems? Oh god, where should I start? A low budget. One Mini DV Camera. No data
recorder (for sound). No professional crew members. The heat. The security. Is that
enough? The authorities were great! I got support from the Kurdistan Regional Government,
and the Interior Ministry provided us with 24 hours security.

-Some say it's difficult to make a living with being a Kurdish artist or Kurdish movie director.
Do you agree with this view? Do you think that you have a bright future career with making
movies about Kurdish issues?

Yes it is not easy for any Kurdish Artist. The ones living in Europe or in the US don't have a
big Kurdish speaking market. The ones living in Kurdistan don't get sufficient support and
respect. We all hope that this will change soon, so we can do what we love doing, and we
can entertain people all over the world.

Regarding my future, I hope to have a bright future. I guess that is all you can do, hope and
work hard.

I grew up in different places, saw many cultures and traditions, so the many scripts that I
have written and hope to film in the near future are not all about Kurdish issues. I want to
make movies for an international audience. Yes I'm a Kurd, but in first place I'm a filmmaker.

-What kind of movies do you want to make in the future? And what do you want to achieve
with your work?

I want to try a lot of genres. Horror, Drama, Thriller, Fantasy. I think it's fun to do it all. The
most important thing is to create something fresh and original. I'm sick of watching a movie
and thinking "oh, this is just like those other 400000 movies I saw before". A good movie
can touch you, make you think, make you smile, scare you, open your eyes, make you
questions things. Just sitting somewhere watching a movie and forgetting your own life for 1
½ hours can be very enlightening.

-I want to thank you for the interview and the last words are yours!

Thank you a lot for your interest Vladimir, I have seen your articles on websites and your
blog and its cool how a non-Kurd spends so much of his time and energy for the Kurds!

I know a lot of people in Europe haven't had a chance yet to see Bekhal's Tears, the movie
will still hit some film festival this year, hopefully some of them in Europe, and after that it will
be shown on European Television. Anyone interested should check out my website once in
a while for updates.

And to all those who thought Bekhal's Tears was to much already for a Kurdish movie, well,
get ready for Mistress of Mesopotamia, you haven't seen nothing yet.

*Sunday, September 03, 2006


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