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 'I come from a land of untold stories' - Bahman Ghobadi

 Source : Telegraph newspaper online
  Kurd Net is NOT responsible of the content of the article

 


'I come from a land of untold stories' - Bahman Ghobadi 28.12.2004
Telegraph newspaper online

 



Bahman Ghobadi has made the first film to come out of post-war Iraq about children who survive by collecting mines, sometimes with their teeth. He talks to SF Said

Turtles Can Fly happens to be the first film to come out of post-war Iraq but even if it wasn't, it would still be extraordinary. Forget the explosive context, the searing topicality: it's about the human spirit our power to survive, and the limits to that power.

It's made by Bahman Ghobadi, director of A Time for Drunken Horses. This was one of the most emotionally compelling films of recent years, telling the true story of children who work as human mules, smuggling contraband over the Iran-Iraq border.

Like that film, Turtles Can Fly is about children in conditions of unimaginable danger. This time, they're Iraqi Kurds, living through the period around the Iraq war and the fall of Saddam Hussein. The adults in their world are either dead or unreliable. To survive, they clear up unexploded landmines and sell them on the black market. Some lose limbs doing it; some don't survive. Yet they show such deep resources of courage, humour and tenacity that you cannot but be touched.

"I come from a land full of untold stories," says Ghobadi, 36. "It's a land of exceptional events. There is always something happening - so many stories, sometimes I can hardly breathe."

The film centres on three children: a young entrepreneur nicknamed Satellite, a girl he falls in love with, and her brother. The brother and sister are orphaned refugees from Halabjah (the Kurdish town Saddam Hussein's forces attacked with chemical weapons in 1988). The boy has lost both his arms sweeping minefields, and now uses his teeth to pick them up instead.

Ghobadi shows us the consequences of conflict - not on the grand geopolitical stage, but at the level of ordinary people's lives. He shows us images we might prefer not to see, but which are commonplace in today's Iraq. Indeed, the film started out as a documentary.

"Two weeks after Saddam's fall," he says, "I went to Iraq with a small camera, just for my own use. And I was recording all these kids with no arms or legs, all the mines, the arms bazaar. When I came back to Teheran, I wanted to write a story that would take me to those places."

Turtles Can Fly is that story. It's fiction, but the children who act in it are portraying their own lives. The boy with no arms really has swept minefields for a living.

"They have experienced it," says Ghobadi. "You can't believe it, but there are more than 30,000 kids like him in Iraq. Often they cannot cope. He was one of the few who somehow had the fighting instinct in him."

Yet there is light amid this darkness. There's a wicked sense of humour in the film, deep compassion, and above all, love. Satellite's courtship of the girl is utterly charming - all the more for his gallows-black gag that he wants to marry a girl from Halabjah because it means he won't have any interfering in-laws.

"This is Kurdish life," says the director. "This is how the people are. They express their love; they laugh a lot. So when I wanted to reflect what was going on in Iraq, I had to bring a sense of humour into it, because this is how the Kurds survive their hardships."

Ghobadi's films reflect his own experiences. An Iranian Kurd, he grew up in a small town near the Iraqi border. Many members of his family perished during the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s.

"As a child, I thought of it as a nightmare," he says, "but it was reality. And now it's coming out in my films, because other children are living it too. It's like taking something out of your chest, and putting it on film."

Despite a history of demands for independence, Kurds have never had their own state. Kurdistan encompasses parts of Iran, Iraq, Turkey and Syria. Yet Kurds conceive of it as one country, and to Ghobadi, Turtles Can Fly is set in that country.

"I'm a Kurd, that's where I'm from," Ghobadi says. "Somebody drew a line on a map, but most of my family and friends live in Iraqi Kurdistan. When I go there, I don't feel I'm in a foreign land. I feel at home."

He became a filmmaker to give voice to such feelings. He was lucky to come of age at a time when Iranian cinema could nurture a wide range of talents. He assisted the likes of Abbas Kiarostami and Mohsen Makhmalbaf, and acted in Samira Makhmalbaf's Blackboards.

Yet his films are not typical of Iranian cinema. They have a naked emotional rawness that touches nerves without feeling exploitative or sentimental. They also have very clear, direct narratives.

Ghobadi once told an interviewer that he didn't want "a single frame" of his work to be like a Kiarostami film. He's been successful on his own terms, and that fact is encouraging others, especially the young people who work with him.

"I get attached to them," he says. "The boy in A Time for Drunken Horses became my assistant on my last film. In two months, he's going to direct his first feature. The boy who plays Satellite will be his assistant. Probably he'll make films too, later on. But sometimes I doubt. I'm helping a few kids - but there are 30 million people who need help. What can a filmmaker do?"

http://www.telegraph.co.uk 

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