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 'These are the people we never see on TV' - Bahman Gobadi

 Source : The Guardian
  Kurd Net is NOT responsible of the content of the article

 


'These are the people we never see on TV' - Bahman Gobadi 6.1.2005
By Michael Howard

 




A new film reveals how the war hit a corner of Iraq the world had overlooked: Kurdistan. Michael Howard meets its director

As a Kurd, Bahman Gobadi knows that opportunity can grow out of tragedy. That belief helps to explain why, two weeks after the fall of Saddam Hussein in the spring of 2003, he slipped across the border from his native Iran and headed for Baghdad. With him he carried a copy of his second feature film, Marooned in Iraq, a road movie about a group of Iranian-Kurdish musicians seeking lost love in Saddam's benighted land.
"I wanted to be the first to screen a film in Baghdad after the removal of the great dictator," he said last week in Arbil, the main Iraqi Kurdish city. "Being caught watching such a movie under the former regime would have almost certainly meant death. I was so delighted that Saddam had gone."

But Gobadi had also packed a small video camera, which whirred away as he passed through scores of impoverished Kurdish villages en route to the capital. Back in Tehran after the screening, he looked at the footage. "What I saw was startling: a land full of mines and refugee tents and disabled children ... arms sellers, abandoned tanks, mortars." He couldn't sleep. "Every time I closed my eyes, I was haunted by those images. There was something telling me to go back and make another movie. So I smuggled myself back over the border and started work."

This was the beginning of Turtles Can Fly, the first feature film to emerge from post-Saddam Iraq. It is a powerful cry on behalf of children everywhere caught up in despotism and war. Filmed on location last winter, using minimal equipment in the mountainous terrain of Iraqi Kurdistan, Turtles paints a radically different picture of life in Iraq from the one most western audiences have seen on their news channels. Gobadi is a deeply political film-maker, but his nuanced approach skillfully avoids the naive blustering of many on the anti-war left. "It is an anti-war movie without slogans." He chose the title in part, he says, because "people might think it was some kind of Disney film".

As with A Time for Drunken Horses, his acclaimed first film, the central characters are children. They are all first-time actors, some with serious physical disabilities, from whom Gobadi has coaxed astonishing performances. The story follows a group of Iraqi Kurdish orphans in a refugee camp on the Turkish border on the eve of the US-led invasion. The children carry the physical and mental scars of life under Saddam's regime with stoicism and not a little humour.

Gobadi's aim, he says, was to present a portrait of the "pain and surrealism" of war and its effects on Iraqis with "naturalness and honesty". "These are the people we never see or hear from on TV," he says. "President Bush and Saddam had become the superstars on the satellite channels. Iraqi people were just extras. So I wanted my stars to be the children, with Saddam and Bush in the background."

Turtles Can Fly is as bold a presentation of the Kurdish experience as has appeared on the big screen since the great Turkish Kurdish director Yilmaz Guney made Yol. And it has clearly touched a nerve among Iraq's Kurds.

A week after the film's premiere in Arbil, Gobadi still bore the bruises from what he described as "the astonishing reaction" of the audience. "They almost hugged me to death," he said. "I was telling a part of their pain and their memories. I take it as a compliment. If they had not believed what was in the film, they would not have reacted like that."

It is Gobadi's biggest production to date, involving thousands of Kurdish villagers as extras, as well as real US soldiers and helicopters. And he admits that without the help of the Kurdish Regional Government, led by Nechirvan Barzani, the film would never have been made. "We didn't have the money, or any sophisticated equipment, so their help made the difference."

Filming was tough, he says. "We endured hours of freezing weather, filming in the mud and the mountains. And believe me, what these children did in my film and put up with for my film, the Hollywood children could never do. The children were acting their lives. That's why they seem so real."

Gobadi was born in 1969 in the border town of Baneh in Iranian Kurdistan. As a student, he worked for a radio station before joining a group of amateur film-makers in the city Sanandaj. With their help, he directed his first short films.

In Tehran, where he had moved to attend film classes (he dropped out before graduating), Gobadi directed a number of award-winning short films. In 1999, he was Abbas Kiarostami's first assistant on The Wind Will Carry Us, which proved a crucial stepping stone. For Turtles he teamed up once more with cameraman Shahriar Assadi - "He's a Kurd at heart" - and persuaded Hussein Alizadeh, one of Iran's leading composers, to provide the eerily beautiful soundtrack.

Variety magazine recently dubbed Gobadi "the poet laureate of the Kurdish cinema". Yet he dismisses talk of a Kurdish cinema as premature. "When we have cinemas in every Kurdish town, and when Kurdish language and culture on film is no longer viewed as a rare and exotic bird by the film community, perhaps then we can talk of a Kurdish cinema. I want to register the Kurds on the cultural map."

Gobadi now lives in Tehran, because that is where the Iranian film industry is based. "But it's just my body that lives there," he says. "My spirit and my heart are in Kurdistan."

Turtles Can Fly is released tomorrow.

http://www.guardian.co.uk

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