Kurdish cinema has been exploding since the 1990s onto the world stage. The first famous ‘Kurdish’ film in Europe and the US is “A Time for Drunken Horses‘ –which won a Cannes Film Festival award. Film has always been a medium, as with other arts, to communicate something. In the case of peoples who have been in the world under oppressive conditions, film has been one of the most powerful art forms. In places such as Turkey, the legal and cultural policies which forbid Kurdish cultural expression, has placed filmmakers under tremendous pressure to create their art, some indeed dying by the hands of the state through imprisonment, torture, and disappearance. For some, they manage, through surviving harsh oppressive conditions, to create their art forms. Warfare and the creation of the states which divided the Kurdish people created ways for Kurds in Europe, for instance, freedoms which would help move their art out into the world.
Since the 1960s, Yilmaz Güney of Turkey (1 April 1937 – 9 September 1984), has been considered the most famous and important Kurdish cinema director in what many Kurds call ‘Northern Kurdistan.’ Yilmaz Güney wrote his films in the Turkish language because the Kurdish language had been forbidden more vehemently then, than it is today. His themes were decidedly Kurdish, although the word ‘Kurd’ or ‘Kurdish’ never appears in his film. The authorities knew, however, and he was imprisoned and tortured since 1961.
During the tumultuous 1960s in Turkey, many young Kurds and Turks wanted democratic reforms and were dissatisfied with authoritarian capitalist regimes and many were associated with leftists movements during this time. Güney was accused of harboring leftist film students and was jailed one other time in 1972 and in 1974, upon his release, he shot a judge whom he felt was unjust and he was subsequently arrested again. He escaped prison in 1981 and fled to France. During his time in prison, he created some of his best films, dictating to Turkish filmmaker Zeki Ökten (August 4, 1941 – December 19, 2009), scene by scene, to make the films and release them. He died in France in 1984. Among his films that are the most intensely remembered and praised include: Suru, Duval, Umut, and Yol (1982)–which is the most widely loved movie among many Kurds and won the coveted Palm d’or prize at the Cannes Film Festival in 1982. Güney’s films tell unflinchingly dark, harsh realities of Kurdish life in what is now called Turkey, as well as in the borderlands within and between the four nation-states that rule much of where the Kurds have been for hundreds of years–Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey. All of these states continue to oppress Kurdish expressions and freedoms in their own ways. Kurdish cinema is one strong way for the Kurdish people and those who sympathize with their plight, to tell their stories.
There have been many filmmakers such as Nezamettin Aric and from the Mesopotamia Arts Collective where filmmakers such as Kazim Öz and Hüseyin Karabey have been making headways in Kurdish cinema since the 1990s.
The most famous and prolific of Kurdish filmmakers today is Bahman Ghobadi. His ‘Time For Drunken Horses’ (2000) received critical acclaim worldwide and he has produced several films that have captured the attention of western cinema producers and administrators, which, after all, is the only way to be widely distributed and known. My personal favorite of his movies is “Turtles Can Fly” released in 2004.”
The first ever Kurdish film festival in the world, was held in London in 2001. It proved to be quite a success and Paris, Montreal, Melbourne and Hamburg followed suit a few years later. In 2009, New York held its first ever Kurdish film festival while in Turkey, the first ever Kurdish film festival was held in Diyarbekir–considered one of the most heavily populated Kurdish cities in Turkey, in December 2009.
As Kurdish Cinema matures, it has begun to tackle more of the complexities of oppression, and how within Kurdish cultures’ own histories of certain oppressions such as sexism, is a mix of what has been traditional and is intensified with the displacements, divisions, and the various states’ and globalization policies, including their versions of sexism, that affect Kurdish communal relations. Ultimately the film-makers can point to the intense continuations that construct various forms of death–cultural, biological and gendered. Kurdish cinema is said to be one strong avenue where the resistance of this is done by telling the stories and to hopefully invite reflection for alliances and change.
London Kurdish Film Festival
Bahman Ghobadi: Miji Films http://mijfilms.com/mijfilm/
The following is an introduction to Kurdish films, via videos from YouTube.
This first clip is a short news interview featuring the First New York Kurdish Film Festival held in 2009.
I’d like to add that our graduate school held a Kurdish Conference and Film Festival in 2004.
Here is the link: http://www.kurdishrightsconference.org/index.html
This next video is a trailer for the Kurdish movie ‘Gitmek’ (Turkish language) entitled in English: My Marlon and Brando, directed by Huseyin Karabey.
Here is an video of an interview with the director of My Marlon and Brando, Hüseyin Karabey, interlaced with scenes from the movie.
This video is a montage by Azad Kanjo on YouTube, working with some of the more prominent films from 1978 to 2007.