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NOW all 4 parts of series about history of Kurdish cinema

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NOW all 4 parts of series about history of Kurdish cinema

PostAuthor: Anthea » Sun May 26, 2019 10:31 am

A brief history of early Kurdish cinema: Part I

Filmmaking, the most modern form of art that reflects culture and humanity, is a craft that requires absolute autonomy of authorship in form, content, and expression, an art form that can make you laugh, cry, or walk away with something to reflect upon, to meditate on, and be transformed by as a consequence.

Film is also a powerful tool for delivering one’s message to the far corners of the world – a prospect very much essential in our case as Kurds. However, filmmaking is still relatively new for us and only with genuine support can it be empowered and utilized to serve its intended purpose.

Kurdish cinema was practically nonexistent in the 20th century save for a few titles, among them “The Herd” (Zeki Okten, 1978), and “Yol” (Yilmaz Guney, 1982), which Guney directed from a prison cell via proxy Sherif Goren.

“Yol”, which means “The Road”, is the more significant of the two for its courageous subject matter at a time when Kurdish language and art were unconditionally prohibited in Turkey.

Despite its Turkified title, the film marks the birth of Kurdish cinema, introducing the world to the suffering of a people.

“Yol” garnered Cannes’ Palm d’Ore award and a nomination to the Golden Globe Awards. As a result, Guney and his film became an inspiration for many young Kurds, this writer among them, who eventually began lensing their own stories.

I for one first saw the film in the heart of Washington DC along with a few college friends in 1984 and consequently made my first dramatic TV movie a year later – “Come Back” – an experimental drama about a delusional Vietnam War veteran who thinks her child has returned from the dead.

Although it was not a Kurdish film, “Come back” was a testing ground for me which prepared me for a career in filmmaking emboldened by a local Washington Post award.

And with that I was transformed from television producer to filmmaker and the credit duly goes to “Yol” for it put me on this new path marking the start of a lasting journey.

The transformation was circumstantial. With the conflict with Saddam’s regime being in full swing culminating in the infamous Anfal genocide, the 1980s was the harshest decade in the history of the Kurds to which the West and the world community at large performed an Oscar-worthy role of deaf and blind. I was taking journalism courses as part of my communications major, but my Washingtonian teacher who was also a full-fledged news reporter, had never heard of Kurds. This was frustrating to say the least. I was in the midst of this twilight zone and was doing my lot to promote the Kurds in a time our own Kurdish representation in DC wasn’t up to capacity.

I published a monthly newsletter called “Kurdistan Today” covering the war and Anfal crimes; I dedicated a few episodes of a weekly cable access television program (Culture International) that I was producing and directing in Fairfax (Channel 10); and I wrote often about the genocide in my college newspaper at NOVA (Northern Virginia Community College).

When one of my articles made it to the front page, not surprisingly, all copies of the paper were removed from the stands across the campus and later were found in a dump. This struck newsworthy and received due attention. As a consequence, a new edition of the paper was printed and teachers were instructed to distribute them personally in their classes. All this helped promote the Kurdish predicament but also garnered me new enemies among some Middle Eastern students and anonymous threats on my life which we assumed to be from the Iraqi embassy.

Come “The Road” and the post-film discussion at a pizza parlor with friends at the trendy Dupont Circle. Having watched my very first Kurdish film rekindled my aspirations and set me off on my original but long-spurned calling – to make films in order to educate the world about Kurds. Though my TV film “Come Back” was not about Kurds, it set me off on the right track.

I anticipate parallel narratives were the lot of other Kurd filmmakers, artists, and intellectuals in diaspora. In other words, Kurdish cinema did not come to us on a silver platter. Just as Guney directed “The Road” from a prison cell in Turkey, inspiring filmmakers were plodding through unforgiving terrains of their own in their new homes away from home.

The films that followed “Yol” in the 1980s and 90s were few and far between. The only one which comes to mind that received international viewership was “A Song for Beko” (Nizamettin Aric, 1992).

Then, with the turn of the century, Kurdish cinema began to flourish, specifically following the defeat and removal of Saddam Hussein and the strengthening of the Kurdistan Region’s autonomy.

From the year 2000 onward a wave of Kurdish filmmakers from all parts of greater Kurdistan and the diaspora turned out a slew of films, gaining international recognition and winning awards from prestigious film festivals.

Dozens of films were made in the first decade of the new century, most prominent among them (in order of production year) “A Time for Drunken Horses” (Bahman Ghobadi, 2000); my film “Jiyan” (2001); “Vodka Lemon” (Hiner Saleem, 2003); “Crossing the Dust” (Shawkat Amin Korki, 2006); “Before Your Eyes” (Miraz Bezar, 2009), and many more.

Kurdish cinema continued to flourish in the present decade in spite of the speed bumps created by the rise of the Islamic State (ISIS) in 2014 – an unwelcome melee which brought film production, like other arts and industries, to a standstill.

However, ISIS also opened up a whole new array of subject matter for Kurdish writers and directors to tackle, notwithstanding their cataclysmic reality – a reality that is all too familiar in Kurdish cinema.

The premise found in the majority of Kurdish films is characterized by the suffering of their subjects under oppressive foreign regimes, by destruction of their lands and livelihoods, and by a succession of massacres of genocidal proportion.

As a result, Kurdish cinema can best be described as a platform for and a window into the tragedies of a nation – a political cinema with human rights issues at its core.

Attesting to this phenomenon is my own first-hand experience when touring the festival scene with “Jiyan”. Every filmmaker panel I participated in, starting with Rotterdam FF in 2002 and then festivals across Europe, North America, and Asia, featured a banner of some sort referencing politics and/or human rights.

Likewise, “Jiyan” was often included in categories alluding to this kind of subject matter. I am certain all Kurd filmmakers have faced this handle, and will continue to be confined to such designation until the day a sovereign state of their own is realized.

Even then, there will no doubt remain many stories of past tragedies to be lensed for decades to come.

Jano Rosebiani is an American-Kurdish scriptwriter, director, producer, and editor associated with Kurdish New Wave cinema. This is the first in a four-part series about the history of Kurdish cinema.

http://www.rudaw.net/english/opinion/050520191
Last edited by Anthea on Mon Jun 03, 2019 8:33 pm, edited 3 times in total.
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NOW all 4 parts of series about history of Kurdish cinema

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Re: A brief history of early Kurdish cinema

PostAuthor: Anthea » Sun May 26, 2019 10:34 am

Kurdish Cinema Part II:
What makes a good film?


This is Part II in a four-part series about the history of Kurdish cinema. Part I is available here

Kurdish cinema began by inching its way onto the world stage as political films with human rights themes at their core. But what is it that makes Kurdish cinema stand apart from that of the Middle East and where does it stand in the world cinema scene?

Most Kurdish films take place within Kurdistan and some within the territories of the occupying states where Kurdish characters encounter, interact with, challenge, defy, and/or help their non-Kurd counterparts. For instance, Kazim Oz’s “Bahoz” (Storm, 2008) deals with a group of Kurdish university students/activists in Istanbul, and his “Fotograf” (Photograph, 2001) depicts a young Kurd sharing a seat with a Kurdophobic gendarme during a bus ride to the Kurdistan region of Turkey. Hiner Saleem’s “Kilometer Zero” (2005) likewise takes the viewer across the barren Iraqi desert of the 1980s with two soldiers, a Kurd and an Arab, who are commissioned to deliver the body of a Kurdish soldier to his family in Kurdistan.

While “Fotograf” masterfully handles the internal struggles of Kurd vs. Turk on the bus ride where they have periods of small talk and even share cigarettes, the characters in “Kilometer Zero” collide face-to-face as Kurd vs. Arab trek across Saddam Hussein-era Iraq. Both films are unique and powerful in their own rights.

Yet another perspective of Kurd vs. adversary is tackled in Shawket Amin Korki’s “Crossing the Dust” where two Good Samaritan Peshmerga help out a lost Arab boy ironically named Saddam in an Arab village during the second Gulf war.

Direct frenemy encounters are a natural part of Kurdish life and often unavoidable. Many folktales depicting ancient encounters with foreign invaders and neighboring groups — be it the Romans, Greeks, Seljuk Turks, Arabs, Armenians, or Persians — have been preserved through oral story-telling tradition and song. Kurdish films follow a similar path only through a new medium.

Stories that deal directly with the authorities of the ruling states constitute a large portion of Kurdish cinema. Among these films are Yilmaz Guney’s “Yol” (The Road, 1982) and “The Wall” (1983).

In comparison, cinemas of the other peoples that share the Middle East are less concerned with human rights themes as for them it’s a non-issue. They rather root for social dramas and mainstream product with plain entertainment as a motive to feed a wide viewership in the Middle East and North Africa (Arabic films) and Central Asia (Turkic films).

Israeli productions on the other hand are often labeled as art-house movies that find a home in the Western hemisphere. A handful of Iranian filmmakers are also credited for turning out a veritably good poetic fair with clever symbolism often used to defy rigid autocrats – the stuff festivals love to gobble up.

Kurdish films are occasionally pitched against their Iranian counterparts and are labeled as festival films for their serious subject matter, aesthetics, and often simple storytelling approach. Case in point, “Jiyan” (2002), was likened to Abbas Kiarostami’s “The Wind Will Carry Us” (1999) by The Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw. Upon deeper analysis, however, one may conclude that Iranian films can be poetic, but Kurdish films can be poetic with a sense of urgency.

On the downside, some Kurdish filmmakers seem to play up the victimhood syndrome too much and frequently, often showing Kurds at the short end of the stick, soliciting viewer sympathy, imploring, and obliging them to shed a tear or two. Once I invited a producer friend in Los Angeles to see “One Candle, Two Candles.” Days later, she dropped me a note saying she had a handkerchief out in preparation to watch the movie, but instead she found herself creased up and the only tears she had to wipe were happy tears. Yes, Kurdish films tend to have a sad aura about them as a reflection of their turbulent history past and present. As a consequence, their outreach is limited to a niche segment of society.

Another characteristic employed by some filmmakers but not all is crowding their films with overtly unsophisticated and almost primitive characters, imprinting a not-so-positive picture in the foreign viewer’s mind. These films are made specifically for festival attention and end up happy with awards, but do not shed a good light on the Kurds in general.

To sum up, Kurdish films stand out from their Middle Eastern counterparts and world cinema in that they are message-oriented representations of prevalent human rights issues and a plea for righting wrongs and correcting misconceptions about a people, their dreams, and their place in today’s world. Despite their shortcomings, like victimhood syndrome, sad aura, and character belittlement, they nonetheless serve as a window on Kurdish culture, geopolitics, and way of life.

My personal approach and mantra regarding filmmaking is that a good film is one that makes you laugh a little, cry a little, and walk away with something to ruminate on. And that should be the slogan of Kurdish cinema as well.

Jano Rosebiani is an American-Kurdish scriptwriter, director, producer, and editor associated with Kurdish New Wave cinema. This is the second part of a four-part series about the history of Kurdish cinema.

http://www.rudaw.net/english/opinion/110520191
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Re: A brief history of early Kurdish cinema

PostAuthor: Anthea » Sun May 26, 2019 10:38 am

Kurdish Cinema Part III:
Kurdish Women in Film


This is part three, in a four-part series about the history of Kurdish cinema

Part I touches on the characteristics associated with Kurdish cinema that are a cry for attention to a people’s predicament. This piece dissects the depiction of women in Kurdish cinema and the degree of their involvement and their willingness to participate in the making of films.

In regards to the social front, most Kurdish films tackle the issue one way or the other. The shortcomings of the treatment of women are portrayed as a consequence of political oppression and religious imposition, as in “Yol” (1982), and of cultural mores and traditions as in “One Candle, Two Candles” (2014) that depicts cultural phenomena imported from or imposed by the prevailing religion of the region.

I use the terms “imported” and “imposed”, because historically, the Kurdish woman held a strong role in Kurdish life-- socially, culturally, and politically. This is best expressed by 19th century Kurdish author and philosopher Mahmudé Bazidi in his book, Habits and Customs of Kurds. Bazidi notes that the majority of marriages were monogamous and Kurdish women did not veil, and they participated in social activities such as work, dancing, and singing with men. When the tribe was attacked, women took part in war alongside men.

Today, the Kurdish female Peshmerga and the Shervans of Rojava are the living proof of Bazidi’s assertion. They are the defenders of their nation and of humanity at large whose imprints will be well placed in the annals of history.

To name a few such strong female figures of the olden days, Lady Halima of Hakkari was the ruler of Bash Kala region; a young Fatma was chief of the Ezdinan tribe in 1909 and was addressed by her people as ‘the Queen’; Lady Maryam of the famous Nehri family wielded great authority among her followers; Lady Adela of Halabja called “the Princess of the Brave” by the British, because she was known to have saved the lives of many British army officers during World War I. Adela was the cultured chief of one of the biggest Kurdish tribes of the 19th Century - the Jaff of Sharazur; 17th Century Asenath Barzani is dubbed as the first female rabbi in the Jewish history; Mestureh Ardalan (1805–1848) was a Kurdish poet and writer well known for her literary works; Princess Khanzad was the ruler of the Soran region whose forte remains to stand tall on the road between Erbil and Salladin (Pirmam); and the list goes on.

In traditional Kurdish literature, both matriarchal and patriarchal tendencies are found. In the Ballads of "Las u Xezal" female tribal rulers openly compete over a lover. The Kurdish “Romeo and Juliet” equivalents are a plenty as well, such are the epics of “Mem u Zin”, “Shirin u Farhad”, “Xejé u Siabend”, “Nazo u Heso”, and “Zembil Frosh”, to name a few. Aside from a couple poor filmic renditions of these folk tales, they remain un-lensed as of this writing, nor have they been translated into modern settings.

I injected a humorous old folk anecdote in “One Candle, Two Candles” (the scene when young Viyan climbs a tree on her wedding night to escape her elderly suitor’s advances) and I was happy to see it recognized as such by New York film critic Louise Project in his review Kurdish and Turkish Films of Note maintaining “a thousand-year old folk tale that Kurds might have told each other around campfires long before there was the novel, movies, television or the Internet.”

All this is proof that the overtly conservative mores of recent, characterized by restrictions on the female role and honor-related violence, didn’t hold prominence in the past. While the prevailing trend of Kurdish films seems to be victimhood of an oppressed people, in many of these films women get the double whammy. That is, she is also a victim of the aforementioned society’s shortcomings. Such as the incarcerated wife in “Yol” or the honor-related murder in “Zagros” (Sahim Omar Kalifa, 2017). In these and innumerous other films women are portrayed as helpless and voiceless victims of a patriarchal society, in a time where our cameras should be turned to the female fighters, humanitarians, doctors, lawyers, poets, artists, anchorwomen, parliamentarians, and activists with a unique voice. It’s high time we turn our lenses to and pay tribute to these women and to the fore-mothers I alluded to earlier.

On the production front, the implanted mores have posed obstacles to a degree for us filmmakers, especially in South Kurdistan where actresses are scarce. Shawkat Amin Korki’s “Memories on Stone” (2014), a Fellini-esque arthouse film about filmmaking, depicts a director’s challenges in casting a female part – a story most Kurd filmmakers could relate to a decade ago. In “One Candle, Two Candles” I enlisted a German actress (Katrina Enders) for the lead role, and in “Chaplin of the Mountains” (2013) I cast a French/American (Estelle Bajou) and a German/Iranian (Taeis Farzan) due to lack of Kurdish alternatives. However, this issue has become less of a dilemma recently as more women are coming to the fore and taking part both in front and behind the camera. This has especially become the case in television where women presenters are in abundance.

Actress Viyan (Katrin Ender) climbs a tree on her wedding night in "One Candle, Two Candles." Photo: Evini Films

In “One Candle, Two Candles” I introduce outspoken women who stand up for their rights. One of the characters, ‘Zozan’ (Gulbahar Kevcu) for instance refers to the social deficiencies with the line ‘Our fore-mothers used to run the household. Some even ran the whole tribe. Then came the sword and cut us in half. A half-person cannot decide her fate.’ By acknowledging such reality Zozan and her friends embark on just that – to be the captains of their own ship and work to save young Viyan (Katrina Enders) from forced marriage. And when the antagonist ‘Haji Hemo’ attempts to set Viyan ablaze, really burning her alive, not only does he not succeed but ends up setting his own derrière on fire. I utilized dark humors here to emphasize the absurdity of the crime, the type Kurdish society would not tolerate. Haji Hemo lies facedown with smoke emanating from his buttocks while the women huddle together and watch in silence, perhaps musing on a deeper note to their male counterparts. That is, if you try to burn us you’re only burning yourself. These new women are closer to the reality of present-day Kurdistan as they are making headlong progress in their social status. This has been especially true in the past few years.

Again, I’m inclined to reference the Shervans. I predict Hollywood and Madison Avenue soon to bank on this new heroine in movies and interactive video games pitting the Kurdish female heroine against evil terrorists and other demons. I foresee a variety of mainstream arcade and mobile games starring the Shervan as a defender of the civilized world against terrorists. I hope Kurd filmmakers will be in the forefront of this initiative.

http://www.rudaw.net/english/opinion/26052019
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Re: A 4 part series about the history of Kurdish cinema

PostAuthor: Anthea » Mon Jun 03, 2019 8:31 pm

Kurdish Cinema Part IV: Diaspora in film

This is the final part in our four-part series on the history of Kurdish cinema

The majority of today’s successful Kurdish directors learned their craft in other lands, some in Iran, but most in Europe, some with formal education in cinema, others self-taught.

Collectively they have stories to tell the world with a burning desire to be heard and a passion that exceeds the artistry of the medium. As a result, one can hardly watch a Kurdish film and not shed a tear.

The Kurdish filmmaker in essence is the ambassador of his/her people, opening a window to the world through which one can get a glimpse of the daily life, history, culture, and the suffering of the Kurds. As film critic, David Rooney, in a Variety review of “Jiyan” states, “Jiyan gives a human face to the massacre [of Halabja].”

Jiyan (Pisheng Berzinji) and Sherko (Choman Hawrami) in "Jiyan", the first KRI region Kurdish film to receive international attention by Jano Rosebiani (2001) - Evini Films

Being the face and the voice of a nation are the driving force behind the passion for the cinematic art in Kurdistan.

Aside from shooting in Kurdistan, many have also seen success in turning out films in cross-cultural settings in diaspora, some with Kurdish subject matters, such as Hisham Zaman’s “Winterland” (2007), a Kurdish love story set in Oslo, Norway; Hiner Saleem’s “Vive la Mariée… et la Libération du Kurdistan” (1998), a romantic comedy about arranged marriage set in Paris; and Sahim Omer Kalifa’s “Zagros” (2018) about a Kurdish woman finding refuge in Brussels after being accused of adultery.

Other films involve non-Kurdish stories, such as Saleem’s “Beneath the Rooftops of Paris” based on true events during the heatwave that perturbed many of the elders of that city; my debut feature “Dance of the Pendulum” (1995), a parody of Hollywood B movies set in the Hollywood Hills, California; and most recently, Karzan Kader’s “Trading Paint” (2019) about a racecar driver starring John Travolta. Inversely, in “Chaplin of the Mountains” (2013) I brought foreign actors to Kurdistan, where Kurdish, American, and French characters roam the Kurdistan countryside.

As for films on Kurds by other than Kurds, “Zaré” by Soviet Armenian director Hamo Beknazarian (also known as Hamo Beknazarov and Amo Bek-Nazaryan) (1927) tops the list.

"Zare" (played by Maria Tenaz) the first Kurdish film ever, by Hamo Beknazarian made in Tblisi, Georgia (1926)

In the first installment of this series I identified “Yol” as being the first Kurdish film to gain international recognition (Cannes, 1982) albeit being in Turkish language. “Zaré” actually carries the title of being the very first Kurdish film.

It was made in the silent screen era in Tbilisi, Georgia. It depicts a Kurdish Yazidi love story between Zaré (Maria Tenaz) and Seydo (Herashia Nersisyan) who struggle for their right to a happy life.

“Zaré” was followed by another silent film, “Kurds-Yazidis” (1933) by Amasi Martirosyan about the establishment of a collective farm in a Kurdish village in the Soviet Armenia. Both films are preserved at the National Film Archives of Armenia.

There have also been a handful of films about Kurds in Iran in the 1960s and onward, among them “Dalahoo” (Siyamak Yasami, 1967), lensed in the Dalaho mountain of Kermanshah.

Other films include “Sadeq The Kurd” (Naser Teghvari, 1972), “Abu Jasim the Lor”, “The Kurdish Girl”, “Husain the Kurd”, and “Kurdistan Horsemen.” These films, like most other films out of Middle East, are either cheap thrills, B-movie actioners, or inflated melodramas.

The most peculiar among them is the Bollywood flick “The Lor Girl” (1933) lensed in Bombay by Khan Bahadur Ardashir Irani. It depicts the Kurdish province of Loristan as a place of thugs and robbers.

Interestingly, although made in India, “The Lor Girl”, also known as ‘The Iran of Yesterday and the Iran of Today’, was the first sound film ever to be produced in the Persian language.

Contrary to those early B-movies, more recent arthouse Iranian films of the past two decades place Kurds in a better light, such as Abbas Kiarostami’s “The Wind Will Carry Us” (1999) and Samira Makhmalbaf’s “Blackboards” (2000) among others.

As for films from the West, aside from occasional television documentaries, the only feature film that surfaces is Germany’s “Wild Kurdistan” (Franz Josef Gottlieb, 1965) - a war actioner that builds on exoticism and parades Kurds and other oriental groups of the Ottoman Times/WWI era as what the title alludes to.

Meanwhile Kurd artists have contributed a good deal to the cinemas of the ruling states, especially in Iraq and Turkey. Despite not owning a cinema industry of her on, Iraqi Helmers have had their share in spewing melodramas of their own along with a few propaganda pics.

A handful of the films were produced by Kurds in the 1960s and 70s, albeit in Arabic and with no relation to Kurds – as Kurdish art and literature was commonly suppressed by the Baath regime.

Among the films spawned by Kurds are “The Rose” (Yahya Faiq, 1956); Kamiran Husni’s “Saeed Afandi” (1957) and “The Marriage Project” (1960); Hikmet Labeeb’s “Basra at 11 O’clock” (1963) and “Autumn Leaves” (1964); and Abduljabar Wali’s “Regret” (1954) among others.

Notwithstanding, there were also some attempts at Kurdish production, such as Yahya Faiq’s flirt with the saga of “Mem and Zin” and a film about the legendary “Kawa, the Blacksmith” by Georgis Yusif. However, neither of the films came to fruition due to road blocks by the regime.

The one Kurdish film that saw the light of day is an obscure “Nergiz, the Bride of Kurdistan” by Jafar Ali. Reportedly its short-lived production began on the day Saddam entered Kuwait in August 1990, then resumed later in the liberated part of Kurdistan to be completed in 1993.

Notwithstanding, like their Iranian and Turkish counterparts, the Iraqi titles in general were no ground-breakers. They are rather over-acted parochial melodramas.

Other films worthy of note made in the dawn of Kurdish cinema are the award-winning “A Song for Beko” (Nizamettin Aric, 1992) lensed in Armenia, and “Tunnel” (Mahdi Omed, 1993), made in Tajikistan.

In Turkey as well many of the homegrown films of the past century were helmed by Kurds and Kurdish films had to be made in the Turkish language. Filmmakers included Yilmaz Guney, Yilmaz Arsalan, and Serif Goren among innumerous others.

Today many if not most Kurdish films of the North continue to be recorded in Turkish for discernible reasons, and only those in exile have the luxury of using their mother tongue in their motion pictures without getting into hot water. However, for reasons inexplicable, some diaspora directors continue to script and record their films in Turkish.

Another astounding fact is that a few of our colleagues from various regions of Kurdistan avoid presenting their works with the Kurdistan label in spite of being financed by and produced in Kurdistan. Though their reasoning is often related to marketability, I find it bewildering, inexplicable, and inexcusable.

I find it imperative to close this segment and my take on the short history of Kurdish cinema series with an issue I faced in 2015. When the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA) selected “One Candle, Two Candles” as a runner for the Golden Globe Award, they listed it as an Iraqi film. I struggled to have that changed to a ‘Kurdistan selection’ and after considerable back and forth they agreed to the change.

By doing this I am in no way being anti-Iraq, but rather giving my work its righteous identity. In fact all films made in the Kurdistan Region, mine included, are listed as Iraqi films on Wikipedia, and appropriately so, but as Kurd filmmakers representing an oppressed nation it is crucial that we stand cool-headed, for promoting the Kurdish identity is one with, and inseparable from, promoting our right to live as a distinctive nation.

Jano Rosebiani is an American-Kurdish scriptwriter, director, producer, and editor associated with Kurdish New Wave cinema. This is the third part of a four-part series about the history of Kurdish cinema.

http://www.rudaw.net/english/opinion/020620191
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