Kurdistan: Struggle for Human Dignity

in 8th Duhok International Film Festival

by Hendrik Bovekerk

Out of seven films competing in the Kurdish Feature Competition, the FIPRESCI jury at the 8th Duhok International Film Festival awarded the International Critics Prize to “The Dance of Ali and Zin” by director Mehmet Ali Konar.

Out of 984 submitted films, artistic director Shawkat Amin Korki and his team had selected 94 films from 156 countries to be screened at the festival, in ten separate sections. The opening movie of the festival was Korki’s own feature film The Exam (Ezmun), which won the FIPRESCI prize at the Karlovy Vary Film Festival earlier in 2021. In the wake of the war against ISIS, the 8th Duhok International Film Festival aimed to position the Kurdish Region, in the words of Korki, “once again … as a place of development instead of an area of political conflict.”

More than the environment, the struggle for human dignity in the face of oppression and humiliation was a recurring theme in the Kurdish Feature Competition. Unsurprisingly so, since the Kurdish nation has been struggling for centuries to safeguard its language and culture, to secure independence, and to establish its own state: Kurdistan.

Landless (Be Nistiman), The Little Refugee (Mohajer Kouchak) and Dirty Lands (Zewiye Pisekan) dealt, in different ways, with the recent war against ISIS. Landless by director Touraj Aslani shows the attempted flight of a young couple from the Iraq-Syrian border towards Turkey. The Little Refugee by Betin Qobadi revolves around Aylan Kurdi, the three-year-old Kurdish boy from Syria whose image made global headlines after his body washed ashore on the beach of Bodrum in Turkey. Dirty Land by Ala Hoshyar and Reza Alaei tells the story of a former Peshmerga fighter who lost his arm in battle and struggles to find sustenance after the war is over.

Brother’s Keeper (Okul Tirasi) and The Dance of Ali and Zin (Govenda Ali û Zin), two feature films that stood out for their excellent cinematography, dealt with Kurdish culture in the face of Turkish oppression. Brother’s Keeper by Ferit Karahan, winner of the FIPRESCI Prize in the Panorama Section of the Berlinale, showed the harsh living conditions in a Turkish boarding school for boys. The Dance of Ali and Zin, by Mehmet Ali Konar, zooms in on a rural family dealing with the loss of their beloved son and brother Ali.

Reber Dosky’s outstanding hybrid film Sidik and the Panther (Sidik U Piling), more documentary than drama, fitted the festival’s theme of environment best. The film follows protagonist Sidik in his search for a leopard in the mountains of northern Iraq. Sidik believes that if the leopard returns to Kurdistan, so will the peace. Zalava by Arsalan Amiri, winner of the FIPRESCI prize at Venice Film Festival, tells the story of a superstitious ‘gipsy’ mountain people that is haunted by evil spirits and prefers an exorcist over a scientific doctor.

The FIPRESCI jury at DIFF chose to award the International Critics Prize to The Dance of Ali and Zin by by Mehmet Ali Konar for its exceptional sound design and cinematography, the outstanding performance by the actors, and its capacity to represent a large political conflict by focusing on a small household.

Henk Bovekerk
Edited by Savina Petkova