What Makes a Kurdish Film?

in 10th Duhok International Film Festival

by Katharina Dockhorn

Basic discussions at the festival in Duhok

The FIPRESCI prize of the 10th Duhok Film Festival for a film shown in the Kurdish feature film competition went to In the Blind Spot (Im Toten Winkel) made by the German-based filmmaker Ayşe Polat. The jury was convinced by the powerful political story, its masterful direction and decisive acting. The political thriller, with some influence of South American magic realism, is told in three chapters.

The first chapter of the universal story follows two German journalists portraying a Kurdish woman, whose son was murdered by Turkish soldiers or the secret service years ago. The following chapter supplements the events from the secret service’s perspective. Finally, the camera focuses exclusively on what has been happening in the meantime in the apartment of a secret service agent who is watching the journalists and feeling persecuted by his own colleagues.

In the footsteps of John le Carré

The paranoid atmosphere within the Turkish secret service is reminiscent of the best novels about the inner workings of the British secret service written by John le Carré and their film adaptations. But the film goes far beyond that. Polat expands on the thesis that the paranoia towards people who think differently, or towards members of other religions, rubs off on the people who observe them on a daily basis in a very clever and understandable way. The soul of the individual, whether Kurd or Turk, is under attack, as is the soul of society as a whole.

The film led to a discussion at the festival about the term “Kurdish” film. According to the story, In the Blind Spot was shot in German, English and Turkish. Only in one scene it is mentioned that everybody is afraid of using the Kurdish language in public, and even in private. Speaking Kurdish is also persecuted in Iran, which was also addressed in several films from the programme from this country.

Kurdish films in a struggle with censorship

The films made in Iran in the Kurdish language, bypassing censorship, are certainly respectful in terms of content, but have to make technical compromises. In Beyan by Iranian director Amir Gholami, the eponymous protagonist tries to find out who betrayed her resistance group to the secret service after two years in prison. The film was shot with a cell phone. Rojbash by Turkish director Ökzan Küçük follows a group of aged actors who, 15 years after their play in Kurdish language was banned, want to fulfill their dreams of performing it in the underground.

The focus of the debate was whether a film could be considered “Kurdish” if it was not made in the language. Even if a film like In the Blind Spot deals with the fact that the language is suppressed, the quest ultimately leads to a core issue of film art: Do filmmakers want to show the world authentically?

Authenticity is crucial

The desire to depict the world as it is was also noticeable in all seven films in the competition. For the FIPRESCI jury, the credibility of the plot at the location of the action and events was much more important than using the Kurdish language, as some people demanded.

Katharina Dockhorn
Edited by Birgit Beumers