Fighting the Real Enemy

in 65th International Film Festival Mannheim - Heidelberg

by Alexandra Pütter

The Dark Wind (Reseba) begins with a beautiful ceremony – Reko (Rekesh Shabaz) and Pero (Diman Zandi) are engaged to be married, celebrated by their neighbours in a Yezidi village. But before the wedding the Islamic State attacks the village, abducts the girls and kills everybody in their way. The Yezidi fight back but are overpowered. Once Reko has made sure that his parents are in the relative safety of a refugee camp, he sets out to find Pero and her family. But she has been auctioned off to an Islamic State leader and her fiancé has to risk his life, use his wits and the help of female Peshmerga fighters to get her back.

In this first part, director Hussein Hassan stages some enthralling fight scenes. Where another film might end when he wins his love back from the enemy, this film takes a different route. It shows the tortured and broken Pero returning to her family, now living in a refugee camp, traumatized amongst other traumatized people. This is where the “real” movie starts, and I applaud the writer/director/producer-team Mehmet Aktas and Hussein Hassan for focusing on Pero after her liberation and showing her pain. She gets a little bit better, then relapses and even her well-meaning mother at one point traumatizes her even further, of course without intending to. The former villagers who are now her neighbours in the refugee camp do what villagers everywhere do and gossip. The rituals of her religion are shown to help Pero, but not for long, as everywhere she is reminded of her trauma.Diman Zandi’s performance is a strong one, almost overwhelming at times, but still nuanced. This is her first major movie role and as we sat down between two screenings at the Mannheim Heidelberg Film Festival for a short talk, a woman from the audience came up to congratulate her on her portrayal. Zandi had taken some acting courses but had decided on relying more on her intuition for finding the inner connection to a role. She had acted in the theater in Urmia in Iran, which taught her a lot as well. As preparation for this role she not only read about the Yezidis, but also volunteered in Duhok at a center for girls and women who had been retrieved from the IS. There she observed the women, how they talked, ate, and moved. An experience which also made her suggest changes to the script. It is no suprise that the preparation for and shooting of this film took its toll on its main actress and that she had to recuperate in hospital for a month afterwards. Work proved helpful as well when she took on a role where the English dialogue distanced her from the memories of The Dark Wind. She has since set her eyes on directing and has been accepted to film school in Teheran, where she will start her studies in 2017.

Not all reactions were as positive as that one admirer’s. At a screening in Heidelberg – and I would like to add that I was not present at that screening, but saw The Dark Wind  at a different one, which was undisturbed – members of the Yezidi organisation “Eziden weltweit” (Yezidi worldwide) stormed the stage to demand that the film be stopped, as they felt misrepresented by it, as I take from a press release by the festival and a talk to security personnel. It seems that the main point of contention is a scene which had in the meantime been cut out of the film and was definitely not shown at the festival screenings. While it is understandable that a people who are threatened with extinction are particularly sensitive to they way they are portrayed in the media, especially as there is already so little representation of Yezidi culture, demanding the #stopping of a screening can never be the right way. The Mannheim Heidelberg Festival offered an opportunity for discussion with the producer-writer-director team Hassan-Aktas and actress Diman Zandi after every screening.

I should also add that “Eziden weltweit” deny on their homepage having caused the interruption, but attribute it to Yezidi PTSD-sufferers in the audience having flashbacks while watching the film. I do thorougly believe that whatever happened in Heidelberg, this is a film that can be difficult to watch for people who are traumatized, it was difficult enough even for me.

What stays with me after watching The Dark Wind is the hope that more will be done for the victims of IS torture and the wish to learn more about Yezidi culture. And the joy to have found in Diman Zandi a new film talent, before the camera or behind it, wherever she wants.

Edited by Eithne O’Neill