The Poor State of Kurdish Cinema PDF Print E-mail

SULAIMANI, Iraqi Kurdistan -- More than any other form of art, cinema has the power to unite, share, inform and shape people's opinion of their culture, be it positively or negatively.


Unfortunately, the art of cinema has no roots in Kurdish society. There are many reasons: the geopolitical situation of the Kurdish nation, its breakup into four regions, the long historical oppression of its culture and language, war, economics and the various dialects of the Kurdish language can all be named as obstacles to having a united cinematic language.


Let us name a few of the reasons for the poor state of Kurdish cinema, especially the state of filmmaking in Iraqi Kurdistan; reasons that are created as much internally as by outside influences.


Systems of Production: One of the biggest differences between filmmaking and various other art forms is that in producing a film, one needs money, equipment and a cast of specialists in their own fields.


The art of writing a novel or a poem, painting, or composing a piece of music is between the artist and their creation. But to make a film, you need more than that. You need many tools of production beyond your own skills.

In Kurdistan, there is no production studio to produce films or market to sell the product. The commercial aspect of filmmaking becomes clear by looking at the Hollywood studio system, Bollywood of India, or even at the commercial production system of our neighbours, Turkey and Iran, whose films and TV dramas are now flooding the Middle East in a clear battle with Hollywood and Bollywood.


We notice that in all four systems of filmmaking, a person with the right film script or an idea for a film that has the potential for commercial success can find a producer or a production studio to take the responsibility of producing the film. Producing the film, finding funding, tools of production, and professional staffing for the film, dealing with various governmental and private agencies in terms of permits and locations, and many other financial and production aspects of filmmaking are taken care of by the producer or the studio.


In the stage of the post-production, distribution and marketing of the film is also the task of the studio or the producer. In Kurdistan, there is no such system of producing; there are no producers taking responsibility for producing a film or a studio system with professional staff to aid a producer.


If a filmmaker were to make a film, not only does he or she have to be the mind behind the film, but also has to put all the effort into budgeting for the film, finding professional staff and tools of production, and in many cases location and actors. Many of the tasks at the pre-production stage that studios handle in a professional system of filmmaking have to be taken care of by the director himself, leaving him exhausted and depleted of energy by the time the film is done.


These are severe problems for any artist; not having a proper atmosphere to produce a film may lead to disappointment, or staying away from making films altogether.


In Kurdistan there is no professional staffing or professional tools for educating and producing a new generation of filmmakers. The few TV and media outlets that from time to time help filmmakers to produce films or drama series do not allow the filmmaker to have full independence.


Distribution Market: Let us say that after an endless struggle, a filmmaker manages to make a film; then comes the problem of distributing it. Compare the Hollywood system of distribution and that of Kurdistan; such a comparison might seem farfetched, but is necessary in order to understand Hollywood's domination of the world market.


After the production of the film, a huge sum of money is put aside for advertising and marketing the film in order to inform people through daily TV commercials, radio, newspapers, and Internet advertizing about the film and its release date.


Within the same time period, the film is released in cities across the U.S. and worldwide. If a film is to play only one week in multiple theaters, there is a guarantee that the film will earn back not only its production costs, but also millions of dollars in profit.

In the U.S., millions of people attend film screenings. Seeing a film on its first day of release is a cultural phenomenon in the States. Weeks after its release, the price of a ticket might be as low as $6. The film is then released on DVD into the market.


Thousands, if not millions of copies flood the market, priced between $10 and $30. After the distribution of the DVD or at the same time, the right to broadcast the film is sold to one or multiple TV stations both inside and outside the U.S.


It is not difficult to calculate the financial gain to the producer or the studio that produced the film. The producer or the studio system that produced and marketed the film earns back their money with a profit; they are then ready to produce not just one, but multiple other films.


Do we have such a system in Kurdistan? The answer is no.


In Kurdistan, we don’t have a decent chain of theaters to let the viewer watch a film in the right atmosphere, nor is there such a market to distribute films into the theaters. Even if we had multiple chains of theaters in villages, towns, and cities across Kurdistan, a normal Kurdish viewer does not have the desire to watch a film in the theater weekly.


Unfortunately, such desire has not taken root in our culture yet. With no place to show your film, nor viewers to watch it, there is no need to advertise, and without advertizing, people aren’t informed about the film.


In Kurdistan, there is no copyright law to protect one’s work from illegal distribution in the market on DVD. These and many other reasons create an atmosphere that make it impossible to have a production system creating and distributing films, even if there was such a production system or a producer in practice producing films.


In this system, the producer can go bankrupt after making a single film. The impossibility of making up the cost of producing a film may lead them abandon such a task.


The only hope for independent Kurdish filmmakers is to send a film to various international film festivals, hoping to win an award or gain a distributor that will place the film in the foreign market.


Cultural Awareness toward Cinema: Not having a system of education that teaches cinema or a school or institution educating future generations of filmmakers, along with a lack of newspapers and books on such subjects in the Kurdish language, are some other reasons behind the poor state of Kurdish cinema.

It is true that many of the great auteurs of cinema have never been to a film school or attended an educational institution dealing with cinema, but many of them were exposed technically and culturally to a system in which they learned the tricks of the trade. If we look at the great directors of Hollywood, the studio system produced almost all of them, learning their craft and becoming filmmakers as they went along with the system.


The directors behind the French New Wave of the 1960s -- the likes of Jean-Luc Godard, Francois Truffaut, and Jacques Rivette -- created a new style of filmmaking after they were exposed to the Cinematheque Francaise under Henri Langlois, watching cinema’s great treasures of the past and writing about them in the Cahiers du Cinema magazine.


A group of friends getting together, watching and criticizing films for many years, and writing about them, created one of cinema’s greatest schools, the French New Wave.


In Kurdistan, there is not a proper film school to educate; in a city like Sulaimani, not a single course on cinema is available at its university, colleges, or schools. Nor is there a place to show films, a cultural place like the Cinematheque, or a publication to inform readers about cinema, despite the hundreds of daily publications that flood the market, and the countless cultural institutions both governmental and privately funded.


The only cinematic awareness that exists today is, unfortunately, an incomplete one, created by individuals separately, most of it influenced by Hollywood blockbuster films or dubbed foreign TV dramas (mostly Turkish and Iranian), an influence of style and theme that one gets exposed to daily on the local TV and satellite channels. To create by copying themes and styles of others blindly is not cinematic creation, it is a counterfeit copy of an original work, lacking any creativity.


It is no wonder that today’s Kurdish viewer is more exposed to foreign films than Kurdish films or drama series. We hear time and again criticism of the local TV and satellite channels for broadcasting dubbed drama series or foreign films, but criticizing alone is not the answer. Let us not forget that a Kurdish viewer is like any other viewer in the world, and wants to be entertained. By not finding that aspect in Kurdish films, he or she looks for it in foreign films. The reasons are intertwined.

What next? After reading this article, the reader may ask what the future of Kurdish cinema will be like. I have a feeling that the future, even if it is a distant future, will be bright. If a nation could produce a filmmaker like Yilmaz Guney, who manages to create multiple cinematic masterpieces one after another under very difficult circumstances in a well-established but oppressive system, then the same nation can build a cinematic school of its own, and through it share its unique culture and history, its tragic stories with the world.


But to have such a dream come true, there must be a new beginning with new ideas, new plans, and new ways of educating the future generation about the true nature of cinema. Kurdish cinema must blossom upward from its roots in order to compete with the rest of the world by creating a new generation aware of the power of cinema.





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