The Poor State of Kurdish Cinema

Culture, Film Review, Kurdish - نووسینی کوردی

In today’s ever addictive technological world in which the visual media play a major role shaping daily events, cinema has become a weapon used by artists from various cultural backgrounds to not only communicate their inner most personal thoughts on life, but also introduce their own unique culture into a wider audience, cinema is used as a tool no just to communicate but also to inform. If we look at American’s cultural domination of the world (putting aside the politic), one of the reason behind such domination is the widespread of its visual media, especially flooding of Hollywood films into the world market. More than any other form of art, cinema has the power to unite, share, inform and shape people’s opinion of one’s own culture, be it positively or negatively. Unfortunately, this form of art, the art of Cinema, has no root in Kurdish society as of yet, there are many reasons, we can name the geopolitical situations of the Kurdish nation, its break up into four region, the long historical oppression of its culture and language, wars, economic reasons, the various dialectic of the Kurdish language as an obstacles to having a united cinematic language, many historical and present causes that the reader might be familiar with which will take not only two articles, but a whole book to cover all of it. But let us name a few reason behind the poor state in which the Kurdish cinema is in, especially the state of filmmaking in the Iraqi Kurdistan, reasons that is more of an inner creation as much as it is of an outside influence.

Systems of Production: One of the biggest different between the art of filmmaking and various other art forms is this: In producing a film, one need money, equipment, and a cast of many specialist in their own fields. Generally speaking, to write a novel, a poem, to draw, or to compose a piece of music, the production of such an art is between the artist and its personal creation, but to make a film, one need more than a personal creation, one need many tools of productions beyond one’s power. In Kurdistan, there is no Production Studio to produce film nor a market to sell the product. If we look at the commercial aspect of filmmaking (putting aside the Art Films), looking at the Hollywood Studio System, Bollywood System of India, or even if we look closely at our neighbor’s commercial production system, the likes of Turkey and Iran, in which their Films and TV Dramas are now flooding the Middle Eastern countries in a clear battle with Hollywood  and Bollywood to the domination of the region’ s market.  We notices that in all four system of filmmaking, a person with a right film script or an idea for a film that has the potential for a commercial success can find a producer or a production studio to take the responsibility of producing such film. Producing of the film, financial budget, tools of productions, professional staffing for the film, dealing with various Governmental and private agencies in term of permit and locations, many other financial and production aspect of filmmaking is taking care off by the producer or the studio. In the stage of the post-production, distribution and marking 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 nor a Studio System with professional staff aiding a producer, if there ever was one. If a filmmaker were to make a film, not only he/she has to be the mind behind the film, but also has to put all efforts in finding a budget for the film, professional staff , tools of production, and in many cases location and actors, many of the task of the pre-production stage that is of the Studio in a professional system of filmmaking has to be taken care of by the director, leaving him exhausted by the time of the film’s production, all the creative energy dried out of him (as it happened to a friend recently). These are severe problems for any artist, not having a proper atmosphere to produce a film lead to nihilism and pessimism, leading them to stay away from making films. In the technological term, up to now, in Kurdistan there is no professional staffing nor professional tools for educating and producing new generation of filmmakers, unfortunately, the few TVs and Media outlets in which from time to time help filmmakers to produce Films or Drama series would not allow the filmmaker to have full independent.

Distribution Market: Let us say that after an endless struggle, a filmmaker manages to make a film, now comes the dilemma of distributing it. Compare the Hollywood System of distribution and that of Kurdistan, maybe such comparison is far stretched and the reader might complain “Hollywood where and Kurdistan is where?”, but such a comparison is necessary in order to understand the Hollywood’s domination of world’s market. After the production of the film, a huge sum is put aside for advertising and marketing of the film in order to inform the viewer, the daily TV commercials, radio, newspapers and internet advertising inform the viewers about the film’s story and the date of its release. Within a same time period, the film is released within many cities across US and Worldwide. If a film to play only one week in the multiple theatrical houses, there is a guarantee that the film would get back not only its production cost, bus also Millions of dollars gained. In the US alone, Millions of people attend film screening daily, seeing a film on its first day of release is a cultural phenomenon in the States, it is psychologically deeply rooted. The cheapest ticket to watch a film might get as low as $6 , after the film’s theatrical release for many weeks, or month, the film is then released on DVD into the market. Thousands if not Millions of copies flood the market, pricing between $10 to $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 US. Let the viewer then calculate the film’s financial gain to its producer or the Studio that produced the film. As we see, the Producer or the Studio System that produce and market the film would get back their money with gains, they are ready to produce not just one, but multiple other films. Do we have such a System in Kurdistan? The answer, No. In Kurdistan, we don’t have a decent chains of theater houses to let the viewer watch a film in a rightful atmosphere nor there is such a market to distribute film into the theaters. Even if we have have multiple chain of theater in each villages, towns and cities across Kurdistan, a normal Kurdish viewer does not have the desire to watch a film in theater weekly, unfortunately, such desire has not taken root in our viewers yet. With no place to show your film, nor a viewer to watch it, there is no need to advertise your film, and without advertisement for the film, the viewer won’t be informed about such film. The ironic situation is also true for distributing the film into the market, on TV screens or DVD. So far, in Kurdistan there is no law to protect the copy right of one’s work from illegal distribution in the market in forms of DVD. These and many other reasons create an atmosphere making it impossible to have a Production System creating and distributing films, even if there is such a Production System or a Producer in practice producing films, such an atmosphere would only make the system or the Producer bankrupt after making a single film, for it is impossible to return the cost of producing a film, leading them abandon such task. The only hope for Kurdish filmmaker now making independent films is the hope of sending one’s film into various International Film Festival, hoping to win an award, or gain a distributor taking the task of distributing the film into a foreign market.

Cultural Awareness toward Cinema: The proper introduction of any art form and the process of creating artist need a cultural awareness, a system of educating through cultural institutions and various teaching methods. Not having a system of eduction teaching cinema, lack of newspapers and books on such subjects in Kurdish language, nor having a School or an educational institution teaching and educating future generation of filmmakers are some other reasons behind the poor state of Kurdish cinema. It is true that many of the great auteurs of cinema has never been to a Film School or attended an educational institutions dealing with cinema, but many of them got exposed both technically and culturally to a system in which they learned the trick of their games. If we look at the great directors of the Hollywood; the Hollywood Studio System has produced almost all of them, learning their craft and becoming filmmaker as they went along with the system. The directors behind The French New Wave of the 1960s, the likes of Jean-Luc Godard.، Francois Truffaute، Jacques Rivette, created a new wave and style of filmmaking after they were exposed to the Cinematheque Francaise under Henri Langlois, by watching cinema’s great treasures of the past, and writing about it in Cashiers du Cinema magazine. A group of friends, by getting together, watching and criticizing films for many years, writing about it, created one of cinema’s greatest school, The French New Wave. In Kurdistan, there is no professional system of to education in the filed of filmmaking, not having a proper Film School to educate (In a city like Sulaimani, not a single course on Cinema in all its university, colleges and schools could be found), nor is there a place to a show film, a cultural place like that of Cinematheque, neither is there a publication to inform it reader about cinema, taking into account the hundreds daily publications that is flooding the market, and the countless cultural institutions both Governmental and privately funded. The only cinematic awareness that exist as of today, is unfortunately, a wrong one, created by individuals each on their separate own ways, most of it is influenced by Hollywood’s Blockbuster films and dubbed foreign TV Dramas (mostly Turkish and Iranian), an influence of style and theme that one get exposed too daily on the local TV and satellite channels, to create by copying theme 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 exposed more to foreign films rather than a Kurdish films or Drama series. We hear times after times the criticism of the local TV and Satellite channels for broadcasting dubbed Drama series or foreign Films, but criticizing alone is not the answer, for let us not forget that a Kurdish viewer is like any other viewer worldwide, by watching a Film, a viewer want to be entertained, by not having high quality Kurdish film and Drama series, a Kurdish viewer to fulfill such desire of watching entertainment, has no choice but to look upon a foreign market. As we see, like a circle, the reasons are intertwined.

Yilmaz Guney

Where to? A reader, after reading this article might get very pessimist about the future of Kurdish cinema and the present poor state it is in. But, I have a feeling that the future, even if it is a distance future, is bright. If a nation could produce a filmmaker like Yilmaz Guney, who manages to create multiple cinematic masterpieces one after another under very hard conditions in a well established but oppressive system, then the same nation can build a cinematic school of its own, through it, to share its unique culture, its 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 way 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 cinema, and a new way of thinking.


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