Attendees at the IOM Global Migration Film Festival watch Charlie Chaplin’s The Immigrant. Photo by Raber Y. Aziz/IOM Iraq 2016
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region - Migration and displacement are the themes of the Global Migration Film Festival
put on by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in Erbil and 72 other cities around the world.
The festival runs in “unlikely places like Erbil and Juba, which both suffer from massive humanitarian crises,” said Barbara Rijks, head of office for IOM in Erbil, during the opening at a packed Jano’s Cinema Café in the Kurdistan Region’s capital.
“Movies are a strong tool to show the world through the eyes of people elsewhere with different colors of skin,” Rijks said, “which is important in a time of xenophobia and anti-migrant sentiments that feed on fear of the unknown and misconception of the other.”
The best way to combat those negative feelings is by traveling, she said, “but for those who do not have the money to do so, second best is to see a movie.”
The festival is held annually on IOM’s December 5 birthday – this year the 65th – to “celebrate the diversity and unique qualities of migrants for the countries where they live,” she stated.
With the choice of Charlie Chaplin’s silent movie The Immigrant opening the festival, organizers hoped to illustrate some of the hardship and mistreatment migrants and internally displaced persons (IDPs) endure on their way to and after arrival in a new country or area from those distrustful of their motives.
Kurdish culture minister Khalid Doski said during his opening speech that “cinema is an effective way to pass the message and cover the identity problems of IDPs and migrants.”
Doski said he hoped that the festival will become an annual event in Kurdistan, expressing pride that Erbil had been chosen as the location for the two week-long festival.
The festival features movies from all over the world, including Kurdistan, and closes with Chaplin of the Mountains, about a young Kurdish-French woman who tries to find her mother’s village that was probably destroyed during the Anfal campaign of the 1980s that killed 180,000 Kurds.
During the forum discussion about migration on the opening night, Deputy Minister Salar Osman of the Ministry of Culture called cinema “the bridge to cross into the rest of the world. All the bloodshed is because of not accepting the differences between people, and cinema brings all together in the circle of humanity.”
“A short movie can show the world the tears of a displaced woman and goes beyond borders; it works much better than any political discourse,” he said.
Osman pointed out that Kurds themselves have been displaced many times, “but since the war of ISIS we have had the honor of helping others who took shelter. Because we know the difficulties so well, we opened our arms to the IDP’s.”
Two members of the panel who have lived outside Iraq and returned, talked about their experiences making a home in a new land and culture, and bringing what they learned back to the Kurdistan Region.
“If I stayed here in Kurdistan, I would never have understood how to live with different people, of different colors and backgrounds,” said Kanar Hadiath, who spent her childhood in the Netherlands and now works with the Kurdish Minister of Health. She pointed out that those migrants who return add new experiences to their country.
Rabi Habash, a professor of computer science at the Kurdistan University of Hawler, who left the Christian town of Qaraqosh to teach in Malaysia, also spoke of learning: “You gain something and bring it back to your homeland.”
He added that “losing one’s identity is the biggest nightmare, unless you see yourself as an international citizen. When people ask why I only have one passport after staying outside for so long, I answer that it’s because I am an international.”
Jano’s Cinema Café was opened by the American-Kurdish filmmaker Jano Rosebiani who himself also lived outside the country.
But as its location in the English Village neighbourhood of Erbil is too expensive, the café will close after the festival, Rosebiani announced.
“We are looking for a place where rents are cheaper than those in Paris and London, and hope to reopen elsewhere in town next year.”
The Kurdistan Region of Iraq is presently hosting some 1.6 million Syrian refugees and Iraqi IDPs.