DUHOK, Kurdistan Region – Empowering women to break the glass ceiling in Kurdistan’s male dominated culture was the subject of a special panel discussion at the Duhok International Film Festival (DIFF) on Tuesday.
The panel event, titled Women in Cinema & Cinema by Women
, discussed women’s representation and contribution to Kurdish cinema, in tune with the festival theme of The Female Lens
“We can tell that men actually control cinema, it’s more in their hands. This is how it is worldwide,” said Sidar Aslan, a producer from Diyarbaker, Turkey. “We as women have to take more steps to encourage and support each other in the world of art and cinema and do as much as we can.”
Producer Sidar Aslan speaks at Duhok International Film Festival (DIFF), October 23, 2018. Photo: DIFF
Aslan, a producer in the Middle East Cinema Association, said she works with a team including six other women to provide the tools they need to build their careers.
“If we look in the past and now in Kurdish cinema we can see that women are more active than before,” she said.
“Women are life,” she added.
Aslan said women must encourage and support each other in the world of art and cinema.
“The four parts of Kurdistan should get together, know each other, work together to be successful,” she said, adding that they must also network with international female artists.
Another panelist and female director Viyan Mayi said women should be supported in their work by male relatives. As a female Kurdish director, she says she is fortunate to have the support of her husband and brothers as well as ministers in the industry.
“If you talk about cinema in Kurdistan, in the four parts of Kurdistan we have that ambition, that dream of making movies,” she said.
The camera is a powerful weapon, she explained.
Director Viyan Mayi speaks at Duhok International Film Festival (DIFF), October 23, 2018. Photo: DIFF
“We can use it as something good to show the positive things in life or we can use it as a weapon to show the negative parts of life,” she said, adding that Kurds should use it to show the good sides of their culture, developments and progress occurring in Kurdistan.
Mayi also challenged Kurdish media, saying it is not as supportive as it could be. Other panelists touched on this topic, saying media often portrays women in cinema or arts in a negative light, hindering their ability to grow in society.
Dejin Cemil, the first Yezidi actress and co-star of the film, A Dream Before Dying
directed by Fekri Baroshi, said she is excited to be a part of Kurdish cinema but due to lack of funding, it is often difficult to find acting parts.
Despite having great support from the Yezidi community as a whole, she said Kurdish culture often restricts women’s movement in society.
“The culture doesn’t allow women to be in cinema, to be in front of the camera,” she explained. “They put names on them and say it’s a shame. They say you shouldn’t be in movies. You shouldn’t be somebody’s wife or girlfriend in movies.”
Yezidi actress Dejin Cemil speaks at Duhok International Film Festival (DIFF), October 23, 2018. Photo: DIFF
Although Cemil said these are barriers for Kurdish actresses she is optimistic about the growth of women in the industry.
“We have very few female actresses and I really hope there will one day be thousands of female actresses, but it needs time,” she added.
A special guest and surprise panelist, singer Dashni Morad, spoke to Rudaw following the panel discussion.
Morad said she turned down several acting roles because she was afraid of how she would be perceived in Kurdish culture.
“I was scared of how I’d be received because when we look at women in cinema we immediately think that what she is doing is wrong,” she said, adding that she grew up being told to be conservative, walk to school with her head down, not to speak with boys and believed that these behaviors were shameful.
“But there is much more that I need to do,” she said.
Morad said that it is important for women to empower each other and become role models to encourage more women to be brave enough to enter the arts, cinema, or music.
A largely male audience participates in the panel discussion at Duhok International Film Festival (DIFF), October 23, 2018. Photo: DIFF
Her suggestion was to offer protection to women in media and cinema which would help women find more ways to be on the big screen.
“We need to discover or create a new process on how to involve women into the film industry, to have a team around her in order for her to become a role model,” Morad added. “When we see more women to be a role model in films, more girls will look up to her.”
Morad also touched on the topic of sexual harassment in the film industry, which is not restricted to Hollywood.
“I think that not only in film but in media and music, women in Kurdistan and Iraq face a lot of sexual harassment but also sexual discrimination,” she explained, adding that she has faced both of these problems since she broke into the entertainment industry 12 years ago.
“This MeToo movement has reminded all of us how important it is to speak up. If we don’t do that, we won’t have more women participating in films,” Morad said.
She added the importance of financial support, which many other Kurdish cinema insiders have talked about in recent days, especially for women to thrive in the industry.
“We need to provide protection. We also need to educate our men in media and film on how to create a safe and friendly environment for women,” Morad added. “This is the only we can show her on stage and because of her presence, the impact is that we can make a stronger community by showing her as strong.”