Kurdish-American filmmaker Jano Rosebiani (center) with actors Ghazi Ghefur (priest) and Ismail Salih (Mella Issa). Photo courtesy of Evini Films
By Joshua Thaisen
LOS ANGELES - The premier of two Kurdish films in Hollywood this week may help bridge the cultural divide between Kurdistan and the West. Kurdish-American filmmaker Jano Rosebiani touches on topics of equality, love, relationships and the progressive attitudes of youth culture in Kurdistan.
“Chaplin of the Mountain” and “One Candle, Two Candles” are the first English-language films to be shot in the Kurdistan Region, an autonomous Kurdish enclave in northern Iraq, and the war-torn country’s only peaceful and prospering portion. Both movies are honest reflections of daily life in Kurdistan, and highlight its natural beauty.
“All these scenes could be real, I wanted to show life as is, and therefore the idea was to shoot documentary style,” Rosebiani told Rudaw.
Strong female leads in both films highlight the growing pains of feminine identity, through conflict with conservative opinions in Kurdistan. As director, Rosebiani weaves a local and foreign cast into stories that transcend borders and take on a globalized view of social issues.
“Americans see it as an American film and Kurds describe it as a Kurdish film,” the filmmaker said. He emphasized that his effort is to try and steer away from the traditional style of Kurdish cinema, which is “usually about atrocities and trying to gain viewer sympathy.”
“Chaplin of the Mountain” is about two American film students running a social experiment, screening Charlie Chaplin films in remote villages in the Kurdish mountains. They run across a half-French, half-Kurdish girl who is on a quest to find her family’s village. The story highlights a journey of friendship and self-discovery through authentic interactions with local communities in the mountains.
“One Candle, Two Candles” spotlights the sexual revolution of Kurdish women who are fighting for marriage equality and empowerment. The film follows the story of a young woman who is resisting conservative culture in her exploration of love.
Rosebiani predicts that the themes of love and life will be received well by Kurdish audiences.
“Life without love is death,” he said. “The Kurds have always been threatened by death, but nonetheless, they’re resilient, they get on their feet. It’s always about the continuation of life,” he explained.
And he has an optimistic outlook on the future of Kurdish cinema.
“I think, because we have so many stories to tell the world, Kurdish people in my view are very creative. I spent eight years in Kurdistan, where many young people were making short films left and right, without any prior education. I don’t see that even here, in America!” he said.
“I think the future is bright. But it takes a little time for it to find its base, because the politicians, government, and institutions have to understand the value of cinema. There has to be better support. Kurdistan is still in the making in every aspect of life.”
Despite living in the United States, Rosebiani still identifies strongly with his Kurdish roots.
“I grew up in a small town called Zakho, on the border of Turkey and Iraq. I left and joined the 1974 uprising at 14. At 15 I was a refugee, and at 16 I was in the States under political asylum. I didn’t lose my Kurdishness, and did not forget the language.”
Rosebiani returned to Kurdistan after the 1991 Gulf War so he could “relearn the cultural aspects of the Kurds,” and begin retelling their stories in motion theatre.
Both films are currently previewing in theatres, and are expected to screen in Kurdistan in late July.