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Despite controversial opening film Duhok kicks off major festival

By Judit Neurink 10/9/2016
Despite controversial opening film Duhok kicks off major festival

DUHOK, Kurdistan Region – Discontent from members of the Yezidi community about the storyline of a film which they found offensive to their culture and traditions marked the opening of the Kurdistan Region’s Duhok Film Festival on Friday.


The film The Dark Wind, about the invasion of the Islamic State (ISIS) against the Yezidi town of Shingal (Sinjar) in August 2014, tells the story of a young Yezidi couple who split up when the girl is kidnapped by ISIS, and shows the problems the two families involved go through after she escapes from the group and returns home.


The Kurdish director, Hussein Hassan, who made the film with financial support from the governor of Duhok and the Kurdish directorate of Youth and Sports, declared that the tragedy that befell the Yezidis so touched him that he had to make the film, and even join the Kurdish Peshmerga troops to fight ISIS.


But some prominent members of the Yezidi community, amongst them the liberator of 450 Yezidi women and children in the past two years, Abu Sujah, feared that the film paints the community as conservative and backward. On his Facebook page he had called for protests when his demand for a preview was not met.


The movie not only shows women praying to Malek Taus, the peacock king, it also distorts a number of facts, like the way women and children were transported and sold, the community leaders complained.


When at the end, the father of the girl plans to kill her for the way her shattered honor has affects the whole family, some of the audience stood up and protested.


The complaints birefly changed the atmosphere at the Conference Centre of the Duhok University and the film hardly received the usual opening applause.


The Dark Wind is the first film made about the Yezidi genocide at the hands of ISIS, and focused mainly on the personal tragedy, causing many in the audience to reach for handkerchiefs.


Producer Mehmet Aktas predicted in his opening speech that Hollywood would have made a horror movie if they had covered the subject. “We had a message to tell, about the genocide committed,” he said.


The festival had almost been canceled for the second year in a row for lack of money, as a result of the ongoing economic crisis in the Kurdistan Region and the war against ISIS, but was saved by sponsors and the government, as festival president Ayoob Ramadhan said in his speech.

He called the festival a “step for Kurdish films to the international market” and asked the rich and well-off in Kurdistan to “support cinema, the same way they support mosques.”


As he pointed to the difficulties Kurdish filmmakers face due to war and unrest in the Middle East, he called on the Kurdistan Parliament in Erbil to come up with a law to support the development of local cinema and to create more facilities for film making.


The war against ISIS and the bravery of the Peshmerga was noted time and again during the opening speeches, with minister of Culture Khalid Dosky calling it of utmost importance to fight the extremist group’s barbaric laws and habits.


Dosky pointed to the fact that the festival was able to attract many foreigners, as “many activities stopped when people looked at the map and saw how close ISIS was.”


He said the attendance of people from 43 nationalities a message that Kurdistan was safe.


Speaking of the power of the silver screen, Duhok governor Farhad Atrushi said one film played a role in putting Kurdistan on the map.


Thanks to 'Peshmerga', a film made by French philosopher Bernard-Henri L'evy was on the honor list.


Atrushi was gratified that his province was able to host a film festival of that scale when it was carrying the biggest burden of the ISIS war with the longest frontline and biggest number of refugees.


The Duhok Film Festival will run during the Islamic Eid holiday and will last till September 16, with a large number of international and Kurdish films shown in three cinemas.


A team of international juries will decide the awards for the International, Kurdish and Short Film Competition.

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