Hiner Saleem's "Dol"
Artistic Freedom in Iraqi Kurdistan

Almost unnoticed by the eyes of the world, a fledgling film industry has been developing in Kurdish Iraq. At this year's Berlinale, director Hiner Saleem introduced his latest product, "Dol", a film made with regional government support. Ariana Mirza reports

​​Azad, central protagonist of Hiner Saleem's drama "Dol" embarks on an odyssey that takes him through three countries, yet without his ever leaving Kurdish territory. The "Bermuda Triangle", as it is ironically referred to in the film, is the area where the borders of Turkey, Iran and Iraq converge.

It is a landscape of rugged, even bizarre beauty through which Saleem's hero roams in his search for freedom and self-determination.

"Dol" - valley, drummer and drum

"Dol", beautifully shot, evokes its theme of Kurdish unity visually, through enigmatic dialogue and, not least, through music. The film's title, too, makes reference to music. "Dol" is a Kurdish word with three possible meanings: Valley, drummer and drum.

Ambiguity, apparently, is not just a quality possessed by the Kurdish language, the film language Hiner Saleem has chosen for the telling of his story is likewise difficult to decipher.

​​Here the ironic and the poetic merge, laconic and melodramatic episodes come hard on one another's heels. Both characters and themes are introduced only to be dropped again almost immediately. This rather erratic style of narration means that even Azad, whose journey is central to the whole film, remains a peculiarly detached figure.

He is just too much of an unknown quantity this unfairly persecuted refugee, we discover too little about him, a problem not helped by the rather wooden performance of Nazmi Kirik in the lead role.

On the other hand the film's political message is straightforward and crystal clear. "Dol" tells us that for the Kurds in the autonomous region of Iraq the days of foreign rule and persecution are finally a thing of the past. It tells us, too, that this freedom is something desperately desired by their fellows in Iran and Turkey.

Cinematic appeal for the rights of the Kurds

In this respect, "Dol" can be seen as a cinematic appeal for the rights of the Kurds. And as proof of how seriously the Kurdish regional government takes support for the arts. After providing logistic support for the making of last year's Berlinale entry, Bahman Ghobadi's "Turtles Can Fly", the regional administration has taken things a step further this year by providing financial assistance for the film’s production.

"In this Kurdistan we have complete freedom to make films, to write, to be creative," Hiner Saleem commented at the Berlinale. The 43-year-old film director, who spent decades in exile in France, pointed out that film is a relatively new art form in Kurdistan.

Something that gave him all the more reason to be pleased about the accommodating reaction to the filming on the part of both the administration and the people.

Though the film's making itself represents a success story, it remains to be seen whether Saleem's cinematic efforts will appeal to Western film audiences. A question mark certainly remains, at least if reaction at the Berlinale is anything to go by, where the reception for "Dol" and its cryptic narrative technique was less than enthusiastic.

Some of Germany's Kurds, too, expressed their displeasure after the premiere. Director Hiner Saleem remained unfazed by the criticism of his fellow countrymen, however, even managing to use the opportunity to make a political statement: "I am very happy that we are here in a country where everyone has the freedom to express their opinion."

Ariana Mirza

© Qantara.de 2007

Translated from the German by Ron Walker


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