Turtles Can Fly

Directed by Bahman Ghobadi

The first feature made in Iraq since the fall of Saddam Hussein TURTLES is the latest from the Kurdish director of A TIME FOR DRUNKEN HORSES. In a Kurdish refugee camp on the Turkey-Iraq border on the eve of the U.S-led invasion, a handful of orphaned kids struggle to survive the horrific conditions. Ghobadi and his young cast of non-professionals startle any complacency with images of great beauty and horror. Bahman Ghobadi chats to Rachel Hayward, Cornerhouse’s Cinemas Education Officer, in an exclusive email interview. Copies will also be available at all screenings. 1. How have your experiences working with both Kiarostami and the Makhmalbafs as an assistant and an actor affected your own work as a filmmaker? How does your approach differ from theirs? I was only an assistant of Mr Kiarostami not Mr Makhmalbaf. I was an adviser and an actor in Samira Makhmalbaf’s film. When I was Mr Kiarostami’s assistant I did not learn anything about directing, because I was involved in producing the project. However, I learnt from him the importance of being serious about working in cinema and being in love with cinema. I think and many would agree that there is no similarity between Kiarostami and Makhmalbaf’s films and my own. 2. You are very interested in Kurdish identity in your work. What significance do you think cinema can have for the Kurdish people? Do you work with a Kurdish crew when producing your films? From my first to third films I worked very hard in Kurdistan because there were no professional people in the field of cinema, but at the moment, the group which has worked with me, is professional and things are therefore much easier. Anyway, yes, because I am a Kurd, I do try to introduce Kurdish people to the cinema. 3. Borders are a central image in your work. And in both A TIME FOR DRUNKEN HORSES and MAROONED IN IRAQ you have your characters not only cross them, but also trample on them as if in disgust. Does this demonstrate how you, and Kurds in general, feel about borders? Borders are worthless to me. I believe that most wars are started because of borders. It is important to know that Kurdish people are living in four countries: Turkey, Iraq, Syria and Iran. There are borders between these Kurdish people but we are the same: borders are worthless to us. 4. The central sequence of MAROONED IN IRAQ in which the smugglers cross the border seems like a return to A TIME FOR DRUNKEN HORSES. Was this intentional? Yes this sequence is intentional. I wanted to say they have not been doing anything for the people and there has not been any change in their lives. 5. MAROONED IN IRAQ seems to contain several veiled attacks on the ban on women singing in public. Did you set out to criticise this ban? Yes, in some parts of the film I believe there is an objection to not allowing women to sing. 6. You have worked with children on various productions [TURTLES CAN FLY, A TIME FOR DRUNKEN HORSES, Samira Makhmalbaf’s BLACKBOARDS]. How do you audition them, and given the traumatic nature of their life stories, did you find it challenging to direct these children? My young actors and actresses are not pretending, they are reliving their lives. Most of my stories and characters come from social realities, so amateurs can identify with those parts and then reproduce them for me. With children we have to wait and have patience until they produce their best acting. 7. What became of the children who acted in A TIME FOR DRUNKEN HORSES and TURTLES CAN FLY? The lead actor in A TIME FOR DRUNKEN HORSES was my assistant in my next two films. He has learnt a lot about cinema and he will shortly make his first feature film which I will produce. Regarding the TURTLES CAN FLY actors, the blind child was operated on with our help and can now see: he watched his film in Iraq. Both Agrin and Satellite would like to be filmmakers. Agrin was employed by one of Kurdistan’s TV stations and is currently working there. Henkov, the boy that has no hands, will be taken to Italy [by Ghobadi] to have prosthetic hands fitted. 8. Given the political situation at the time, did you encounter any problems when filming TURTLES CAN FLY in Iraqi Kurdistan? I had so many difficulties and it was a very dangerous situation. Every day we had thirty policemen with us as our bodyguards. The Iranian Government did not give us permission to go to Iraq, and finally we went in secret. 9. Has TURTLES CAN FLY been released in Iraq? How was it received? Yes, it has, and because of the actors, it was received extremely well. Unfortunately all the cinemas in Iraq have been destroyed, however I tried to rebuild them with my assistant. At the moment three films are being shown in Iraqi Kurdistan. 10. The actors’ credits in MAROONED IN IRAQ reads ‘featuring the lives of…’ How much of this film, and your films in general are derived from the actual lives and stories of your actors. Everything in the films comes from reality, and some parts of them return to my own life and to the memories which I have from the past. 11. What are your future projects? How do you fund your film work? I currently have three difficult projects in three countries: Iraq, Iran and Turkey and to fund my film work and I mostly borrow from banks with high interest rates! 12. Would you ever be interested in charting the life experiences of Kurdish people abroad – in Britain – for example? Yes. I would be very interested. I welcome any suggestions and if I were to get a suggestion from the British public, not only about Kurdish people but about anyone, that I liked, I would try to produce it. Many thanks to the Cornerhouse audience who submitted questions and special thanks to Ali Cheraghi for his translations. + Screening on Wed 15 Jun: DARK PLACE
Dir Alan Amin, UK 2004, 10 mins Kurdish w/ Eng ST
A tale of Kurdish struggle in Saddam’s Iraq.

98 minutes


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