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From banned to box office: a Kurdish story

A small-budget film on one of Turkey's darkest chapters represents a leap forward for Kurds.

“I think that through her stories she will still live on with this film for many people,” Bezar said.

With no backers, the film was financed through Bezar’s own savings and made possible by the support of his family. His mother sold their house, his uncle helped out where he could.

Despite some seemingly insurmountable hurdles, the young director remembers feeling that the film was somehow being protected: by god, or a sense of justice, or perhaps just his own unrelenting determination.

“Each time I felt like we were at the edge of the abyss some small thing would come and pull us back, a reminder of why it was so important to tell this story,” he said.

Bezar’s struggles are typical of Diyarbakir’s besieged filmmakers, where the city’s hottest young director hawks tea at a stand near the airport and its most respected auteur once worked as a garbage collector.

The film’s “actors” were chosen from the cities and villages where the story is set, their real life tragedies set in parallel to those they face in “Min Dit.” The role of an old, blind man with whom the children squat with in an abandoned Armenian church was filled when some villagers directed Bezar to a local graveyard a blind man frequented. He discovered the film’s 10-year-old heroine Gulistan at a local day school.

The closeness of the story to the actor’s own lives brings to the film the authenticity of cinema verite. Its release came at a time when the long-standing Kurdish issue is being debated in Turkey like never before.

The government’s Kurdish Initiative, announced last August, has come under fire from nationalists on both sides. Turkish right-wingers argue that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is caving in to Kurdish separatists while Kurdish activists say the plans fall far short of what is needed to satisfy Kurdish demands for more self-rule.

“I think that an opening is still too big of a word for what is happening,” Bezar said. “But it’s worth remembering that all the things that were taboo when we started writing and shooting the film are now beginning to be talked about.”

When asked what he wanted audiences to take away from his film Bezar hesitated, pausing to explain how little people know about the lives of Kurds, and how much there is still to tell.

“In the end this is a film about violence, the history of violence here in Turkey,” he said, the words coming slowly. “I want people to understand that violence produces violence. This is a story of why this violence needs to stop.”