NEW YORK, NY, USA - Kurdish Iranian-born director Bahman Ghobadi doesn't shy away from problems in his attempt to show the struggles of his people in a deep and personal way. Grappling with the task of shooting this film, "Turtles Can Fly," in post-invasion Iraq offered enough of a challenge. But he also tackled a tough, emotionally wrenching story of parentless children banding together to survive in a refugee camp. In doing so, he's become something more than one of the only Kurdish directors, he's become an internationally recognized director, and the winner of last year's Cannes Film Festival Golden Bear Award.
G21: Is your mission to enlighten the world about the Kurdish community?
GHOBADI: In some respects, I do feel like I have a mission to tell the world about the situation in the region and to tell these stories. I also feel it is therapeutic for me. A lot of these stories take me back to my own childhood. And about stories I've heard growing up. It's helping me to cope with all of the frustrations and misery that I was surrounded with. The lack of help and being isolated is in some ways helping me to cope with that.
G21: How is the approach to this film different from your debut, "A Time For Drunken Horses," which also tackled Kurdish kids?
GHOBADI: None of my films were made by rulebook standards. Making this film was a great deal more difficult than the others I've done. The two previous experiences definitely matured me as a filmmaker and enabled me to make this film the way it ended up being. "Drunken Horses" was a more linear story and in a lot of ways it was a simpler script, wh ere this last film was my attempt to show the tragedy in a much more cinematic way. I took my poetic license and couldn't have made this film without the experience of my two previous films. They taught me a great deal.
G21: What problems occurred with making this film?
GHOBADI: It was just a heavier film, a more difficult film in every way, an extremely dangerous situation. I had 50 police at every time when I was shooting. I wasn't ready for that experience. I just went without a script and found a location. Things just came together. I had no experience shooting in Iraq. I didn't know what to expect. In that sense it was packed full of unknowns and I had to feel my way through as I was going along.
G21: Do you cast some of the same actors in your films?
GHOBADI: Two of the cast members -- the doctor and the teacher -- were the same as in my pervious films. I wanted to use them again because I wanted to show that nothing has changed in the region. These people are still in the same situation and if anything it's gotten worse.
G21: Do you feel your filmmaking has moved from being more instinctual to being more organized, planned and measured?
GHOBADI: No. The inspiration is there and in its place. It's attempting to make a detour in my next film. If anything has changed it's the level of emotion. I want to tone it down, I think that by doing that I will be able to tell a story in another way and bring some organization to the process I may have lacked before.
G21: What about working with more established actors?
GHOBADI: Up until now I haven't been able to afford any well-known actors. That's why I haven't been going after any stars or people who are professional actors. I would take it on as any challenge. I don't think it would be that difficult. I would treat them the same way I treat my amateur actors and work with them the same way.
G21: How did making the film affect the children?
GHOBADI: The experience did change the children's lives ... The boy who played [lead character] Satellite is studying cinema and is very serious about pursuing filmmaking. Agrin was offered a job acting on a Kurdish television show and has earned enough money to buy an apartment in the city and a home for her family. Hengov has also started studying and hopes to study film as well. The little blind boy had an operation to restore his vision on the same day that the film opened in Arbil, Kurdistan (Dec. 15) and both the screening and his operation were huge successes! I have attended the screening of "Turtles Can Fly" at the Berlin Film Festival with two of the children from the cast.
G21: What are your feelings about the new opportunities presented to you now that your film has gained recognition?
GHOBADI: I don't take much joy in traveling around and seeing what other people have in other cultures. That's really what I think about the most. I compare our theatres to other people's theatres. The opportunities that other people in other places have, and the fact that we don't have any of those, doesn't give me satisfaction. The first thing I want to do when I leave the country is come back to Kurdistan and shoot and continue working on my stories. To better the lives of the people who have touched mine with my work. I don't want to get too far away from that.
G21: Do you ever see yourself doing a movie in Europe or in the United States?
GHOBADI: I'm one of two Kurdish filmmakers. As long as there are 40 million Kurds, I will continue to tell their stories. That is my primary goal. I don't have anything against possibly doing work in another country. The opportunity hasn't yet come up.
G21: What about in a different language?
GHOBADI: I would like to make a film in another language. The reason why I'm doing my next film is to bring in that element. I'm scouting an American actress to play in it.
G21: Talk about the theatre you are establishing.
GHOBADI: Some of my colleagues and I have renovate two or three theatres in Iraq. These theatres were in very decrepit conditions and we went in and done some renovation and gotten them to a point where they are usable. In the future I want to work on them ... develop some film programs and bring films that had never been seen in Iraq before.
G21: What do you think about the re-election of President Bush in the US?
GHOBADI: I don't know him. Who is he? I'm asking the question. He doesn't exist for me. I can't know somebody who is playing with the region and manipulating the region this way. It's not noble. Before the war, a lot of people wanted him to come. Some people were against it. Now that he's there ,after the war, everyone wants him out. Everyone thinks he came; he did what he had to do. Now why are the American's there? Why did they have to do this through war and destruction? Honestly, why are you asking me about Bush? Don't waste your time with him. He's all over the press and all over the media. Why aren't people talking about these poor children and people being affected by the war? That's where I feel the press needs to go, not on Bush. I feel very strongly about that. I can't answer about what's going on with Bush because my concern is more about the people he's affecting.