“Kurdish Cinema Is The Most Developing Kurdish Art Because Kurds Admire Cinema”

Sahim Omar Kalifa is a Kurdish film director born in Zakho, Kurdistan. In the 90s, Kalifa and his brother were dubbing Hollywood movies into Kurdish. “At Sahim+Omar+Kalifa+2011+Dubai+International+BwOPeu1026hlfirst, I did not want to be film director, we used to shot films just for the fun of it”.

The 35 year old international awards winner started directing when he was only 17 and did master in cinema in Belgium. His film Baghdad Messi won 55 awards and was nominated in Oscars short films.

I met Kalifa for the first time in Istanbul, Turkey, and I was really impressed by his views of life.

You loved art since you were a child, how did this love for art drove you to be a film director?

As you know, art is something special that comes with you when you born and you carry it through out your life. When I was a child, I used to draw pictures and paint, then I got a manual 35 mm camera and started taking villagers’ photos, sending those photos to Mosul and get them back after two weeks, although it was a stressful process, it was very exciting as well, because everyone used to know me through photography and they would all wait for me to return from Mosul for the photos and welcome me as an important figure. That was fun.

Sahim Omar Kalifa talking to ZÎV
Sahim Omar Kalifa talking to ZÎV

How do you see the Kurdish cinema today?

Our cinema is very bad compared with the European cinema, and it needs a lot of work. We do not have a cinema substructure, academies, critics, journalists or reviewers in our country, and this is because we do not have a state. Europeans have committees which elect films and choose the best ones but there is no such a thing in Kurdistan yet.

Despite all that, Kurdish cinema is getting better and better. though, in my opinion, our cinema is good compared with cinema in the Middle East. In film festivals in Iran, Iraq and Turkey, Kurdish films win more awards than the others, and in Abu Dhabi, at least one Kurdish film wins an award every year.

Usually, countries who make good films have famous film festivals. Do you think Kurds need a worldwide film festival to show themselves to the world?

Yes. All countries need a good and an international film festival to introduce their country, culture and cinema to the rest of the world. You can organize workshops, seminars and help young directors to show their art.

A scene of Baghdad Messi film by Sahim Omar Kalifa
A scene of Baghdad Messi film by Sahim Omar Kalifa

We Kurds must organize a good film festival that happens every year, because permanence is very vital for cinema. London Kurdish Film Festival is a success so far and Duhok Film Festival is getting better every year. So yes, we really need an accomplished film festival in Kurdistan to improve our cinema.

Can you tell us briefly about your next film project, Zagros?

So, the film is about a very open-minded shipper called Zagros, who loves Kurdistan mountains and nature. Unfortunately his wife goes to Europe and he has no other choice but to follow her to Brussels to find himself turning to a different man.

We actually have been working on Zagros for nearly 4 years now. Belgium Government is helping us to make this film, and they believe in me since I got many rewards for my other short films and now everyone is waiting for a good job. This project is very important to me.

We will shoot in north Kurdistan next year. We were looking for some places in the Kurdish cities of Wan and Igdir for our set. The film will be a co-production of Belgium France and Germany.

Kalifa while shooting his film Bad Hunter
Kalifa while shooting his film Bad Hunter

Which part of Kurdistan is doing better in cinema production in your opinion? And  Why?

It won’t be fair to make a comparison as the situation of every single part of Kurdistan is different. For example, in Iraqi Kurdistan, you are able to make Kurdish films as much as you want, but there are less opportunities to make Kurdish films in other parts of Kurdistan as they aren’t independent. However, we see that Kurdish Iranian cinema is doing better than Kurdish cinema in Turkey, Iraq and Syria.

Iraqi Kurdistan cinema is good at feature films, because they have money. North Kurdistan cinema is better at short films, because they don’t have enough fund, though they are successful in cinema, and let me tell you, Northern Kurds produce very cinematographic and artistic films, despite the fact that Turkish Government does not want to help Kurds to make films for political reasons.

A scene of Land of the Heroes directed by Sahim Omar Kalifa
A scene of Land of the Heroes directed by Sahim Omar Kalifa

As a director, what do you do except making films? And what do you enjoy doing the most in your life in Europe?

Making film is the most difficult job in the world, though it makes me very very happy. To be a film director requires you to know everything and read as much as you can to learn more, so I clearly give most of my time to that. I also like watching and playing football with friends, that’s actually why I made Baghdad Messi film. I follow all the news about football. I enjoy meeting my close friends and talk about daily issues.

Since I cannot spend much time with my family, I try to make the most of it when I have the chance. My two children still don’t want me to be a director. (laughs)

What does any community need from cinema and art in order to grow?

A community should be independent to fully take the positive effects of art and cinema. The cinema and the community development depend on each other.  We need big cinema halls, successful reviewers and big cinema institutions and corporations. President of Belgium goes to cinema with his family when a good film comes out.

A scene from Bad Hunter film
A scene from Bad Hunter film

When I went to Damascus, Syria, some years ago, we went to the cinema to watch a film in the theater, people were talking to each other during the film screening, smoking in the hall and calling for each other loudly.

We must educate our generation about art and show them how difficult it is to create it, so that they can appreciate and respect it more and be encouraged to develop it.

When I was in Batman for Yilmaz Guney Film Festival, I met very polite art lovers and audiences.

What is the most difficult issue to deal with while making a film? Is it logistics, actors or the whole process of shooting?

As I said at the beginning, film-making is a very hard work. It has many difficulties, responsibilities and stress. Film making is a group work, so if one part of the group has a problem, the whole team will stop until that problem is solved. Filming is a production and post-production job. So the director can have difficulties in any part of the filming process.

How do you see the Kurdish cinema next years?

In my personal opinion, Kurdish cinema is the most developing Kurdish art so far and I believe it will get even better, because Kurds admire cinema.

What do you advice Kurdish young directors?

I have only two advices for young directors. First, be patient while making films. Second, research as much as you can about cinema and about films you want to make.