Cinema Signal:

A People Without a Country:
The Kurds and Kurdistan

. "Turtles Can Fly" (aka, "Lakposhtha hm parvaz mikonand" [Kurdish])

We all know that filmmaking is virtually borderless and an international form of expression. It's always keenly interesting to see what countries will contribute an offical entry to the Motion Picture Academy's Foreign Language film competition. One small revelation of the possibilities, and perhaps an unexpected one made in a war zone, is this official selection from Iran.

Filmmaker Bahman Ghobadi, regarded as Iranian, was born in Kurdistan and returns there, to a refugee camp on the Iraq-Turkey border to tell an engrossing story of children in the weeks before the U.S. military stormed their way in, giving the world a glimpse of the peoples' values and their bravely unique way of rising above their circumstances.

A Teenager with the unlikely but appropriate name of Satteliet (Satellite) (Soran Ebrahim) is a natural born leader who marshals the forces of a hundred or so younger kids who, but for him and his clear priorities, might be totally aimless and self destructive. His name derives from the fact that he's the only one in the camp who can not only acquire a satellite dish but knows how to hook one up for the news that everyone hungers for.

Satellite is a ball of energy with an opportunistic eye and a pragmatic range of skills, well adapted to the circumstances. Not the least of which is to organize his rabble into the singular occupation of disarming and gathering live land mines. These, he collects and trades for a satellite dish which he hooks up for the elders who have been pressing him for a source of news about the coming invasion and the overthrow of Saddam. In turn, Satellite hopes to receive payment for his services in order to feed his throng of worker-followers.

In the course of events, he falls for Agrin, a beautiful orphan girl (first timer Avaz Latif) who has come to the camp from another village with a 3-year old child and her no-armed brother Henkof (Hirsh Feyssal) who apparently has the gift of clairvoyance and demonstrates it by predicting events before they happen. When he says a bomb is about to explode a truck on which Satellite's crew is working, Mr. S takes Henkof's vision of the future entirely seriously and gets his boys off in time to save their lives.

Perhaps, at this time, there's nowhere else on earth that could produce a picture of these wartime realities within the native population of Northern Iraq: its dislocated peoples, its backdrop of scarred landscapes and a fictional vision of characters who play out dramatic possibilities amidst the embattled and devastated territory. It's a story of adaptation, dislocation and a distorted flow of natural tendencies. There's good reason that writer-director Bahman Ghobadi is winning international recognition for his essentially capable storytelling and filmmaking in a location that, in itself, is a high risk adventure.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  


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Avaz Latif as Agrin
a sad-eyed waif whose emotional load is far greater than her physical burden.

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Latif as Agrin
a sad-eyed waif whose emotional load is far greater than her physical burden.

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