The Block and MENA host Bahman Ghobadi – the “Poet Laureate of Kurdish Cinema”

The Middle East and North African Studies Program and Block Museum of Art joined together in May 2018 to present three days of series of screenings and discussions with one of Iran’s leading filmmakers, Bahman Ghobadi.   The series, titled Life on the Border: The Cinema of Bahman Ghobadi, was made possible by Tamilla Ghodsi (WCAS ‘91) and Zuleika M. Ghodsi (WCAS ‘93), whose generous gift established the Iranian American Fund for Cultural Programming.events are co-sponsored by MENA and The Block Museum’s cinema program.

“The ongoing collaboration between the Block Museum and the Middle East and North African Studies program has brought some of world cinema’s most vital figures to Northwestern, and this year is no exception,” said Michael Metzger, the Block Museum’s Pick-Laudati Curator of Media Arts.

“Bahman Ghobadi’s compassionate, uncompromising and moving cinema represents everything we strive to showcase in the Block’s cinema program — a commitment to global perspectives and marginal voices, a spirit of aesthetic discovery and a sense of responsibility to the world on the other side of the screen. We couldn’t be happier to welcome Bahman Ghobadi to the Block for three evenings of film, dialogue and discovery ”

Below we share the program’s introductory essay by Professor Hamid Naficy,

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The first son in a family of seven siblings, Bahman Ghobadi was born in 1968 in Baneh, a town near the Iran-Iraq border in Iranian Kurdistan. This accident of birth near the border overdetermined his cinema, for borders became the site (location) of many of his films and the sight (aesthetics) through which the stories are told, resulting in the insight his films offer into the lives of the Kurds in Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Turkey.

Ghobadi began his career in industrial photography but soon shifted to making short documentaries using an 8mm camera, his breakout short film being Life in the Fog (1995). In 2000, he established his own production company, Mij Film, where “mij” (meaning “fog” in Kurdish) refers both to the fog-covered landscape of his homeland and to the politically murky prospects of an independent Kurdish nation.

The fact that the Kurds, numbering over 30 million and scattered among several countries in the Middle East constitute one of the largest ethnic groups in the world without a state, also underscores the aesthetics of Ghobadi’s films, in which characters, often children and young adults, are displaced or are on the move, and national borders are abhorrent obstacles to be crossed, disregarded, and destroyed. Hence the title of our series of screenings of Ghobadi’s films, Life on the Border.

Although he came on the scene much later than other celebrated Kurdish filmmakers, such as Y1lmaz Giiney of Turkey, Ghobadi’s searing Kurdish­ centered narratives, his productivity; and the wide recognition of his films at international film festivals have helped to consolidate the dream. and the reality, of an extraterritorial. transnational Kurdish cinema. If there is no nation, there is always a narration of nation.

Two of the films in our Ghobadi trilogy; A Time for Drunken Horses (Zamani Bara-ye Masti-ye Asbha, 2000) and Turtles Can Fly (Lakposhtha Parvaz Mikonand, 2004), deal squarely with the site. sight and insight of borders in the lives of the Kurds. The third film, Nobody Knows about Persian Cats (Kasi az Gorbehha-ye Irani Khabar Nadareh, 2009). centers on the vibrant and explosive underground music scene in Iran. The film was produced in underground guerilla fashion. without the official permission that is required for all productions in Iran. Completed just five months before Iran’s tainted June 2009 presidential election that led to mass street protests, the film presciently depicted Tehran as a powder keg of discontent ready to explode. Upon its release, Ghobadi was arrested and his film was banned. He was eventually allowed to leave the country and now lives in exile in different places, an exile that he has characterized as involuntary. “I did not leave my homeland willingly;’ he has said. “They practically threw me out.”

Hamid Naficy
Professor of Radio-Television-Film and the Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani Professor in Communication; Core Faculty, Middle East and North African Studies Program; Affiliated Faculty, Department of Art History, Interdisciplinary Ph.D. Program in Theater and Drama


WBEZ Interview:

During his Northwestern visit, Bahman Ghobadi conducted an interview with WBEZ’s Worldview.  The director was interviewed by Hamid Naficy and Milos Stehlik, director at Facets Chicago.  The fascinating and wide-ranging conversation covered  Ghobadi’s cinematic craftsmanship and the current state of Iranian filmmaking. [Listen Now]

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