London's Kurdish Film Festival kicks off on Friday (13 November), with over 30 films from the Kurdish regions of Iraq, Turkey, Iran, Syria, and the Kurdish diaspora in Europe on show. The festival, now in its 15th year, takes place at the Hackney Picturehouse.
The ongoing violence between the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and the Turkish state in Turkey, between the Kurdish peshmerga and IS in Iraq, and between the Peoples' Defence Units (YPG) and the Isis terrorist group in Syria mean that conflict is necessarily a major theme.
However, organiser and Kurdish activist Memed Aksoy says Kurdish cinema has continued to progress despite the conflict. This year's festival includes films that document and explore the social and political life of Kurds, from conservatism, to sexism, to satire.
Aksoy told IBTimes UK: "It is about resistance. All of these films are in some way about Kurds resisting one form of oppression and discrimination or another and defending themselves. There are documentaries about various issues, but yes, it is mostly still about war,"
The festival has grown exponentially since its inception in 2000, from receiving a handful a films to over 300 submissions in 2015. Aksoy said that this has reflected the growing Kurdish film industry in southern Turkey and Iraqi Kurdistan which, until recently, were experiencing a period of relative calm. Film-makers benefited from Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) funding in Iraq and local Kurdish administration funding in Turkey.
This year has also seen a number of submissions from Rojava, the Kurdish area of Syria, where the YPG are fighting fierce battles with IS while also being bombed by Turkey. Iran, which is home to up to six million Kurds, also has an active Kurdish film industry despite political oppression of Kurds in the country.
"There are films from all four parts of Kurdistan of this quality and in these numbers for the first time. So now the four regions of Kurdistan are united in a way," said Aksoy.
The daily realities of Kurds in all four regions are rarely far from view. This year's festival repeats a 2011 short film, Bark, starring Haci Lokman, an actor who was murdered in Sirnak when he was tied to back of a truck and dragged through the streets. The film is being screened again in his honour.
Feature film Fall from Heaven is about racism suffered by Kurdish workers in Istanbul. Memories on Stone is about conservatism in Iraqi Kurdistan. Letter To The King is set in Oslo and explores the issue of refugees. Blue Van tells the story of Kurdish prisoners in Turkey. There are also documentaries about the Yazidis and Christians in Iraqi Kurdistan.
Aksoy said that the theme of conflict has often led critics to argue that Kurdish-language cinema is too focused on single topics – namely resistance, oppression, and war – but he does not think that criticism is fair. Kurds have only been seriously making movies for 20 years in their own language and have decades, if not centuries, of injustice, war and human rights abuses to document.
"Kurds are trying to make up the hundreds years that they have lost compared to other nations. It is inevitable that it should be about war because the Kurds are in the middle of a war and have been so for 40 to 50 years in all parts of our Kurdish lands. So until they get that out of their system, that will continue," he said.
"Critics don't realise that when filmmakers make the same film over and over again and their dreams and ideas revolve around a limited set of topics it is because that is the reality that they are living in. It is resistance, be it in artistic form, military form or in cultural form – but it is always resistance."
The Kurdish Film Festival runs from 13 November to 20 November at Hackney Picturehouse. For information and tickets check out: http://www.lkff.co.uk/