Interviews Stories from Kurdistan

Kurdish Filmmaker Crowdfunding New Film

The interview below was conducted by Rudaw and published online on April 9, 2016.

Amsterdam-based Kurdish filmmaker and writer Beri Shalmashi has successfully crowdfunded her short film, Shouted From the Rooftops, a tragic love story about a couple divided by war.

A graduate of the Netherlands Film Academy in 2008, Shalmashi has since become a big name in the film industry, at home and abroad. In 2013, she wrote and directed her first movie in Kurdistan titled Heart on Fire, a short film about honor killings. Her plans were to shoot her feature film debut in Kurdistan last year, but the situation on the ground worsened and Shalmashi and her team postponed the plan.

Shouted from the Rooftops was Shalmashi’s first attempt at crowdfunding. “I am making this short film as there is no time to sit around and wait until there is funding and the ideal situation to make a longer film in Kurdistan,“ she said in an interview with Rudaw English. She spoke to Rudaw about the difficulties filmmakers face in the Kurdistan region and international support for the Kurdish cause, and gave a sneak peak behind the scenes of her latest project.

Interview with Filmmaker Beri Shalmashi

Rudaw: What is Shouted from the Rooftops about?

Beri Shalmashi: I don’t want to give everything away, of course, but the film’s main character is Ferhat, who is standing on a rooftop somewhere in Rojava. This is where his love for the girl across the street started, Sherin. She has left to go to war during the so-called ‘Arab Spring’ and she has not yet come home. Everyone is leaving town to go to a safer place, but Ferhat can’t.

Why did you pick this topic specifically?

More than in any other of my films, our tough reality was my inspiration. I wrote the first draft for this script when girls were leaving to the frontlines of Rojava, fighting against Assad’s army in 2012. So, to me, Kurdish women are a logical hero to pick. Our guerillas and Peshmerga have always been our national heroes, and through the war against ISIL (the Islamic State group), they have become international heroes. Our brothers, sisters, daughters, sons, fathers and mothers that are guerillas or Peshmerga now make great sacrifices that go unseen. They are fighting ISIL now. My mother’s generation was fighting Khomeini and Saddam. The film is part of three films in a series about this. And for part one, which we have shot in Amsterdam, the song from ‘Flowers of Kirkuk’ was very meaningful.

What help have you received to make this movie? Are there any international initiatives to help film directors specifically with these types of films?

There are initiatives. But we have chosen to gather a small budget and go ahead with crowdfunding to avoid the longer routes. I am, however, very grateful with the small contribution from the Dutch broadcasting channel and also that of Stichting Vluchteling, a Dutch organization that helps refugees who are still around the affected areas.

Is crowdfunding a common way to finance a movie in Kurdistan?

It’s not a common way, but it’s a good way to speed up production, as it is hard to get funding for fiction films to be shot in Kurdistan. Local funding is at a standstill, through the economic and humanitarian crisis in the region, and it’s hard to convince anyone else to go and film in a ‘country and war.’ It’s simply a big financial risk to do so.

A big difference of perception about crowdfunding could be that maybe not everyone in Kurdistan understands the need of gathering money to shoot a film. I think there might be people that don’t understand the actual expenses of a film, even a short film. And also the importance of the impact of arts and media in the lobbying for the international community to understand our situation as Kurds, it can open up hearts – and wallets – for bigger investments in the region. I’d say it’s a budget well spent and the support of Kurds and non-Kurds from around the globe is truly humbling and heartwarming. I feel like when I will be shooting this, there will be hundreds of souls behind me waiting for us to deliver a great movie.

How much are you raising?

We are raising at least 10,000 euros through crowdfunding. Ten percent of the raised budget goes back to the crowdfunding platform, some goes into rewards we will need to send to the sponsors — such as books I have promised to get to people– and then there’s an additional 5,000 euros which the broadcasting channel is contributing. The total budget is about 15,000 euros.

Who is supporting you?

All sorts of people are contributing, from producers, filmmakers and journalists that have travelled to Kurdistan to friends and family from Holland, the US, Sweden, Germany, and elsewhere around the globe. The campaign received a lot of attention from Kurds and non-Kurds alike. By seeing the high number of people supporting this film, I feel our struggle has support from the audience. That gives me the energy to make this intense film for a very little budget. It really takes a lot from everyone involved to make this.

What do you spend the money on?

The money is literally for the unavoidable expenses. Our crew will need certain equipment, flight tickets, a place to stay and something to eat. To give an understanding of the expenses of a film: the actual budget for such a film is probably around ten times as much. But the cause, locations and story make it interesting enough for everyone on board to donate their time to be part of this.

What about actors and actresses?

Actors and actresses will be cast in April and May, so any new talent of any age is welcome to contact me. I find it important for the film to be as authentic as possible, so I hope to find actors that feel this story is close to their hearts.

Where will the film be made?

We want to shoot the film preferably in the Kurdistan Region. But in order to make this happen, we will need a strong local production partner that can help us set this up. If all else fails — which I hope not — we’ll most likely go to Jordan, as the film industry there can provide us with crew and equipment we’d otherwise need to bring along.

How far have preparations for filming gone? Have the locations and people been selected?

The script is ready and as soon as the crowdfunding ends we will go into pre-production, which means we will start casting and talking to production companies in Kurdistan to see who can be part of this. We hope to shoot this film this spring, and finish the editing, sound, music and everything else over summer.

[Read more at Rudaw]

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