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Letter from Rojava

[Logo of the the Rojava Film Commune.] [Logo of the the Rojava Film Commune.]

[Writer and filmmaker Önder Çakar travelled to Kobanê during the first days of the resistance. First he had to stay for a while in Suruç, where the brutal massacre that killed thirty-three took place a few weeks ago. When he arrived at Kobanê, he was wounded by an ISIS bomb attack and was hospitalized for more than two weeks. When he finally set foot in Rojava, he embarked on establishing a Film Commune along with other filmmakers there. Just two days before the Suruç massacre, he sent a letter describing the situation in Rojava and the Rojava Film Commune.]

Dear Friends,

As most of you may know, I have been in Rojava since the Kobanê resistance started. In this letter, I would like to tell you about what we have been doing here since then. I know that you are interested in what has been going on here in terms of politics. I would like to take this opportunity to give you more news about our works here in field of cinema.

Clashes are still continuing at four spots—sometimes violent, sometimes more routine. About five YPG-YPJ fighters lose their lives every day. There is at least one “martyr” from each household. Women fighters leave everyone in awe. There is also the international brigade, which consists mostly of Germans and Italians, but includes men and women from all over the world. I have so far seen people from Korea, Japan, India, Palestine, France, England, Congo, Zambia, America, Mexico, and Argentine...The list could go on forever. The international brigade is fighting to death in Sinjar. Some people fighting in this brigade are anarchists, some are autonomists, and some are communists. There are also some people who just came to help Ezidis and Kurds. Some are over fifty years old and some are in their twenties.

I am not a military expert, and I know that you are not one either. I will not give you a long strategy talk. I just want to tell you briefly that ISIS is still attracting fighters no less than yesterday and they are far from running out of their weaponry. It is a widely recognized fact that they followed a thoroughly detailed plan in the Kobanê massacre. To me, it seems the planning ability goes far beyond the capacity of ISIS. Perhaps some big states...

As for daily life of civilians, all is normal and quiet beyond expectation. It is possible to find everything at the marketplaces. There are LCD televisions as well as tomatoes. And the prices are very low; no doubt you are suffering from a more violent economic assault in Istanbul. The biggest problem here is electricity and internet connection. We are trying to solve this problem with power generators; but, surely, not everybody owns one. The limited electricity source is provided by the “former” Syrian administration. In return, a bunch of Syrian soldiers supposedly keep watch around Qamislo and Haseke. The presence of these soldiers also enables the banks to stay open and some civil servants (such as teachers and bureaucrats) to receive their salaries. There are over twenty-two political parties in the region. These parties take seats in municipalities and people’s assemblies according to the number of votes they have received. The PYD holds the overwhelming majority. There are also some parties that benefit from positive discrimination. For instance, the right of representation of Armenians and Suryoye, who were forced to leave the region due to violent clashes, and asylum seeking Ezidis are protected by law. The number of Armenians and Suryoye that continue living here is not small. Big steps were taken regarding the woman question. The streets are filled with young women in modern garments and women can get jobs at any level. To cut the long story short, things are well in their course here, except for the war and the warm weather.

I would like to tell you about the developments that are underway in the field of cinema. There is a beautiful city in Rojava with the name “Amûdê.” It has beautiful clay houses and the excavation work on its archaeological site has stopped due to the war. Amûdê saw a terrible massacre in the 1960s. Two hundred and ninety-eight Kurdish boys (the oldest being twelve years old) were killed in an arson attack that consumed a film theatre (the reason being that boys and girls cannot stay together in a dark room). Local people blame the system for this traumatizing event, because the soldiers had picked Arab boys and the children of high officials and took them out of the theatre before the film started. The same soldiers told the Kurdish boys that it was forbidden to go out, and locked the doors on them. Kurdish people believe that this attack was a threat to them and they are scared of staying at the same location altogether, such as the cinema. In time, this has become quite a phobia among the locals. The readers who would like to read more on the Amûdê cinema fire may do a quick Google search and find many articles online.

Currently, there are almost no film theatres in the region. Almost nobody among the local people has ever watched a film on the big screen. Whenever I asked in the meetings if there was anyone who had ever watched a film in a theatre, there were only one or two old gentlemen over fifty years old who raised their hands. They have seen a couple of karate films in big cities such as Aleppo or Damascus. When it comes to television, it is not hard to guess that the transmission quality is very low and the daily broadcast is filled with news and shows on nothing but war and politics. Therefore, the current state of affairs brings a new situation that has a positive and a negative side. The positive side is that the local people here remain almost untouched by American pop culture. Furthermore, they are virtually ignorant about all the nonsense television series. The negative side, on the other hand, is that they do not feel the need for cinema. Everything has to start from zero.

Our Filmmaking Projects

The reconstruction of meaning continues in every domain of living, and the reason that brought me here was the enthusiasm to join this struggle to reconstitute and reimagine life in different ways. As a group of filmmakers and crews, including the ones coming from Iran and Turkey as well as European friends who came here in solidarity with the internationalists, we have founded a working group for cinema production. We have debated and written reports about how the cinema of Rojava could develop and be supported. Our conclusive view is that we urgently need to have a collective of viewers as well as raising filmmakers who would move to the production of films. In order to realize our aims, we need an institutional organization, and thus we established the Rojava Film Commune. The Commune’s task for now is to both produce and distribute films.

As for the generation of viewers’ public, we have developed some projects that need to be realized without wasting further time. We will dub some films in Kurdish. We will start screening films, starting with the ones suitable for children, in the theatres of cultural centers in the city. A person with a clown costume will drive across the city and call the children to the screening with his speaker. We will also have big billboards that show the screening times and the posters of the films. And in the future, urging students to accumulate viewing experiences and write about their filmic experiences will be part of the curriculum of film education in our schools. The film series that we will show to the children will start with Charlie Chaplin’s The Kid, then continue with an American animation that narrates the story of a horse seeking her freedom—the translation of the dialogue is almost finished, and we will dub it very soon. We will serve beverages to the children during the screenings. If all goes all right—which I am sure it will—we will continue screening programs for adults. We have decided to do one screening a day in every city (we have ten cities) due to our limited power, for now. We have, of course, not forgotten the Amûdê cinema. There is a park in its place now, and a memorial on which the dead children’s names are written. The plot behind the former cinema is totally empty and is now appropriated by the collective. The plan is to build a new Amûdê Cinema there with at least 298 seats. This is the first task of the revolution.

As for the production of films: the Commune will create a modest infrastructure to produce short films and documentaries with digital technical equipment. This infrastructure will provide logistical and other assistance both to the foreign visitors—there are so many documentary filmmakers coming from Europe—and to the local youth who would like to film their own projects. Now we are building our website—I will soon share the link with you.

Our second project for film production, which aims to raise new filmmakers, is extremely exciting for us: we have a building in a city called Tirbespî. We are transforming this building into an Art Academy. We have even finished painting the building. In this structure, we will provide education for visual arts, such as painting and sculpture, theatre, music, folk dance, and filmmaking. Higher education has unfortunately stopped since the war had begun. The youth are terribly sad. They are battling, but they want to pursue their education and not to miss out on anything. We would like to provide them with at least some hope for a better future, by mobilizing all the resources we have. Our initial education will be limited to a year. With the people who are educated in this one year, we will form our new staff and academic planning. If only you knew about our dreams! You would be so jealous of us!... Making multilingual and multicultural productions, including Kurdish, Armenian, Arabic, and Syriac; gathering together all the filmmakers of Kurdistan that were separated into four pieces of territory and organizing workshops with them; sending our students abroad for education; making films and documentaries…these are the ones that I can remember as I write this. However, I can always answer your questions, if you would like to know more.

So How Can You Contribute?

I know that you are very interested in anything that is happening here. I also know that most of you are in financial difficulties. I am aware of the hardship that you are faced with while creating your own projects. Yet I would like to assure you that we are so determined to realize what we have been aiming at here. None of our projects will be postponed or cancelled due to a lack of material or financial resources. So what I would like to convey to you is that you should not feel under pressure for the things that you cannot do. Yet, since I know your world very well, I wanted to write this letter to make a bridge between you and here, and to invite you to be part of this proud resistance. There is a list of technical equipment. If you can find any of those items within the list and send it to us, or even if you could send the ones that you are not using for the time being, that would be of great help. You can also suggest and send your films for screening—we cannot pay for the copyright (because all screenings are free), but we can dub it and screen it for the peoples of Rojava. Or perhaps you would send some dollars for us to purchase a tripod, but we could use it to buy a chair for the academy. Or you can send this letter to some friend of yours that I do not know of. I mostly know the directors, and as it is well known, directors are mostly suffering. However, maybe the directors can mobilize their own networks to help us here by supplying technical equipment, or they can even contribute by organizing some workshops here. Or you can add your own projects to ours. As we have said, this is a Commune, so come and stand with us in solidarity! Even if you cannot do any of the below suggestions, then let the world know that the people of Rojava do not only battle, but also create and construct a new life here. Our cinema projects exist within this new life project.

Regardless of what you do and how you contribute, we are thankful to you. We would be happy to name the equipment you could send with your name or make a corner for your name in the academy. But if you do not prefer to make your contribution public, we can also be discrete. Anadolu Kültür (the Anatolian Culture Organization) has kindly accepted to organize all the equipment that could be sent by you. The ones who would like to volunteer to contribute in one way or another: call these numbers and ask for these people: Derya Bozarslan- Anadolu Kültür Cumhuriyet Cad. No:40 Ka-Han Kat:8 Elmadag 34367 Istanbul T: +90 212 246 7608-F: +90 212 232 1866- M: +90 533 540 0867.

I am here for all of you, all of us. I kiss you all…

Onder Cakar, Filmmaker

[Translated from Turkish by Burce Celik and Asli Ozgen-Tuncer.]

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