Bahman Tavoosi: Kurdishness was only a family tree and me playing the saz.
LOS ANGELES – Canadian-Iranian director Bahman Tavoosi, who received international acclaim for the story of an execution of Kurds in Iran, said he wants to continue giving voice to the Kurdish struggle in his next movie.
Tavoosi, who is half-Kurdish, said he is traveling to the Iraqi Kurdistan Region: “Because the second movie will also be giving voice to Kurdish struggle, I hope to receive some support there.”
The 29-year-old director originally wanted to visit refugee camps in Kurdistan for a film. He is unsure that is what he will focus on, and hopes to gain greater clarity during his time in Erbil.
Tavoosi’s first feature film, A Dress Rehearsal for an Execution, won him international praise and made him a household name in Canada, after the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) aired the film on TV.
The film was inspired by the story of four photographs: one won the Pulitzer -- but for 26 years the photographer who shot it hid his identity and did not come forward.
The story of that picture began after Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution.
That year, when the clerical government that usurped power was bombing and killing Kurds, four photos of a mass execution caught the brutality of the mullahs against the Kurds.
In the first picture, Revolutionary Guards kneel before 11 blindfolded Kurds, guns pointed at their targets. The last camera click forever freezes their bullet-holed bodies falling to the ground.
The executions were ordered by the late Sadegh Khalkhali, a hard-line cleric who earned the moniker “hanging judge,” for mowing down lives with summary executions.
Just months after the revolution, Khalkhali arrived to pass judgement on a group of Kurds who had been labelled “counter-revolutionaries.”
They had been banished to a barren place near Sanandaj airport, in the Kurdish region of northwestern Iran. There, unsurprisingly, Khalkhali condemned them without trial and ordered them shot.
But also shooting that day was a cameraman. When one of his photographs won the Pultizer Prize in 1980, the photographer did not come forward to take the credit. It was only in 2006 – after 26 years – that Jahangir Razmi identified himself as a journalist and the anonymous photographer.
That was the story that inspired Tavoosi.
A Dress Rehearsal for an Execution is the director’s attempt to recreate that photo – but with his own literary and cinematic license.
In Tavoosi’s film the victims and executioners are from different parts of the world: actors are hired not just for their talents, but also for their stories; the victims are male and female and come from around the world; they are refugees and immigrants in Canada, and all have suffered oppression.
“My film connected me with the Kurdish community and Kurdish audience,” Tavoosi told Rudaw in a telephone interview.
“Before that, Kurdishness was only a family tree and me playing the saz, divan and daf (musical instruments),” the director added. “It used to be a personal matter.”
Tavoosi told Rudaw: “I have my own criticism of the question of identity. I think it’s a tricky double-edge sword and one has to be careful to not fall for extremism. But my understanding of my roots developed after my movie came out. The Kurdish audience has been supportive, more than Persians.”
The first theatrical release of A Dress Rehearsal for Execution is scheduled at Magic Lantern Films, New York on the anniversary of the day they were taken: August 27. The Persian services of the BBC and VOA will also air the movie this summer, and CBC will rebroadcast.
Canadian audience connected with Tavoosi when they came across the film at film festivals and on their national media outlet. Tavoosi has travelled with his film around the world, from Europe to South America and Asia. But he says people who have experienced oppression first-hand show him the strongest support.
“The most impressive response I received was in Myanmar. Since this people have lived under oppression -- there is still a strong dictatorship -- the film was shown three times and every time the theatre was packed. Four hundred or 500 people had gathered with enthusiasm. That was incredible and it made me happy the film had such a strong impact. They also made me happy about who I am,” Tavoosi said.
Yet, Diaspora Iranians have repeatedly objected to the film, accusing the director of whitewashing the Iranian government’s image. Objectors feel that the executions carried out by the Iranian regime imparted a unique suffering, and that the director has trivialized that pain by placing it in a universal theme.
But there have also been moments that have given Tavoosi comfort. He remembers the time when the sister of a victim approached protesters to defend Tavoosi’s, saying his film had done a good job of telling the story of her brother to the world. “So, the family of the victim defended me,” he beamed.
Tavoosi, who has Kurdish and Azeri roots, grew up and lived in Tehran until 2006, when he left for Canada.
“I come from a double-minority background,” he joked.
“Most people in Iran suffer, but it is doubly worse for Kurds,” he said. “The experience of oppression is not even as deep with Azeris. They have a big population in Tehran and a lot of Azeris are part of the government. For the Kurds, the situation has been more critical.”