An interview with Kurdish director Hisham Zaman on Bawke * - January 24,  2008

By Richard Raskin *

Could I ask you to fill me
in on the development of
this project? How did it
begin? How did it unfold?
Is any of Bawke inspired
by your own personal

Bawke was actually an
idea for a longer film, with
more action and more
characters in a broader
universe. Economic and
time factors resulted in
our going for the short
film format. The film is
not autobiographical, nor is it based on a true story. But the script is inspired by real
events, as recounted in interviews I did with people who had experienced the difficult flight
we see in the film. And I have used some of my own experiences in the film, since I have
been a refugee myself. The father-son relationship, traveling, escape, sacrificing yourself
for the sake of something that means a great deal to you, all of these things have been an
important driving force for me. Besides, a father's love for his son is a universal theme that
everyone can identify with.

Was the film storyboarded?

We had a shooting script, but no storyboard. Except for a single-sketch storyboard for one
of the scenes, when the father and boy are lying under the truck and the boy has to pee.
The sketch was important for showing the crew how we intended to manage the scene
under the truck in visual terms.

May I ask about the choices you made in casting? And also about the ways in which you
directed your actors?

For me, casting is an important part of the filmmaking process, maybe 50% of the whole
film. If you have the right cast, half of the job is done. I chose amateur actors in order to get
an authentic and true-to-life feeling. Two faces that could represent any refugee in the
world. I have a number of means for helping them to forget that they were standing before
a camera. Like asking: "What did you have for lunch at this time three days ago?" "I don't
remember." "Yes but think." And while he is trying to think of it, I ask him to say his line, and
we film him without his realizing it. In that way I get the expression I am looking for in the
actor. We filmed the actors only when they were psychologically in character. From scene
to scene, we went right into the emotional without seeing the building up of the emotional.
We all understand it through what they say to one another and are thrown right into the
midst of the situation.

    In making this film, were there any
    particular storytelling qualities you
    were striving for, and any others you
    deliberately tried to avoid?

    I'm not sure I understand your
    question. I tried to make a fiction film
    with a documentary feel. Early in the
    film you are told that this is a fiction film
    and not reality because the opening
    credits are there and make this point
    clearly. Slowly but surely we proceed to
    the boy's shout and to his lethargic
    face under the truck. Acting, makeup,
    costume, photography all tell that this
is a real person, and we go over to the documentary. This was an attempt to explore the
boundaries between fiction and documentary without allowing one to be at the expense of
the other. It was important for the film to have a meaning, but I was also concerned with
creating suspense and with entertaining the viewer.

The viewer is beautifully prepared in a number of stages for the final separation of father
and son. Could I ask you to describe that aspect of Bawke?

It was important to capture the interest of the viewer in the opening seconds of the film and
to establish the father's dilemma as early as possible. For them to be able to remain in the
country, they would have to be separated. My intention was to show that love is not about
being together. It is also OK to promise the audience something at the start so that they
have some expectations, but important to manage things in a way they least expect, so that
there is drama and suspense.

The ending is of course both moving and rich in resonances of many kinds - the finding of
the Zidane soccer card playing an important role in that context. May I ask you to describe
your thoughts about managing the closure of the film?

The son alone and abandoned to himself - this was an image I had in my mind for a long
time. It is a kind of homage to Truffaut's 400 Blows, when at the end of the film, the main
character Antoine (Jean-Pierre Léaud) makes his escape, but stands alone in the world.
When the film is over, the story continues in the mind of the public. My hope was to make
the public care about these people.

Antoine (Jean-Pierre Léaud) at the end of  - The son (Broa Asol) at the end of Bawke (2005)
The 400 Blows (1959)          

I wanted to create a feeling of emptiness and loneliness in an unsentimental way. It is
toward the end that all feelings flow, because we understand the difficult choice the father
has made, so that the son can remain in the country. Any father under sufficient pressure
would do the same to give his son a better life and future. I also wanted to give a sign of
hope in the closure of the film. The card with Zidane is what represents the hope and
dream for the son. He gets it back near the end of the film, but at what a price!

Is there anything else you might like to tell me about the making of Bawke or about any of
its qualities?

The two main characters are representatives for a backdrop of people and human
destinies we all know more or less. Victims of war, who flee from horrors, chaos and
insecurity toward the unkown, which for them represents an image of freedom and a
dream of a better life.

It is strange to think about how the story of Bawke became a reality after the premiere of
the film! The man who played the father had lived in Norway for seven years without
obtaining a residency permit. He had left five children back home whom he hadn't seen in
seven years. He gave up the dream, having sacrificed seven years of his family life without
fulfilling his dream of a better life. The biological father of the boy in the film also doesn't
have a residency permit so the family faces an uncertain future. What happens in the film
also unfortunately happens in reality.

Hisham Zaman, Robert Redford and Anja Breien

Do you see the short film as an art form in its own right? And do you believe that the short
film has its own kind of storytelling or involves essentially the same kind of storytelling
found in the feature film?

For me the short film is an art form independent of the feature film. It is not just a gateway
or a learning process for making feature films.

There are many filmmakers who have never made a short film and who made their debut
in feature films without any problem. The short film is more free in form and action than the
feature film, a genre in itself.

What makes the short film so exciting is the way it draws us into a universe. The short film
doesn't have many characters, events or turning points as does the feature film. One writer
described the short film as simply as this: Put a man in a tree, throw stones, get him down
from the tree. The plot should be very simple and yet quite intricate. In contrast, some
feature films use almost 10 or 15 minutes just on the title sequence and opening credits.

* Source:
29 November 2005