Film feast - March 5 2008

By James M. Wall*

During this year's Montreal World Film
Festival, I spoke with Suayip Adlig, a
producer of the Iraqi Kurdish film
Narcissus Blossom. I liked the picture;
it's one of those little gems that turn up at
Montreal in small, out-of-the-way
screening rooms in the late afternoon.
The film is a gritty, realistic portrait of the
U.S. role in the betrayal of the Kurdish
people's desire for independence.

Earlier this year, Narcissus Blossom won
an award from Amnesty International at
the Berlin Film Festival. Now Adlig has
set his sights on the U.S., with no less a
goal than the Academy Awards
foreign-film competition. Before he can
qualify for that competition, however, he
needs to find a theater that will show his
film in Los Angeles for one week. He will
have a tough sell, given the current
political climate, but Adlig is not
discouraged. He says he is looking for
"one courageous American theater

As Narcissus Blossom opens, a Kurdish family is watching a television report on the
signing of the 1975 Algiers Accord, an agreement between Iran and Iraq. The accord was
arranged by Henry Kissinger, President Ford's secretary of state. Earlier, Kissinger had
promised the Kurds full U.S. support via Iran in their struggle for freedom from Iraq. Then,
in a diplomatic tap dance, the Kurds were abandoned in a war they could not win alone.

The Iraqi Kurds were betrayed again in 1991 when the first Bush administration, which
had promised support for a Kurdish uprising against Saddam Hussein, decided to halt all
fighting against Saddam to preserve a "united Iraq." Ironically, the 2003 invasion under
George W. Bush's leadership has moved the Iraqi Kurds closer to the independence
denied them earlier. This outcome is certainly not part of the Bush vision for the Middle

The Montreal festival performs a special role among North American festivals. Unlike the
Toronto festival, which is largely a showcase for major productions and is heavily
influenced by U.S. film companies, Montreal is a place for independent filmmakers from
outside North America to show their work. Iranian director Majid Majidi, for example,
introduced Children of Heaven and The Color of Paradise at Montreal. Both enjoyed
successful runs in U.S. art-house theaters and in DVD sales. Adlig hopes to duplicate
Majidi's success.

During the festival, news reached
Montreal that Kurdish leader
Massoud Barzani had threatened
to secede from Iraq unless he
was allowed to fly the Kurdish flag
instead of the national flag.
Narcissus Blossom, codirected
by Masoud Arif Salih and Hussein
Hassan Ali, depicts the passion
behind such a threat. Its insights
need to be understood by
American media and political
decision makers.

The film depicts the birth of the
peshmerga, or "those who face death," the Kurdish militia formed in 1975 to fight for an
independent Kurdistan on the Iran/Iraq border. Today, the peshmerga provides the region
with its military arm. They are a fighting force motivated not by religious radicalism, but by a
desire for independence.

* James M. Wall is senior contributing editor at the Century magazine.