Can Fly, which opened across the UK on Friday, is
the first feature film to come out of Iraq since
Saddam Hussein took power in 1979.
Directed by Bahman Ghobadi, a Kurd born in Iran, it
is set in an Iraqi refugee camp and features as its
protagonists a clutch of local children.
This eloquent tale, which won top prize at the San
Sebastian film festival last September, sees the
Iraqi people awaiting a conflict upon which they
seem to have no bearing.
Village elders struggle to translate news of the
impending war via a dodgy satellite; mutilated
children clear landmines to trade for second-hand
It was the imagery of those children - and in
particular the armless Henkov (Hirsh Feyssal) - that
inspired Ghobadi's enigmatic title.
"When I saw all these children without arms, the
visual image that came to me, in the physical sense,
"The hardship that turtles encounter was similar to
the hardship the children encounter. I could compare
their patience and tolerance," explains Ghobadi.
Yet despite its bleak subject matter, the film is
surprisingly humorous - a quality Ghobadi credits to
"In the Kurdish community, we laugh a lot. We have
suffered so much hardship - as refugees in exile -
we cannot cry anymore. Laughter is the only healing
process that is left for us.
"The reality is so harsh in Iraq, it is so sad and
depressing that, had I really reflected that reality
on film, nobody could bear to watch it.
"So I introduced the sense of humour that exists
among the Kurds. There is an expression in Iran
'cutting off a head with cotton' - dealing with
something horrific the softest way you can."
Ghobadi works wonders with his amateur cast, and
speaks passionately of their contribution to his
"Because my stories are inspired by reality, I can
only ask those who have lived that reality to enact
them," explains Ghobadi.
"Which professional child from Hollywood could play
those sequences for me? None - it's impossible!
"Every night I would read through the script with
the kids, and if I saw a child doing something I
liked, I included it in the scene. The film was
improvised on a daily basis.
"These children have a fantastic energy, all they
need is a bit of leadership. My role was to conduct
All the cast were intrinsically involved in the
film, building refugee camps and creating the arms
bazaar using minimal resources and without recourse
to set designers or technicians.
"Sometimes I would make small corrections, add
colour - but to a large extent the film was made by
the people who have lived in these conditions -
that's why it feels so truthful," explains the
Ghobadi, whose previous films include the
award-winning A Time for Drunken Horses, is
spearheading a growing passion for film-making in
the Kurdish community.
"Today Kurdish parents no longer pray for their
children to become doctors or engineers, they want
them to become film-makers," says Ghobadi.
"I don't think it's presumptuous to believe that
within five years, when there is more possibility of
getting hold of the equipment, Kurdish cinema will
flourish. A new vision will come from these children
who have so many stories to tell."
For now, facilities remain limited. "We are a
population of 35 million Kurds, but we don't even
have 10 theatres in which to show films," he
"For me it a great sadness that my people, the
people for whom I make these films, never see them."
Turtles Can Fly opened on 7 January at the ICA,