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Kurdish Iranian filmmaker Bahman Ghobadi (Qobadi) is the most prominent Kurdish artist working today, and one of a new breed of young Iranian filmmakers who have grown up since the revolution of 1979. His four feature films since 2000 have established him as one of the most respected young filmmakers in the world.


Ghobadi, much the best-known of contemporary Kurdish filmmakers, was born in Baneh in Iranian Kurdistan on 1 February 1969, and moved with his family to the provincial capital of Sanandaj in 1983, during the 1980–1988 Iran-Iraq war. An early interest in photography led him eventually to the study of film in Tehran, where he completed several short 8 millimetre films before approaching Iran’s most distinguished art film director, ABBAS KIAROSTAMI , who was planning to shoot his next film in Kurdistan. Ghobadi worked as second unit director on this film, The Wind Will Carry Us (1999), and also appeared in a small role. He was also cast by Samira Makhmalbaf, daughter of the famous Iranian filmmaker MOHSEN MAKHMALBAF , as one of the itinerant teachers in her second feature, the Kurdistan-set Blackboards (2000). Ghobadi was then able to establish a production company, Mij (Kurdish, “fog”) Film to help encourage Kurdish film culture. He has made four feature films as director, writer, and producer.


Ghobadi seems to have been less influenced by working with Kiarostami than other assistants (such as JAFAR PANAHI and Hassan Yektapanah) who have gone on to direct their own films. His greatest influence is evidently his Kurdish heritage, reflected in his desire to make visible the Kurdish people and to promote Kurdish culture, especially cinema.

Kurdistan’s division among five countries, primarily Iran, Iraq, and Turkey, means that Ghobadi’s works are all concerned with borders—which he hates—and their crossing. His first two features foreground human mules who carry goods between Iran and Iraq, and both conclude with long takes in which the main character crosses the border—marked by barbed wire, laid across snow—high in the mountains. These shots capture much of the essence of Ghobadi’s work, showing the qualities of human hope and endurance in the most difficult circumstances. All his films include extreme long shots of the rugged terrain of the Kurdish countryside, frequently of snow-covered mountains, and they feature local people, rather than professional actors.

A Time for Drunken Horses (2000) begins with a prologue that announces the value of cinema as a means for Ghobadi to present “a humble tribute to my cultural heritage,” and emphasizes his personal experience of the Kurdish struggle for survival. Horses tells the story of a family of orphaned children who must work together to support themselves by labor in the local market and by participation in smuggling to Iraq. An additional and urgent need is to raise the money for an operation required by the middle brother, Madi, who has not grown properly. Hopes that the marriage of the eldest girl, Rojine, will bring in enough money prove ill-founded, but the protagonist, the eldest brother Ayoub, battles on regardless. A handheld camera is used to emphasize moments of confusion and panic, and the influence of neorealism, so evident in post-revolutionary Iranian art cinema, is also visible here. Horses shared the Camera d’Or at the 2000 Cannes Film Festival.

Originally titled Songs of My Homeland or Songs of My Motherland , Ghobadi’s next film is now generally known in English as Marooned in Iraq (2002). It is a road movie, the story of famous Kurdish musician, Mirza, who must travel to Iraq to find his ex-wife, Hanareh. Accompanied by his two musican sons, Mirza encounters a variety of characters and opportunities for musical interludes along the way. Both Kurdish culture and the traumas of recent Kurdish history are fore-grounded in this film, as the travelers pass through a series of villages razed by SADDAM HUSSEIN ‘s government, a camp for orphans, and a mass grave. When Mirza finally reaches his destination, he finds a people ravaged by forced migration and chemical weapons attacks. He sets off back to Iran with Hanareh’s daughter. Despite the grimness of much of the narrative, there are moments of great joy and effective humor.

Turtles Can Fly (2004) is the only one of Ghobadi’s films set exclusively in one country: Iraq. (Indeed, the film is the first film made in Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein.) The action takes place in Iraqi Kurdistan, close to the Turkish border that separates one group of villagers from another. Set in the days immediately before and at the start of the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, Turtles focuses on attempts to bring satellite communications to the village, and on children who survive by collecting unexploded ordnance from the land around them. Both endeavors are led by an extraordinarily resourceful boy named Satellite, rather than the impotent adult population. The possibilities for reading hope into the closing shots of Ghobadi’s first two films seem absent here, however, despite the removal of the cursed Saddam: with his beloved Agrin and her son dead, Satellite, with his assistant Pashow, both now dependent on crutches, watch the arrival of American forces. Turtles includes flashbacks, dreamlike premonition sequences and archival footage of the American invasion.


Name: Bahman Ghobadi (Qobadi)

Birth: 1969, Baneh, Kurdistan, Iran

Nationality: Iranian (Kurdish)

Education: B.A. 1992, Iranian Broadcasting College; Tehran University, film studies, did not graduate


  • 1999: Second unit director on Abbas Kiarostami’s The Wind Will Carry Us; actor in Samira Makhmalbaf’s Blackboards
  • 2000: Founded Mij Film; A Time for Drunken Horses (first feature)
  • 2002: Marooned in Iraq (feature)
  • 2004: Turtles Can Fly (feature)
  • 2006: Half Moon (feature)


Turtles was Iran’s entry for Best Foreign Film for the 2004 Oscars, and in 2006 Ghobadi received the Index Film Award from the journal Index on Censorship for this film. His most recent work, Half Moon (2006), was one of a series of artworks in several media commissioned by the New Crowned Hope Festival in Vienna to celebrate the 250th anniversary of the birth of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. It returns to the subject of Kurdish musicians on the road. Although filmed in Iran, the story is of the attempt to put on a concert in Iraq, and the search for a female singer. The film incorporates magical realist elements also evident in Turtles . Ghobadi chose to limit shots of performances by women (these are banned in Iran), but has still found difficulties with Iranian censors, perhaps as much for the film’s perceived promotion of Kurdish autonomy as for its depictions of women singing. He has since publicly regretted his self-censorship.


Ghobadi is still a young filmmaker, but his output to date distinguishes him as one of the most significant Iranian directors now working, and as the key figure in the representation of Kurds and Kurdistan. He has inspired the work of other young Kurdish filmmakers, and is also active in an attempt to establish new cinemas in the region.


Hassan Yektapanah (1963–) acquired his training as an assistant to director Ali Hatami until he served as assistant director on Abbas Kiarostami’s Taste of Cherry and Jafar Panahi’s The Mirror in 1997. His own films as director are Djomeh (2000), which shared Cannes’s Camera d’Or, and Dastaneh Natamam (2004, Unfinished Story ). Both films are concerned with illegal immigration and life as a refugee. Yektapanah credits Kiarostami with teaching him how to look at the world anew, and Kiarostami’s influence is evident. Djomeh , the story of an Afghan migrant’s determined, but apparently hopeless wooing of a local Iranian girl, is slow-paced, attentive to landscape and includes many driving scenes. Similarly, the camera moves away rather than witness a fight, reflecting Kiarostami’s concern with absence. Story Undone is a self-reflexive work: A documentary film crew attempts to film a group of migrants bound for Turkey. Both films contain a gentle humor and are examples of the humanism that has been characteristic of recent Iranian cinema.

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