jano_rosebiani

My notes about my past and upcoming films, thoughts and reflections on the art and craft of film-making, and occasional commentaries and parodies about the issues of the day.


A simulation of human behavior where diverse mores, values, and traditions converge like a musical fusion is my idea of a good film; whereby, I strive to bring out harmony in cross-cultural themes or as an end target when opposites clash. Having been born a Kurd and bred as an American, I have naturally embraced sensibilities of both the East and the West. This has prepared me to work on narratives across geographical, ideological, and cultural boundaries whether set in the United States, Europe, or the Middle East. Hence, I consider myself an international filmmaker and savor creating stories around cross-cultural themes.

For premise, I aspire to float the boat of survival against the odds in a world permeated by more quandaries than solution. A premise born out of reflection on my own life's journey, as time and again I have thrived to the highs and survived the lows; have crossed paths with the beauties and beasts of mankind; have laughed a plenty; and have cried my share.

Having become a refugee at the age of fourteen and literally crossing the world from the war-torn highlands of Kurdistan to the moors of Montana, I've navigated an unforgiving world singlehandedly at such an early age and onward; have been to hell and back, and in more than one occasion have had a brush with heaven - death has shown her face in many forms, among them a fighter plane and a barrel of a gun in Kurdistan; a melee with a bellicose dipsomaniac in Maryland; a cliff in the clouds of Montana; a car chase in Mexico; an encounter with secret agents and a night in a dungeon in Turkey; a confrontation with Saddam's thugs in Gulf War Iraq, and most ominously, been on the death list of a terror group. On a personal level my life has taken a few unpredictable turns that are better suited for a storybook.

On the sunny side, I have given a press conference along with Colin Powell at the White House's West Wing; been on a panel at the UN headquarters in NYC; have testified in the Senate; been a guest speaker at a dinner event by the then California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in Los Angeles; and have had guest appearances on Fox, NPR, Voice of America, and numerous radio talk shows. A rewarding experience has been participating in over eighty film festivals worldwide, having received a few awards. Perhaps something I have not lived up to, though rectifying now, is having been listed in the top 35 world filmmakers in the book "Cineaste Uit De Schaduw" (Filmmakers from the Shadow) by Belgian celebrity photographer Kris De Witte.

In spite of it all, I do not view myself an activist; but I do aim to bring people together through film, and bridge the cultural gaps. I stand with all good-doers, including politicians; however good ones are rare and millenniums apart - my "Demons & Dimwits of Davos" series (in development) is an attestation to my take on pols.

This journey of mine has molded me into what I am today, the sum result of which is a homespun maxim by which I abide and strive to convey in my films, that is "a good movie is one that makes you laugh a little, cry a little, and then reflect and go back to see it again".

J.R.

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18 March 2020

"DAUGHTERS OF THE PEACOCK ANGEL" is the first television series to depict life in a refugee camp and the first to look into the most recent genocide committed on the Yezidi people by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) terrorist organisation.

The Yezidis are an indigenous Kurdish community of 700,000 to 900,000 worldwide. Their faith, Yezidism is linked to ancient Mesopotamian religions with elements of the Sun-Goddess Mitra and Zoroastrianism.

The Yezidi faith is monotheistic, believing in God as the creator of the world, which he has placed under the care of seven holy angels, the chief of whom is Melek Taus, the Peacock Angel. The Peacock Angel, as world-ruler, causes both good and bad to befall individuals. This ambivalent character is reflected in the myth of his temporary fall from God's grace The legend holds that Melek Taus rebelled against God and was consigned to hell. After 14,000 years of remorseful tears, the fires of hell were extinguished and Melek Taus was reconciled with God, thereafter being appointed ruler over the universe and its inhabitants.

This belief has been linked to the story of Lucifer’s fall in the Bible and to mystical Sufi reflections on Iblis (Satan), who refused to prostrate to Adam despite God's express command to do so. Because of this similarity, followers of Islam equate the Peacock Angel with their own unredeemed evil spirit, giving cause for centuries of persecution of the Yezidis as "devil worshippers". Yezidis claim this last genocide to be their 73rd persecution.

In August 2014, the Yezidis were targeted by ISIS terrorists who massacred an estimated 15,000 men and took their women and children as war spoils. The women were condemned as sex slaves while the children were taken to training camps where they are drugged, brainwashed, and drilled to become future suicide bombers.

As per a recent UNAMI report, 6433 Yezidi women and children were abducted by the terrorist group and as many as 2984 remain in captivity today. Those who have managed to escape relate harrowing stories of their experiences in captivity. Their stories along with their portraits while dressed in wedding gowns (to imply purity in spite of having been rape victims) are conveyed through the lens of photojournalist Seivan M. Salim.

DAUGHTERS OF THE PEACOCK ANGEL series will serve to shed light on these indigenous people who have been under the gun for centuries, and to acquaint the viewer with their struggle for survival in the face of the darkest forces to ever hit the region.

DAUGHTERS will further serve as the very first such dramatic series to show a slice of life inside refugee camps, considering presently there are some 40 million refugees and internally displaced people abound. We hope that such exposure to their living conditions and ongoing predicament will prod the world community, especially the super powers, to work harder to resolve the geopolitical conflicts instead of further igniting them through their weapons supplies and proxies.

J.R.

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18 March 2011

The Kurdish Cinema is known to depict the political crises of a People. The resulting films are pleas for the attention of the world community that has often stayed passive to their plight. “One Candle, Two Candle” is a departure from the norm. The film is a social tragi-comedy in the classic Italian neorealist fashion intended to show a slice of daily life, however, locally the film has been dubbed as a ground-breaker, spearheading a Kurdish new wave movement, for its bold content and depiction of the clash of the generations.

Set against the backdrop of a small Kurdish town, the film is packed with colorful characters, such as Kitan, the Ball Buster who is feared by all the men of the town; Dino, the village idiot who will go to any extreme in pursuit of a wife; the Hunchbacked Flasher; and the sidekicks at the tea-house whose observations and remarks are a reflection of a hypocrisy that permeates patriarchal societies.

The woman’s status in the society is a major concern of the film. In a culture where arranged marriages are common and the question of honor looms high, a woman’s place has often been at the receiving end of the whip. Such predicaments are commonplace throughout the Middle East, and the Kurds, though more liberal than their neighbors, are no exception.

The Kurdish Region, unlike the rest of Iraq, has taken significant strides in social reform and in conforming to Western-style liberty. This, hand in hand with a boom in reconstruction and development, along with the returning Kurds from Diaspora, has paved the way for the emergence of a new generation to counter the rural traditionalists and the tribal way of life.

As for casting, many of the characters are played either by amateurs or non-actors, including an actual mentally-impaired man who was homeless (the chain-smoking bearded man at the teahouse).

The casting process is always an uphill struggle in Kurdistan. I resorted to bringing in a German actress (Katrin Ender) to play the role of Viyan, as no local actress would dare accept a role that involved a kiss and a rape scene. Katrin, who had directed a TV action series in Germany and a few short films in Kenya, picked up her lines not only in perfect Kurdish, but also in the dialect of the region.

The filming took 28 days in the town of Akre, dotted with Churches and Mosques, and known for its Zoroastrian background. The townspeople and the authorities were very helpful, however there were a few challenges. One was getting a crowd to run barefoot across the town and up a mountain. The scene required them to chase the village idiot who had stolen their shoes during a mass prayer. However, a bigger challenge was during the scene in which Haji Hemmo tries to burn Viyan, but instead his own backside gets caught on fire. Safety was a factor and the crew lacked the customary props but managed to do the work.

J.R.

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18 March 2010

The plot for "Chaplin of the Mountains" was born out of two seperate story ideas. The first story was the product of a three-month film screening tour in the Kurdish countryside. In 2003 I was awarded a grant by the Rotterdam International Film Festival to distribute my first Kurdish film, “Jiyan” (life) domestically, as the film was also premiered at the festival. Back then, the Kurdish countryside was in dire conditions as the result of the Anfal Genocide of the 1980s by the former Iraqi regime in which over 4000 villages were leveled to the ground and nearly 200,000 civilians were killed. Therefore, I resorted to screening the film in the few villages that were too remote for Saddam’s army to reach. I used my Power-book pro and a projector and the film was projected on walls in the same manner the characters do in “Chaplin of the Mountains.”

“Jiyan” being a film about the chemical attack on the town of Halabja that left 5000 dead in 1987, was something villagers could relate to but they had difficulty with the disturbing subject matter. And so, the idea of screening Charlie Chaplin films was born. I chose silent films to avoid subtitles and Chaplin since he is the only silent era icon known in the Region.

I began writing a treatment. Meanwhile, I was working on my follow-up to “Jiyan” (a film about an orphaned girl in the aftermath of the chemical attack in Halabja). The sequel was intended to be about another genocide outcome – the selling of captive Kurdish girls and young women by Saddam’s Regime, many of them ending in Middle Eastern Harems and Brothels as far as Egypt.

Nazé is the daughter of such a victim. A Frenchman, who would become her father, rescues her mother from a brothel in Egypt. After the death of her parents, Nazé comes to Kurdistan with a mission to find her mother’s village.

Given the difficulties of raising funds for film in Kurdistan, I combined the two stories and the result is “Chaplin of the Mountains.”

As for funding, I sold my Kurdistan-based production house (production and post-production equipment) to the Ministry of Culture of the Kurdistan Regional Government and used the money to make the film. The primary cast included wonderful actors from New York (Estelle Bajou), Los Angeles (Zack Gold, Bennett Viso), Vancouver (Kurdo Galali), and Berlin (Taies Farzan). Photography began in August of 2009 for 28 days. However, it took four years to bring the film to fruition.

"Chaplin” is a road trip across the Kurdish landscape, from the plains of the region’s capital, Erbil to the highest Zagros peaks and canyons, ending in the Qandil Mountain Region along the Iraq/Iran/Turkey borders – a sanctuary for the PKK Guerrillas that are fighting for the rights of the Kurds in Turkey. As depicted in the film, at the time of the shooting (summer of 2009) the area was under daily attacks by both Turkey and Iran and the land-mines were abundant. Not far from the filming location, three American young people were captured by the Iranians and held captive for a year. Therefore, the cast and crew were always on the move, never spending more than necessary in any one location lest the Iranian spies catch up.

J.R.

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18 March 2002

In JIYAN, I am dealing with death and destruction, the flip side of which is life itself. For a Kurd, life equates survival in the face of endless odds. It necessitates an ongoing struggle against the evils within the human heart. The humans in question are the immediate neighbors and occupiers whose treatment of the 30 odd million Kurds is anything but humane. The infamous gassing of the Kurds in 1988 left an estimated 5000 dead and over 9000 maimed or deformed, all in a matter of a few minutes. One couldn't harm that many flies in such a short time, but yet Saddam did it and lived to brag about it at his private banquets.

JIYAN is loosely based on testimonial accounts of the survivors, some of whom had lost their family members to the chemical attack. The mention of my plans to take their stories to the world brought tears to their eyes. A handful of the survivors took part in the film, playing themselves. Such as the woman who had lost all her family and her sight to the chemicals. I found her begging in the market place, and the stuttering man who plays the father proposing for a girl's hand for his son. The next day he showed me a photograph of his real and only son who had died during the attack. I was speechless.

The Kurds are a colorful bunch, resilient, full of life despite the tragedies befalling them. Being indigenous to their region, they possess a rich culture which they have managed to preserve for thousands of years. They thrive on poetry, music and dance, and with that comes romance. There are two love stories running parallel, one involving Jiyan herself, and there is even a wedding.

JIYAN is a popular female name in Kurdistan. It means life. Therefor Jiyan, the ten-year old orphan, is a representative of life, or rather life itself, though bruised as half of her face was burned by acid during the chemical attack. My ultimate goal for JIYAN was to be a window to the world through which one can see a glimpse of the Kurds, of their daily life, their culture, their folklore and, most importantly, their human rights dilemma.

J.R.

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18 March 1995

Dance of the Pendulum will come across as a film with a message about exploitation of women in the film world but in reality I was just making art and playing with the idea of creation and the meaning of it all. This idea is verbalized halfway in the film between Jack (Al Sapienza) and Charlie (Sibel Ergener) after being lambasted by their own creation, Sally Singleton (Kim Dawson). The interchange goes as follows:

JACK
Life is a journey from oblivion to greater oblivion.

CHARLIE
The thought of which can lead one to self destruction.

JACK
Therefore we need traps to keep us busy.

CHARLIE
Like making love.

JACK
Or making wars.

CHARLIE
Because we are hostages to the power of our brains.

JACK
We're prisoners in our imaginary cells.

CHARLIE
Between the walls of inhibition.

JACK
Beyond which lie unnamed consequences.

CHARLIE
Another product of imagination.

JACK
Yes, imagination is a trap.

CHARLIE
Knowledge, greed, ego, narcissism, power, power, power.

JACK
Suppression, oppression.

CHARLIE
Homicide, suicide, genocide.

JACK
War of the worlds. War of the sexes.

CHARLIE
War of the senses. Rape of the nature.

JACK
And yet life must go on.

CHARLIE
We must continue to write.

JACK
We must continue to dance.

CHARLIE
Like the eternal swinging of the pendulum.

JACK
Like the dance of the pendulum.

CHARLIE
We will drink and we will dance.

JACK
Until we cross our island and stand at the edge of great nothingness.

CHARLIE
The ultimate trap.

JACK
And then just before we make the leap, we will turn around
and look back, and we will say: boy, was that one hell of a trip?

CHARLIE
One hell of a trap.

JACK
One hell of a dance.

CHARLIE
The dance of life.

BOTH AS ONE
The Dance of the Pendulum.

Dance of the Pendulum is a dark intellectual comedy embedded with turns and twists and even crosses the fourth wall in which the line between fact and fiction, creator and creation is blurred. The film concludes with a surprise ending which in itself is an intimation that the question of the meaning of life better left alone as there is no solid conclusion.

I shot the entire film, save for a short scene, in a house in the Hollywood Hills belonging to the late Liberace. It was occupied by his German girlfriend named Gisella and a number of his entourage - an intellectual bunch who were pleasantly accommodating. Most interestingly, the house was situated above and separated only by a fence from David Lynch's. I say interesting because my approach and style at the time where somewhat influenced by his, further spiced with dark humor sprinkled with Monty Pythons' dry droll.

J.R.