The first story was a 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 PowerBook 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 guerillas 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 landmines 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.