Duhok Film Festival Brings Art to Refugee Camps

Last December, more than 300 artists and film critics arrived in Kurdistan to gather for the 2022 edition of a prestigious international film festival in Duhok, a city that has n

Duhok Film Festival Brings Art to Refugee Camps
February 11, 2023

Last December, more than 300 artists and film critics arrived in Kurdistan to gather for the 2022 edition of a prestigious international film festival in Duhok, a city that has not only hosted the event for the past 12 years but also sheltered nearly one million Syrian refugees and Iraqi displaced families since 2014 when the Islamic State (ISIS) took over swaths of territories in Iraq and Syria. 

The theme of this year’s Duhok International Film Festival was thus “migration,” to bring attention to the suffering of migrants and refugees to artists worldwide and, more importantly, the international community and global policymakers. 

What made this year’s event unforgettable was screening several films inside the Domiz 1 Camp. A few days before the opening ceremony, a large inflatable screen, projector, and roughly 200 red velvet theater seats were installed in a hall, transforming it into a temporary cinema for residents of the refugee camp. The hall had originally been used for weddings and funerals – this time it was to witness the excitement of young boys and girls born as refugees who were experiencing real cinema with massive screens and high-quality sound systems for the first time. 

Located on the outskirts of Duhok, Domiz 1 Camp is home to over 30,000 Syrian refugees making up 7,200 families. Duhok province to date hosts more than 250,000 refugees and internally displaced persons (IDP). 

The city has made a name for itself after welcoming waves of desperate families looking for refuge in the Kurdistan Region after IS emerged in Syria and crossed into Iraq in 2014. Shawkat Amin Korki, the artistic director of Duhok International Film Festival, said in a recent interview that they decided to screen some of the Kurdish feature films in the Domiz 1 camp in order to create a bridge between refugees and the festival. 

With millions of Ukrainians scattered around Europe and millions more around the Middle East still risking their lives to reach Europe, Korki said that the global challenge of migration inspired this year’s festival. “Because of all the things that have happened in this part of the world, because migration has been steadily rising in recent years, because in our region there are many refugee and displacement camps, because of the war in Ukraine, migration is a universal theme,” Korki said. 

The festival had other, unforeseen joys for some living in the region’s camps. With the festival attracting many foreign and Kurdish filmmakers to Duhok in recent years, many have returned to shoot movies in the area’s stunning nature, offering opportunities for some to play roles in different films and connect with well-known local and international directors and producers.

The Duhok International Film Festival features several categories that accept films from all over the world. Every year, films from the festival’s Kurdish and World Cinema Competition are up for several awards.

Winning films are chosen by the section jury and awarded with 18 different titles in different competition circles including World Cinema, World Documentaries, World Shorts, Kurdish Cinema, Kurdish Documentaries, Kurdish Shorts, NUHAT, Duhok City Award, and Fipresci World City Award. 

Since its first edition, the festival has premiered over 1,200 films and hosted more than 1,500 guests from around the world. Its organizers have had to cancel the event twice – once in 2014 when ISIS took Mosul and announced its barbaric so-called Caliphate in Mosul only 75 kilometers away from Duhok, and then in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The festival, despite its challenges, plays a leading role in promoting Kurdistan and Duhok as locales with an international orientation and ethos and has become a registered member of numerous international institutes, organizations, and events.

Sardar Sattar is a translator and journalist based in the Kurdistan Region. He has an MA in English Studies from the University of Lodz, Poland. He has translated several books and political literature into Kurdish and English. He writes regularly for local and international newspapers and journals.

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