Gulistan, Land of Roses

gulistan land of roses2The Kurdistan Worker’s Party has an armed wing called PKK; its guerrilla unit. There is a female unit that belongs to the PKK whose mission it is to defend the country and territory in Iraq and Syria from ISIS. Female empowerment runs strong through this group. Director Zayne Akyol (first feature length film) follows this group of women through this tightly organized unit to find out what makes them tick. Light is shed on this largely unknown world.

ISIS and the fight against them has been widely covered on television and by the media. Despite this exposure there are plenty of aspects that remain hidden from us. One of them is this female group existing within the PKK. Director Akyol’s camera follows these women deep into the Kurdistan mountains as they ready themselves for combat. Ultimate goal is to protect Kurds from ISIS and Turkish ill-treatment.

While these women have made great sacrifices for what they believe in many are also very open about their thoughts, beliefs and experiences. Akyol has obviously gained their trust leading to many speaking very freely on camera. Probably because there is no apparent purpose or agenda behind the film. Just an unbiased attempt to depict the women as they truly are. It is a tribute to them, their courage and the fact that they have given up everything (must leave their families and live their lives out in these mountains).

Akyol’s affection and respect for the women is demonstrated in every frame of the 86 minute documentary. The way she has filmed them and set up shots shows this. Though they are tough/courageous women the filming of them against the harsh background of the forest and mountains renders them soft. Interesting juxtaposition.

The first half of the film we follow the women as they undergo training and a type of boot camp. In the second half we are with them as they enter into combat. Shows that soldiering involves a lot of sitting around waiting for things to happen. It is in these moments that the director is able to get the women to unfurl their deepest thoughts. How they worry about death. How they see being under the command or direction of any man as a form of slavery. How they steel themselves for the combat that is going to happen.

Most are rather feminist in their stances and actions. Though they are also realists. They know the only true freedom they will gain during their lives as women is on the battlefield. It is there they all long to be. Wanting combat to happen. They know that if they managed to kill any of the Islamic extremists it is a victory on many levels including that the dead believe they will not reach paradise if they have been killed by a woman. Though they also know that their capture would be a huge victory for the other side. All dream of freedom for Kurds everywhere.

The film, produced with aid from the NFB, is up for several Canadian Screen Awards including Best Documentary.

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