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(PIFF) Kurdish director Beraz revives childhood lost in Diyarbakir
By Kim Hyun
BUSAN, Oct. 12 (Yonhap) -- One night driving back home from a wedding, the lives of 10-year-old Gulistan and her brother Firat are changed completely. Their father, a Kurdish journalist, and their mother are killed before their eyes by a pair of paramilitary officers.

   The children rot and live, no tears wasted. They join a horde of other orphans striving to survive in the squalid streets of Diyarbakir -- the biggest Kurdish city in southeast Turkey -- pickpocketing, phonejacking, wielding guns and smoking cigarettes.

   The lives of Kurdish children growing up in violence and poverty are straightforwardly captured in "The Children in Diyarbakir," the first feature by Miraz Bezar being screened at the Pusan International Film Festival.

   "The most common and normal way would have been to show the kids screaming and crying, but what's more shocking was the fact that these kids become numb to violence," Bezar said in an interview. "The kids live on, and nobody wants to know about them. There's no court to listen to them."

   Bezar was born in Ankara, Turkey, and immigrated with his Kurdish family to Germany when he was 9.

   The film, produced last year, takes a cool, unadorned approach to the sad story of the street-wise children in Diyarbakir of the 1990s, during which military conflicts between the Turkish authorities and the Kurdish separatist movement raged on in eastern Turkey.

   Unable to pay rent, Gulistan (Senay Orak) and her younger brother, Firat (Muhammed Al), are thrown out of their home. Their aunt tries to help them, arranging a visa to take them to their grandfather in Sweden, but the effort ruptures with her arrest.

   The children meet kids on the street who teach them ways to survive. They learn to get through each day, but the trauma lives on. Their eyes are chillingly empty, as Firat tortures a frog with a slingshot and Gulistan roams the street alongside gunned boys.

   "This last generation is really lost because they have only seen war," Bezar said. "Those who are exposed to violence react with violence."

   The actors were all cast from children in Diyarbakir, who had no acting experience. To cast and prepare for the film, Bezar lived there for two years before shooting began. A Kurdish expatriate who barely spoke Kurdish, he wanted to get involved in their lives.

   "You read something or sit by the computer, but you don't learn details of life, and those you can only learn by talking to people," he said. "It takes time, then people will open up and talk about what happened."

   "The Children in Diyarbakir" is said to be the first movie made in Turkey in the Kurdish language. It garnered several prizes in international film festivals, including best film and best actress in an Istanbul film festival. Still, reactions from the general Turkish public were mixed, with some audiences accusing him as a propagandist. Turkey officially denies the Kurdish claim that it secretly operated an underground nationalist organization that killed resistants of ethnic minorities.

   This year's Pusan film festival pays tribute to Kurdish directors in its Special Program in Focus under the title of "Kurdish Cinema, the Unconquered Spirit," reportedly the first such program in an international film fest. Eight Kurdish films are being screened, including "Yol," the top award winner of the 1983 Cannes Film Festival, which is also famous for its filmmaking process. Director Yilmaz Guney directed it from jail.

   "I want to make political films like he (Guney) did. Knowing all the film techniques and at the same time, knowing my responsibility for society is very important to me," Beraz said.

   Produced with about 100,000 euros (US$139,500) funded by his family, the film has been distributed in Germany, Spain, Britain and Greece, but has yet to see a break-even point.

   "But I did not do a job," Beraz said. "It was much from the heart."