Blue Sky, Land of Roses, Iceland

Reports: Gulîstan, Land of Roses, Blue sky from pain, Transparent Landscape: Iceland – Block 1

Blue sky from pain (Hyacinthe Pavlides, Stephanos Mangriotis, 2016)

Gulîstan, Land of Roses: Fighting Myths with Stereotypes

In film women are usually seen as passive victims of war conflicts, which also applies to most documentary production. Director Zaynê Akyol fights against this stereotype with her first feature-length documentary film, in which she follows a female military unit of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party. Instead of serving dramatic battle scenes to the viewer, she provides the viewer with routine drills and moments of relaxation, in which military discipline is interlaced with femininity, casual conversation, dance, or personal care.

After a long training period, the women finally come to the battle front, and there is another long period of endless patrolling and waiting for what the enemy will do. The pervasive threat is tangible, but rarely ever visible through the lens of binoculars. An intimate portrait of a female experience of a military environment comes to the forefront, which is dominated by two protagonists, Sozdar and Rojen. For one of them wearing the uniform represents a service to the country, the second sees enlisting in the military as gaining her own freedom, where unlike in marriage she does not have to listen to her husband. However, paradoxically, she finds refuge in a strict environment of war, where she must obey never-ending recurring orders without hesitation.

Unfortunately, just as some myths are being torn down, others are strengthened in this environment. When Sozdar talks about her mother she starts crying. She is then comforted by the director that that is only human. But when a male soldier speaks about a recent armed conflict, the officer tells him not to be emotional, for representatives of the fair sex are present there. Women remain women despite wearing the uniform, they have permission to be emotional, they wear decorations in their hair. Conversely, men do not cry, they do not decorate their uniforms and instead of intimate portraits, realistically raw or heroic films are restricted to being their forte.

Testimony: Blue Sky from Pain

341 days of life – is it too little, or a lot? French photographer of Greek origin, Stephanos Magkriotis, asks this question with the camera focused on a derelict housing space and its details for fourteen minutes, scribbled walls, mouldy mattresses and barbed wire. Out of the shot a single voice shares the story of a refugee who only knows that he is in Greece. He is in a single room surrounded by 149 people, including women and children. Once in a while when he gets an opportunity to use a phone, his mother in Turkey cries. Instead of the promised ten days, he has been stuck in this former warehouse for almost a year without the possibility of going for walks, without documentation, without any chance of changing his fate. After some time, a Greek cleaner proves to be a link with the outside world. In the last few seconds we learn that there was a revolt and someone lit a bed sheet on fire from some short footage taken on a mobile.

A film devoted exclusively to the evocation of space, offers the audience an opportunity to project their own feelings and in some cases, empathise with the story. But for some reason it does not happen. After discussion with the filmmakers, I understand why. The story is not authentic; it is composed of a series of refugee testimonies and has created some sort of a universal compilation. The video documentation is also a compilation from about five locations where refugees were detained in Greece. Radio documentary colleagues would sputter – why would the authors use voice-over actors when authentic voices were available? The value of the work itself certainly lays in the documentation of these institutions, similar footage is not seen on European television, however the informational value is very low, as well as the relevance of many details used to concoct this refugee cocktail. We call them "welcoming centres" or "detention facilities" but in reality it is some sort of an Orwellian jail. At least this is the message understood from this French documentary piece.

Transparent Landscape: Iceland – Block 1

The block of remarkable examples of Icelandic cinematography was opened by one of the oldest preserved Icelandic films called Firemens Exercise in Reykjavík (1906), which does not show only firemen in front of the camera, but also a large crowd of local people obviously longing for being captured on the film strip. The following Iceland of Moving Pictures (1925) turned out to be a real film jewel and its analysis would be worth an extensive study. The film presents, in a surprisingly catchy way, the main aspects of Iceland: fishing and animal husbandry, traditional clothes and dwellings, magical areas of icebergs, waterfalls, geysers and so on. An encyclopaedic descriptiveness is disturbed by plenty of interesting authentic details, which enliven the film and create an attractive magic of randomness. Marvellous panoramic images of the city and countryside, as well as adventurous scenes of fishermen and bird hunters are followed by poetic images of beautiful nature. However, the biggest reaction of audience arose when the national sport glíma, evoking a strange mixture of ballet and Greco-Roman wrestling, appeared on the screen. The block continued with a short-footage film from the 60s called To Build. This work celebrates development and construction of a new city district. The growing new buildings and road laying are cloaked by music backing and moderate commentaries, which gave us a chance to be fascinated by what we see. The projection ended with Birth of an Island (1964), an impressive film by the prominent Icelandic documentarist Ósvaldur Knudsen. It shows a fascinating battle of elements fighting for faith of the island. Deep red burning lava is flowing into the sea, which responds with breakers of salt water, and all this results in plumes of steam rising towards the sky. A new part of Icelandic land is being slowly born among thick black and white clouds, which flow like kaleidoscope images…