Beri Shelmashi: Directing “Heart on Fire”

1.    What is  ‘Heart on Fire’ about?

‘Heart on Fire’ is a film about the prejudgments we have when we see someone “different” walking down the street. We think we can judge someone’s inner wounds, by what we see on the outside. And it’s about self-immolation, which seems to be extremely popular in Kurdistan. Both problems I’d like to tackle. And this film, could contribute to that.

And then in the style of the film, I’d like to tackle even more aspects of our society. We shot some scenes in a gorgeous old hamam, in downtown Slemani. We filmed our actresses, showing the burned skin of our main character. Although she’s never naked, seeing some flesh makes it a little revolutionary for Kurdistan standards.

Also, most of our crew consisted of girls, which gave the film that little extra feminine side, probably.

2.    How did the idea  for the movie come about?

I made ‘Heart on Fire’, because I felt the urge to tell the story. There’s an NGO in Slemani, actively trying to help vulnerable women in the region, they deal with a lot of self-immolation cases. They gave me the cases to read. One of them was the inspiration for this script.

In the written case, a girl tries to save her sister from burning herself to death. Tragically, the sister dies and the girl is wounded, inside and outside, for life. As a sister, I recognize the love for one’s siblings. It broke my heart.

3.    When will it officially be out?

‘Heart on Fire’ has been previewed at the Kurdish Youth Festival in the United States this year, where it won first prize, and recently it has been screened at the beautiful Duhok International Film Festival.

I think, this is not a film that should go into hiding, touring around festivals. I want the people of Kurdistan to see it, thus we are negotiating with Kurdistan’s television channels. So soon, it’s out there for everyone to see.

4.    What are your plans, in the future, as a film director in Kurdistan?

Recently, I have flown over the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, with a hot air balloon, shooting ‘Heavens over Kurdistan’, a poetical documentary about our mountainous landscape, and its beautiful people. I have worked several years on the adaptation of bestselling novel ‘The House of the Mosque’, about the influence of the 1979 revolution, on a big family in a small town in the middle of Iran. This film is to be directed by Bahman Ghobadi. We are currently in the process of rewriting the screenplay.

And I am writing my own feature length debut, to be shot in Erbil, completely. Four modern-day stories set in the oldest constantly inhabited city of the world. It shows people from different walks of life, making Erbil their home. We are currently collecting funding and sponsoring, to be ready for the shooting, next autumn. I am very excited about this film, as it was the main reason for me to move to Kurdistan. I have been doing research for over a year now.

Besides the film, I am writing two novels, in contract with one of the best publishers in Holland where I grew up.

By: Azheen Fuad