Filmmaking is never an easy task with production problems such as lighting, talent management, or budget overages being some of the expected obstacles a filmmaker must overcome. Conquering this, the director faces the next hurdle of presenting his or her precious treasure to the world via entry in a plethora of global festivals, hoping to earn accolades in the form of an esteemed jury prize, with many other challenges that arise as part of a long process toward distribution.
As the Arab Film Festival was reviewing film submissions in 2011, we noticed we had not received a preview copy of a film from Erbil in the Iraqi-Kurdistan region. Through an exchange of emails with the filmmaker, we learned that he had indeed sent the film. Amidst burgeoning daily deadlines for a quickly approaching festival, locating a film lost in the black hole of returned international shipments, having it sent again or seeking alternative methods with a filmmaker time zones away buried in his next project was one more knot to be untangled, (but a mere perturbation compared to the cinematic process!)
Believing this story – like so many – needed its chance to be told to American audiences, we persisted. KICK OFF made its way through the selection committee and on to review by the festival Jury that awarded it the 2011 Outstanding Feature Film, all the while evaluators having no idea of THE story – a tale of extreme hardship and perserverance in making the film – behind “the story”. We now present to you an account of director Shawkat Amin Korki’s making of KICK OFF:
One year after my debut feature film CROSSING THE DUST, which was made in a very difficult condition, I visited Kirkuk in August 2007. Located about 80 km from Erbil, capital of the Iraqi-Kurdistan Region, Kirkuk is the center of the petroleum industry in Iraq.
There was a big soccer stadium which was turned into the shelter of around 300 families (mostly Kurdish). These Kurdish families returned to their homeland, Kirkuk, after Saddam Hussein’s regime collapsed, but they could not find any place to live. So they had no choice but to gather in this stadium, making tiny cottages all throughout the grounds in which to live.
When I saw these people, the idea of making this movie came to my mind. Later NHK Japan showed its interest in this project and took part in making this film. When the agreement was done between NHK Japan and me, there was only a few months left to complete this project. Thinking about the situation I was in, I found out that producing this film was much more difficult than the previous one.
Kirkuk was a confused city where almost no one dares to shoot a film and be responsible for the lives of the production crew. The city was very unsafe with types of terror explosions happening here and there, all over. Kirkuk had become a nightmare. Finding a crew who would accept the production job in this city was almost impossible. But I had to do it. A few people agreed at the beginning, but just before starting, they became discouraged. One of the main actors did not agree to move to Kirkuk and gave up the position two days before shooting.
During shooting, we could hear the horrible sound of explosions, and bad news came to the stadium where we were filming. In one of the big explosions that happened in the Bazaar, our production manager’s assistant got hurt amongst the many injuries and dead bodies. When he came back to the set, his clothes covered in blood, all of us were shocked.
The last days of shooting were the most horrifying ones. A terrorist group kept calling us and threatening us with death. This group announced that they would send a car full of TNT to the filming location soon. All of us were so worried that we appealed to the police station and they sent us two policemen to support us! The crew was in a mental collapse. We were just thinking of finishing the shoot and leaving the area because of all this tension, plus the temperature which was over 50 degrees celcius every day. This film KICK OFF was made in very hard conditions. All the people who were with me on the set and working on this project were sacrificing themselves and I appreciate them from the bottom of my heart !