51min 42sec • 16mm/8mm/DSLR • 2016
Two years ago Diana was living on her own in Erbil, Iraqi Kurdistan's buzzing capital city. She was studying to be a flight attendant and enjoying the freedom of being independent and young in a growing city. When ISIS and war returned to Iraq she moved back to her mother's home in Sulaymaniyah. Now her days pass quietly, mostly indoors. In the darkness of frequent power outages, Diana builds a dream city in her mind.
Dream City was shot with a DSLR camera, a 16mm Krasnogorsk-3 film camera, and a Canon Super8 camera. The principle photography took place on two trips to the region; one in March 2014 and one year later in March 2015, with additional footage mined from previous visits in 2011 and 2012.
“In the low-lit scenes of quiet conversation just between Diana and her friend, the filmmaker; those are the moments that make me wish for a short documentary like this to be made about every single person on Earth, just to prove how interesting, tragic, and heroic every ordinary person really is.“ - Sasha Kohan
“Q: What type of impact and/or reception would you like this film to have?
A: I don't like the "othering" that occurs in the media - it's dangerous to not realize that normal life exists everywhere. Anything that keeps people from separating themselves from other people and other places is good, so I hope this film does that.“
“Q: Escaping from traditional narrative form, Dream City features a brilliant storytelling: how did you develop the script and the structure of the film?
A: The structure developed organically through the editing. I knew I wanted to end the film with the power coming back on in Diana’s house, the return of the electricity is this simple thing that shifts her entire mood, and life is so often like that, right? We are most often affected by the small day to day things, not the dramatic ones.“
I have visited Iraqi Kurdistan regularly since 2009, encountering the many dramatic shifts in fortune that have swept through the region since that time. In the course of my visits, and journeys back home to Europe or North America, I became increasingly interested in the politics of what is “allowed” to be shown from certain parts of the world.
There appears to be programming and media space for only certain kinds of stories from conflict regions like Iraqi Kurdistan. Interest is focused on either commodified stories of suffering, or inspirational stories of perseverance in spite of that suffering. Everything in between, the lives and moments that cannot be glorified or pitied, is completely absent. When looking at content about women, this absence of normality is even more severe: women are either oppressed or are strongly independent and actively fighting that oppression. This omission of normality feels dangerous; it makes us relate to entire nations and populations as symbols rather than individuals. In reality, these places we see on the news are made up of individual people with hopes and dreams remarkably similar to our own, despite widely differing external circumstances.
I made Dream City to share an alternate approach to a region we see much and experience little of in the news. Dream City is Iraqi Kurdistan as I have experienced it over the years. Diana is my friend, I visited her and we made a film together- this is the experience that I am sharing with you now.