From Conflict in Turkey to Life Anew in Switzerland: ‘The Beekeeper’

Mano Khalil's The Beekeeper examines the conflict between the Turks and the Kurds through the eyes of a sole protagnonist: a Kurdish man working as a beekeeper in Switzerland. By creating an intimate portrait of this man's life and philosophy, Khalil expands the thematic relevance of the conflict to the rest of the world. The film will screen on June 17 at the Human Rights Watch Film Festival.

FilmLinc asked the directors included in the upcoming Human Rights Watch Film Festival to give some insight on filmmaking and tackling issue-oriented work prior to the launch of the series on June 13.

The Beekeeper
Mano Khalil, Switzerland, 2013, 107m

Responses from Khalil:

On personal interest in his film's subject:

About four years ago I heard by chance of an elderly Kurdish man who was keeping bees in the Swiss mountains. In the almost 30 years of my living in Europe I have never heard before of such a Kurdish person. This information awakened my interest in Mr. Ibrahim, the beekeeper. When I later met him and I got to know his tragic story, I was deeply fascinated by his personality. Ibrahim used to be a successful beekeeper in Turkey. He possessed more than 500 bee colonies and he produced on average 18 tons of honey a year. He lived happily as a wealthy man with his wife and their 11 children and enjoyed the respect of the community. He lost almost everything because he did not want to cooperate with the Turkish military against his Kurdish countrymen. For years he was in flight without having any news about the whereabouts of his family. After an odyssey, he managed to come to Switzerland where he was reunited with some of his children and, with the help of the bees, to start a new life in the new country. What fascinated me most was the fact that no matter what happened to him he never gave up fighting for a human quality of life and for his dreams. He also does not bear any feelings of hate or revenge against those who destroyed what he loved most in his life. Apart from all I mentioned above, I found many parallels between the story of Ibrahim and my own story. I am a Kurd from Syria. After I finished my studies in the former Czechoslovakia I wanted to return to Syria and work there as a filmmaker. The Syrian regime has forbidden this for me. I had to flee and to try hard in order to receive a new chance to pursue my dream, to shoot a film again.

On the effect of filmmaking:

There is this saying: one picture is like a thousand words. Pictures, photos, and especially moving pictures have always had a strong effect on people. When people go to the cinema and buy their ticket they want to be sure to enjoy themselves but at the same time they want to feel, to learn something, to take something with them from what they have seen, to leave the screening room richer in ideas than when they entered it. And when the public for documentary films, for example, realize that what is being shown is real, without any attempts to dramatize or to embellish the protagonist or his story, then they begin to suffer and to rejoice with the protagonist. People begin to reflect on things that they considered as given, they begin to seek more information; they begin to think politically and to look for ways to help those who suffer or to fight social injustice. Film is a relatively cheap medium with a huge radius of influence. That is why all dictator regimes want to have the film and television industries under their control. I have received hundreds of letters and e-mails in which people express their solidarity with Mr. Ibrahim. Many wrote to me to say that before they saw the film they did not know many things about the situation of the Kurdish people in Turkey. This film motivated them to search for more information about the Kurdish theme and also to interest them more in the rights of oppressed people worldwide. A good film can greatly motivate people to fight injustice and to support an important issue.

On the challenges of making a film:

My biggest challenge was to persuade Mr. Ibrahim to be the protagonist of the film. At the beginning he thought that I was going to shoot a film about the bees. As he realized that the film was going to be about his life, he became very concerned. For a long time I stopped the shooting. During this time I was visiting Mr. Ibrahim regularly. Very slowly a true friendship grew between us. Then I was no longer Mr. Khalil the filmmaker but Mano the friend. Mr. Ibrahim narrated his life story to a friend knowing that what he said would not be manipulated or implicated in a way that he would not approve.

Generally the biggest challenge of making films is to be a filmmaker at all and to gain the opportunity to shoot a film according to my ideas and concepts. In Syria I studied at the University of Damascus. I studied law and history. But the whole time I wanted to do something else with my life. In Syria, the Kurdish language was forbidden, the Kurdish culture continues to be suppressed. I was always persuaded that a filmmaker like myself can offer people who suffer unnoticed a strong voice. After a lot of effort I managed to be a filmmaker and since then film became the purpose of my life.

On presenting a topic for wider reflection:

I hope the film will motivate people to reflect about the injustice in life, about the power to remain a human being no matter what has been done to you, as well about our own lifestyle and our prejudices. We often have the tendency to generalize and to “throw” people in particular baskets: all foreigners are so and so… All men are this, all women are that... It would have been nice if we could manage to “detect” the individual person, who stands in front of us, without judging his/her behavior and his/her way of life before we get to know their story and the reasons of his/her behaviour. But I am not a tutor and I don’t want to lecture people. I show what I find interesting, and each person in the audience is free to reflect upon it and to draw his or her own conclusions.

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