By Dejin Jamil
I smashed a glass ceiling. It felt very similar to breaking borders.
I should perhaps add, I raised the bar for Yazidi women when I said “yes” to star in a film. I did not even realize that the break handed to me on a silver platter can also open the door wide – and on screen, so to speak, for all the women in the world.
I am an aid worker for four years in Duhok, the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, working in the camps for the internally displaced people coming from the conflict zones in northern Iraq. I run an education and protection project for children and youth.
This project always gives me mixed feelings. I am sad to see children, women and men of my country displaced by the war, in the process losing family members and relatives. This kind of sadness is painful and indescribable.
On the other hand, I feel happy when I go to the camps and see how strong and resilient the Iraqi families are. It gives me joy to provide support, share in their sad and happy moments. I love it when I go with the children as they gather around me. Many of them would say, “Hey, we saw you on TV! We are proud to see a Yazidi woman as an actress.”
My journey in doing movies began with a friend telling me that a Kurdish friend of hers who is a film director was looking for a woman to act in his film. They need someone who can speak both Kurdish “Badini” and English. She said, “I thought of you.”
I immediately said, “Oh, no way!” This came out of my mouth without even weighing the merits of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I was also certain that my parents would not allow me to join the film.
The Yazidi men are very conservative. Thinking they will be restricted to do what they want anyway, the women in turn have created their own barriers. But there are also other reasons for such concerns like fear for the safety of their lives and those of their daughters’.
Days after, I told my mom Fairoz, I added that I said no. Surprisingly she said, “Why not?” My mom then said, “I once dreamed to become an actress. At least you will make it come true.” My heart almost screamed. I cannot believe she wanted me to do it. I thought my mom would never support me.
My mom later told my father who never had any adverse reaction. I know he is more open-minded compared to her. The Kurdish fathers love to spoil their daughters.
My worries extended to what the bigger Yazidi and Kurdish community will think. I was concerned of talks about my reputation and that of my family’s. Working with too many men and being on screen are often frowned upon.
Nevertheless, when something is for you, it mysteriously finds a way. Visiting a neighbor, my parents learned that he knows the director and is a good friend. They discussed my refusal to star for the film and he told my parents to encourage me assuring that the director is a very good one and famous among Kurds.
My mom told me about the conversation in their visit. That gave me courage. I immediately contacted my friend who was also was having a small part in the movie to tell the director that I am interested. The director turned out to be Mano Khalil, a multi-awarded Kurdish-Syrian director whose documentary film The Beekeeper gained numerous acclaims.
My acceptance, I later learned, was a great news for the director and for the film crew as well, as they struggled to find someone who can match their requirements for the film. No many women are keen to do a movie because of family and traditional restrictions. I am fortunate my family is among those who are open-minded.
What happened next was almost surreal. My “yes” gave me two major roles in films by famous and well-respected directors.
In my first film by Kurdish Syrian director Mano Khalil The Swallow, I played a sister of a man on his 30th who falls in love with a half-Kurdish and half-Swiss girl who came to Kurdistan to look for her father. During deposed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein’s time, her father was the reason why our own father got killed. My brother wanted to take revenge on her, but later falls for her.
My second was A Dream Before Dying (currently on post-production work) by acclaimed director Fekri Baroshi. My role was that of a Peshmerga soldier’s wife. While my husband was fighting the war, I was at home taking care of a sick father and son. This film shows how the dire conditions of the country and soldiers’ lives during the war. It also affirms the strength of Kurdish women left behind as their husbands serve the country, many of them becoming widows. My husband also dies in the movie.
My first shooting of the first film was in April 2014 in Amedi district. The scene was welcoming my brother and meeting his Swiss girlfriend for the first time. Honestly, I was very nervous because that was my first time to stand in front a camera for a film. I once worked as a presenter in a TV channel but this was different.
The making of the second film is very emotional for me. The theme upholds the strength the Kurdish nation standing up to a group that is also a threat to the whole world. The films shows the sacrifice of men and women for the country and the people. I take pride in showing the courage and suffering of a Kurdish woman in this movie.
When I was around nine years old, I already dreamed of becoming a movie star. I would try to organize a movie shoot along with my younger sister Vajin, assigning my brother Danar as the camera operator. I would act as the director and at the same time take up the role of my father, hilariously imitating him. My parents found the short video we produced as very funny and shared it with my uncle in Germany.
My mom and I shared the same dream of becoming an actress. She did not have the chance. I almost buried mine without thinking. Looking back, I am so happy and proud that I took the challenge with the support of my parents. I take pleasure in the fact that I am sharing the achievement with my mother.
The highlight of these all was gracing the Solothurn Film Festival in Switzerland. I was nervous to be on the red carpet for the first time in my life. It was also my first time to be in the country. So many strangers surrounded me but I did my best to be confident and show my best.
My parents and the whole family were very proud of me. While in the film festival in Switzerland, not many Yazidis and even Kurdish people got to know I was in a film. Most of the European audience were interested in the content of the film.
But when it was shown in Duhok Film Festival on September 2016, I got a lot of attention from media as a new Kurdish and the first Yazidi actress. For me that was an affirmation that my people are proud of me.
I have learned that I can lead the way for other women to achieve their dreams if I take the courage to say yes to an opportunity. In a way I am opening the door so others can follow. I should not be scared of what I want to do and always believe in myself. Belief in one’s self is very important. I finally realized a major lesson – that life is about taking chances; and taking the courage when daunting opportunities knock in our doors.
Dejin Jamil continues to work as World Vision’s Project Coordinator, Education and Protection Project for two Child Friendly Learning Spaces in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq.