Some directors are as fascinating as their films. Zaynê Akyol and Gulîstan – Land of Roses, her film about a group of all female Warriors of the PKK (the Kurdistan Workers’ Party) fighting ISIS, fall into that category. Both are impressive.

** (You can see our Fest screening short review of the film here:

The meeting with Zaynê Akyol was set right toward the end of a promotional tour for Gulîstan. The tour seemed more intimidating to her than all her trips into real life combat zone. Her press agent with the National Film Board of Canada, a gold medalist in efficiency, obviously briefed her about the media circus even going through her wardrobe (she had some TV promo prior to our meeting). And classy she was. But there is more than meets the eye. She is a class act.

We talked about her childhood in Turkey at the end of the 1980’s:  the crushing of her culture by the Turkish state, the PKK warriors who would appear suddenly in the village, always followed soon after by Turkish soldiers inquiring about their enemy, her people, and their repressed culture. All events seen through the eyes of a fascinated child. She talked about her family leaving their beloved mountain for Canada when she was four. Her country of adoption she is also very found of. In Canada, she met an eighteen year old strong idealistic Kurd woman called… Gulistan. How formative these year were, leaving a lasting impression, lasting images waiting to be expressed with the medium, Cinema, she would choose later in life.

Gulistan vanished overnight without any explanation leaving little Zaynê with many unanswered questions and a broken heart . Only years later she learned that, at that time, Gulistan went abroad to join the PKK, fighting for her ideals… and dying for it. Years past and the little girl became a woman, growing in height and developing her seemingly natural stubbornness. With Gulistan still on her mind, she eventually embarked on an odyssey to the other side of the Atlantic to get answers regarding her sister at heart. A process during which at one point she realized the best way to pay a consequential homage was to introduce  us, the viewer, to what she died for. Was there any Gulistan style troopers available to fit the frame?

In this machismo world, convincing people to take you seriously, especially when you look like a movie star (my words not hers), and to finance such an adventure, is quite a task. So equipped with her Warzone-proof stubbornness, she went into war-torn Kurdistan and came back with a demo. The process of financing could start at the beginning of the 2010’s. A process in which she discovered  the SCRS (the Canadian CIA) were actually film buffs. They took strong interest in her project, asking questions about this filmmaker doing a piece on an organization they file as terrorists. A film Master’s degree and an award-winning short later, all was in place to just do it. And she did. And it is good. It is generous.

Zaynê Akyol believes that her approach to directing, the way to tell the story, is partly influenced by the fact many Kurds only speak the language. Writing was out of the question because of lurking Turkish troops. Defending your culture meant jail. Thus the aural tradition of storytelling, to pass on the heritage, gives a strong feel to her ways of expressing things in life and in her film. The will of the director, it was at the heart of her master degree, which was about connections and joint creation in documentary filmmaking, leaves place to strong participation of the subject in the creative process.

Gulîstan – Land of Roses displays its cast  and director strong personalities. And it is a fabulous asset. The involvement of the group of fighters is fascinating to a point where they actually mirrored each other, with Zaynê, like they were made to meet in this life. Gulistan is Zaynê. Gulistan is also the whole group. Through cinema, if, sadly, some of the girls are dead in action as these lines are written, as lethal as they can be as a fighting squad, their good spirit and the surprising sweetness of their characters live on with us forever. Their fight goes on.

Gulîstan – Land of Roses (with English subtitles) opens in Montreal at Cinema du Parc on January 20th and with French subtitles at Cinémathèque Québécoise (Zaynê Akyol will introduce the film the first day). It should follow in other territories and is due to be shown at Berlin Film Fest in February 2017.