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At Cannes, documentary Peshmerga and its gutsy cameraman applauded

A documentary called Pershmerga about Kurds fighting Islamic State by French celebrity philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy gets Cannes nod.

world cinema Updated: May 21, 2016 13:30 IST
Entertainment,France,Cannes Film Festival
French philosopher, writer and director Bernard-Henri Levy poses with Kurdish Major General Serwan Sabir Barzani (3rdL) and Kurdish Lieutenant-General Mustafa Ali Jaafar (2ndL) during a photocall for the film Peshmerga at Cannes.(REUTERS)

A film by French celebrity philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy about the Kurds’ battle against the Islamic State (IS) group has come up for much praise at the ongoing Cannes Film Festival with particular interest in the Kurdish cameraman of the film who nearly lost his arm while shooting. Ala Tayyeb was called onto the stage by the flamboyant Gallic intellectual as he and a group of Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga generals got a standing ovation after the documentary Peshmerga was screened.

“This is great. I am very moved, thank you,” said Tayyeb. The vehicle in which he was filming a Kurdish advance against IS in 2015 was blown up by a mine, killing three peshmerga fighters inside. One of the Kurdish generals who figure prominently in the documentary was also killed in a firefight with IS six weeks ago.

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French philosopher, writer and director Bernard-Henri Levy poses during a photocall at Cannes. (REUTERS)

The 67-year-old thinker is shown warning General Maghdid Harki -- who insisted on taking the same risks as his men -- to be careful. But footage later has the general fighting off an IS attack on his mountaintop position overlooking Mosul, the biggest city held by the jihadists. The camera cuts seconds before he is shot in the forehead.

Levy travelled 1,000 kilometres (600 miles) along the front line between the Kurds and IS in Iraq filming fighting, “landscapes, and the faces of men and women rarely seen in the wider world”. He told reporters that the film is a “recognition of the courage of the peshmerga fighters and a recognition of the justice of their cause”.

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Levy was markedly less present in front of the camera than in The Oath of Tobruk, his film about his role in toppling Libyan dictator Moamer Kadhafi in 2011.

Sheikh Jafar Mustafa, one of the leading Kurdish commanders, said the peshmerga were “a rampart protecting the world from what has unfortunately happened in Paris and Brussels,” referring to IS terror attacks there in November and March.

General Sirwan Barzani, a telecoms millionaire and nephew of the Massoud Barzani, president of the Kurdish Autonomous Region, was also at Cannes to see the film, as well as the Kurdish Madonna, singer Helly Luv.

Festival director Thierry Fremaux mistakenly welcomed them as “our Turkish guests” before quickly correcting himself.

First Published: May 21, 2016 13:28 IST