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In the Catbird Seat/Joe Kirkish

‘Blackboards’ coming to Club Indigo

November 3, 2011
The Daily Mining Gazette

What do we really know about that rocky mountainous country crammed in between Iran, Turkey, and Iraq - with natives spreading over their borders under unwelcome, unfriendly circumstances?

Much of Kurdistan is hostile, cold in the mountains during the harsh winters and insufferable during the hot, dusty summers. The Kurds, most of whom seem doomed to live ancient nomadic lives, could be taken for any of their neighbors, but they are despised for political and religious reasons. Saddam Hussein, in an attempt to eradicate them en masse, even went to great lengths to gas the northern Kurdish villages. But stubbornly, the survivors manage to carry on.

The most fascinating way to observe these indomitable people firsthand would be to see the drama "Blackboards," filmed by Samira Makhmalbaf, daughter of an Iranian movie maker - her second movie and winner of countless awards. It can be seen at the November Club Indigo at the Calumet Theatre next Friday.

The film begins with two groups of weary pilgrims on foot plodding along the desolate highlands from Iran to Iraq. Except for occasional signs of modern warfare, they could be living in the ancient past. Food and water are scarce, rock slides commonplace and certain areas are laced with land mines. An occasional helicopter sends these travelers ducking for cover, sometimes crouching in flocks of sheep. As they approach the Iraqi border, they are accosted with gunfire from patrolling soldiers.

But the picaresque plot is less important than the natives themselves - a little boy who flees his group to chase a rabbit, an old man who hasn't been able to urinate for days, an adolescent who is hurt and is picked up by another boy and carried on his shoulders.

Moving along with them are two men desperate to make their living by teaching, for pittance, using the blackboards tied to their backs as portable classrooms. One of them, in desperation, accepts the offer to marry a widow for a small dowry, and survives to regret it.

As we are drawn into the lives of these groups, who continue to slog along, heading for their native land to die in peace, it doesn't take long to realize that under different circumstances they could be any of us - forging ahead on the treacherous road of life, toward our place to rest. The drama, says filmmaker Makhmalbaf, as a whole is a metaphor of all lives, theirs and ours. That's why it touches us, what makes it so appealing, so touching, so very profound in its simplicity.

Coming from a country where women are subjugated, Samira also hopes to reveal through subtlety and humor the lives of the women who must be covered from head to toes, existing in silent submission.

Humor also plays an important part in the film, cutting through the oppressiveness and discouragements to make all their lives valuable even in the worst of circumstances.

The filmmaker traveled the entire route taken by the movie, picking up more than 200 non-actors in fields and villages to portray the roles found in the film. The result is a poignant and human story proving that the three R's are not the only way an education is achieved. You have to see it to believe it.

According to the press announcement when the film was awarded the Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival, "The movie is a master stroke, like nothing else ever seen - a film of beautiful dreaminess living within the harshest of realities. It is people cinema at its finest!"

"Blackboards" will be shown on Friday the 11th at 7:15 p.m., preceded at 6 p.m. by a broad variety of Middle Eastern delicacies from the Keweenaw Co-op in Hancock.

Portage Health, Hancock and Ed Gray's Art Gallery in Calumet, sponsor the movie.

Rotten Tomatoes averages: "Puss in Boots," B+; "In Time," C-

Note: Check out what Eagle Harbor residents, with your help, are planning: To purchase the privately owned Brockway Mountain for continued public use. See for surprising information.



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