Gulîstan, Land of Roses
| 86 min 10 s
Prizes and awards
They belong to the armed wing of the PKK, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, which is also an active guerrilla movement. The mission of these female fighters? Defend Kurdish territory in Iraq and Syria, and defeat ISIS (the armed militants of the so-called Islamic State group), all while embodying a revolutionary ideal advocating female empowerment.
As filmmaker Zaynê Akyol follows their highly regimented lives, seasoned fighters like Rojen and Sozdar openly share with us their most intimate thoughts and dreams.
Even as fighting against ISIS intensifies in the Middle East, these women bravely continue their battle against barbarism. Offering a window into this largely unknown world, Gulîstan, Land of Roses exposes the hidden face of this highly mediatized war: the female, feminist face of a revolutionary group united by a common vision of freedom.
About the PKK
Hungry for justice, they stand at the forefront of the fight for freedom in the Middle East. These young women, all weapons experts, belong to the armed wing of the PKK, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, which is also an active guerrilla movement. The group defends Kurdish regions besieged by military attacks from neighbouring countries. Today, these guerrillas are fighting Daesh (the armed Islamic State group) near the Iraqi and Syrian borders. The documentary Gulîstan, Land of Roses sheds light on the lives of these women who are collectively fighting for a revolutionary ideal. Many of them, particularly Rojen and Sozdar, invite us into their intimate moments and openly share their thoughts and dreams.
From their camp hidden away in the landmine-littered mountains of Kurdistan, the women lead a nomadic life according to guerrilla rules. Though their leader, Abdullah Öcalan, has been imprisoned by the Turkish regime since 1999, these PKK fighters continue on with their fight for a more just democratic system. Surrounded by wilderness, they undergo ideological and practical training before being sent out to the front lines. Their daily routine consists of a steady stream of political meetings, strategy lessons, physical training and weapons handling—all in a spirit of military camaraderie. By giving these women a voice, the film captures their ritualized activities as well as the emotional and intellectual bonds that unite them. As they open themselves to filmmaker Zaynê Akyol with poignant sincerity and authenticity, we become privileged witnesses of these moments suspended in time, stolen from the war.
Each woman has her own story. Twenty-three-year-old Rojen feels guilty for leaving her family behind to fight on the ground—especially her mother. But the call of the revolutionary movement was too strong. Despite the rigours of military discipline, she now feels at peace with the decision she made in secrecy. Rojen views her commitment as a token of solidarity toward all women, explaining that she enlisted in a movement that fights for their political education and emancipation from the pervasiveness of male power. Like the rest of her troop, Rojen is eagerly awaiting permission to go to war.
Sozdar, meanwhile, is older and has been involved in the party for a long time. She is a benevolent soul and in some ways, the group’s conscience. She’s also a sharpshooter who has fought in several battles and knows all too well the consequences of war. At times she faces the camera while conversing with the director. Set up in a makeshift shelter behind closed doors, the camera takes the place of a personal diary. Sozdar is an ardent feminist who considers woman to be the origin of everything. In her mind, woman represents the fundamental moral force; the one who gives birth to people. Sozdar also decries capitalism, calling it immoral and the root of oppression and sexism. As war approaches, Sozdar says she believes a truly democratic regime is coming to Kurdistan and that no sacrifice is too great for this ideal.
Gulîstan, Land of Roses is also a film about anticipation. With the enemy active and threatening in the distance, each woman dreams of one thing only: to uproot the Islamic State armed group from their territory. Though these seasoned fighters play a central role in the PKK, they also bring a different tone to the armed struggle. Amid rocky mountains and arid deserts, they are the future of a people and confidently serve the ideal to which they have dedicated their lives. As fighting against Daesh intensifies in the Middle East, these women stand in the front lines of the fight against barbarism. Offering a window into this largely unknown world, the film also exposes the hidden face of this highly mediatized war: the female, feminist face of a revolutionary group united by a common vision of freedom.
The Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) is primarily a Marxist-Leninist-influenced guerrilla movement fighting for the independence of predominantly Kurdish regions. It was founded in 1978 by Abdullah Öcalan and took up arms in 1984. Since 2005, the party has advocated a new political system called Democratic Confederalism, which calls for people’s self-management through direct democracy. The PKK is on the Canadian government’s list of terrorist organizations.
The Kurds are the largest group of stateless people in the world. Since the signing of the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923, they have been divided among Turkey (20 million), Iran (8 million), Iraq (6 million) and Syria (2 million). The term Kurdistan—which is used to designate the land of the Kurds—only became a legitimate term in 2005 in Iraq, following a referendum initiated by Massoud Barzani, president of this now autonomous region. Eighty percent of Kurds are Muslim, although other religions such as Alevism, Yazidism, Yarsanism, Christianity and Judaism are also practised by the Kurdish people.
Photo : Elif Uzun
Zaynê Akyol is an award-winning filmmaker of Kurdish origin who was born in Turkey and raised in Quebec. She studied at the Université du Québec à Montréal, where she obtained a bachelor’s degree in Communications, concentrating on film. In 2009, Akyol produced her first short documentary, Isminaz, which won the Jury Prize in the Radio-Canada International Roots competition. Akyol completed her degree by winning the René Malo Chair/National Film Board of Canada award for most promising documentary filmmaker. In 2010, she followed up with her medium-length documentary, Iki Bulut Arasinda (Under Two Skies), which won the Jury and People’s Choice awards at the Festival Vidéastes Recherché(e)s, as well as the Vox award at the Rendez-vous du cinéma québécois festival before touring the international festival circuit. Exile, immigration and expectation are at the heart of Akyol’s first film essays, which alternate between Quebec and Turkey.
Balancing practice with theory, Akyol is currently completing her master’s degree in Communications, concentrating on “film and moving images.” Her research focuses on creative and relational issues in documentary film, which she frequently encounters in her own filmmaking efforts. As part of her research, Akyol is producing a memoir entitled Shared Relation and Creation in Documentary Filmmaking. In 2012, Akyol devoted herself to writing her first feature documentary, Land of the Roses: My Name Is Gülistan, whose script-in-progress was selected from among 4,400 projects for the Doc Station (Berlinale Talents) at the Berlin International Film Festival. The film is now being released as Gulîstan, Land of Roses. With this highly personal look at the daily lives of women fighting in the ranks of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) against ISIS, Akyol addresses some of the political issues she occasionally lectures on. Akyol says this allows her to not only stay connected to her Kurdish roots but to also contemplate the state of the world at a time of increasingly global conflicts. The film is a co-production between Canada and Germany.
Photo : Dominic Berthiaume
Sarah received a bachelor’s degree in Cinema from the Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM) in 2010 and began her career in film as a coordinator at micro_scope, an independent feature-film production company. She eventually began producing films and founded her own production company, Colonelle Films, with partners Geneviève Dulude-De Celles (development) and Fanny Drew (administration, production). The company supports up-and-coming filmmakers and focuses on projects backed by a strong and singular creative vision. To date, Colonelle Films has produced seven shorts and three feature documentaries. These films received awards and have screened at various international festivals, including Sundance, Rotterdam, and TIFF, and was nominated at the Gala du Cinéma québecois and the Canadian Screen Awards.
Photo : Dominic Berthiaume
Fanny Drew studied at HEC Montréal, where she completed a Bachelor of Business Administration in 2008. She worked at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) before entering the world of producing as a production manager at Périphéria Productions. Her diverse experience gave rise to a new goal: to found her own production company. In 2012, she co-founded Colonelle Films with partners Geneviève Dulude-De Celles and Sarah Mannering. The company supports up-and-coming filmmakers and focuses on projects backed by a strong and singular creative vision. To date, Colonelle Films has produced seven shorts and three feature documentaries that have screened at various international festivals, including Sundance, Rotterdam, and TIFF, and received awards at the Gala du Cinéma québecois and the Canadian Screen Awards.
Producer – Executive Producer
Photo : Rémi Duperoux
Yanick Létourneau is CEO of Periphéria, a director-driven film production company that he co-founded in 2000, and which collaborates actively in co-productions with Latin America, Africa, Europe and the Middle East.
Létourneau is currently producing X Quinientos, a fiction feature by Juan Andrés Arango, in co-production with Septima (Colombia) and Machete (Mexico), as well as the feature-length documentary MTL New Wave, directed by Érik Çimon, and the début feature by Sophie Fortier, Exil au Far West. He recently completed production of Gulîstan, Land of Roses by Zaynê Akyol, co-produced by mîtosfilm (Germany) and the NFB. He is developing the feature-length films Passover, directed by Daniel Schachter and co-produced with Toronto-based Six Island; The Mercy of the Jungle, a drama by Rwandese filmmaker Joel Karekezi, in co-production with Néon Rouge (Belgium) and Tact (France); the philosophical comedy 12 Frames/Second, directed by Martin Laroche; and Roman Ruins by Meryam Joobeur, co-produced with Cinétéléfilms (Tunisia) and mîtosfilm (Germany).
Yanick Létourneau is an ACE (Ateliers du Cinéma Européen) member and a past participant in the Cannes Producers Network, Rotterdam Lab, TransAtlantic Partners, and Producers Lab Toronto. He sat on the boards of directors of the Montreal International Documentary Festival (RIDM, 2011–2015) and Hot Docs (2004–2012) and has been on the Doc Québec board since 2001. He has also been a member of the Conseil des arts et des lettres du Québec (CALQ) advisory committee since 2014.
Producer – Executive producer
Photo : Rémi Duperoux
Screenwriter and producer Mehmet Aktaş is the founder and director of Berlin-based mîtosfilm, a distribution and production company that specializes in international co-productions. Born in Turkey in 1966, Mehmet grew up in Istanbul and has been living in Berlin since 1995. Some of the most well-known films of his successful career as a writer-producer include Bahman Ghobadi’s No One Knows About Persian Cats (2009), winner of the Un Certain Regard prize at Cannes, and Song of My Mother by Erol Mintaş, which won the Best Film award at the Sarajevo Film Festival. Mehmet co-wrote the script for Hisham Zaman’s Letter to the King (2014), which won Best Screenplay at the Amanda Awards (Norway). He also produced and wrote the script for Shawkat Amin Korki’s Memories on Stone (2014), winner of the Abu Dhabi festival’s Best Film from the Arab World award and the UNESCO Award at the Asia Pacific Screen Awards. Memories on Stone was the official Iraqi entry for Best Foreign Language Film at the 88th Academy Awards.
Photo : Sophie Quevillon
Nathalie Cloutier studied Arts and Letters and collaborated on a number of theatre projects early in her career. But after participating in the 1998‒1999 edition of the TV show La Course destination monde, she made a turn towards filmmaking.
In 2003, Nathalie came to the NFB as a production coordinator and worked with teams in Studio A, the International Co-Production Unit and French Program’s Quebec Studio. She later went back to school, studying to be a producer in the documentary program at the Institut national de l’image et du son. After completing the program, she returned to the Film Board, where she has been a producer since 2010.
Nathalie has been involved in producing a number of interactive experiences, including the website The Hole Story Interactive, which accompanied the film The Hole Story, by Richard Desjardins and Robert Monderie; Here at Home, a multi-award-winning website about homelessness; and You, Me, and the Charter, an interactive project directed by Jérémie Battaglia and Vali Fugulin, in collaboration with Urbania magazine.
In addition to her work in interactive productions, Nathalie has also produced and co-produced a number of feature documentaries, including Ariel, by Laura Bari, The Wind at My Door, by Pierre Goupil and Rénald Bellemare, and Little Big Girls, by Hélène Choquette. In 2015, she launched three documentaries that distinguished themselves on the national and international scenes: Ève Lamont’s The Sex Trade; Amer Shomali and Paul Cowan’s The Wanted 18, which premiered at TIFF; and Sophie Deraspe’s The Amina Profile, whose world premiere was at the Sundance Film Festival.
Photo : NFB
Denis McCready has been working in the Quebec film and television industry since 1996. He started off directing commercials for music channel MusiquePlus before becoming head of advertising for MusiquePlus, MusiMax, Super Écran and Canal Indigo. The early 2000s saw McCready working with independent production companies, where he gained experience as a production director, line producer, and producer of documentaries, documentary series, and dramas.
No stranger to technical and creative challenges, McCready has produced low-budget auteur documentaries on subjects as diverse as dance, music, the environment and child trafficking, as well as big-budget documentary series dealing with science, exploration, and war. He has overseen shoots both in Canada and abroad, many in locations that are hard to access (the Arctic, NASA, the Russian space program) or dangerous (the Atacama and Mojave deserts, the giant Cave of Crystals in Naica, Mexico). He oversaw the production of hundreds of special-effects sequences for the series Mars Rising and produced and wrote the serious game L’or du golfe for the ICI Radio-Canada website. McCready has delivered HD programs for major broadcasters, including National Geographic (US and international), Discovery (Canada, US, Latin America), History (Canada), ARTE (France/Germany), NHK (Japan), CBC, Radio-Canada, Canal D, and Télé-Québec. In addition, he’s worked on a number of official international co-productions (Canada-France, Canada-Mexico).
McCready won several awards as the producer of Chercher le courant (including the RIDM Audience Choice Award and Gémeaux Award for Best Documentary: Society) and Bas! Au-delà du Redlight (NFB Colin Low Award at DOXA). The films he’s produced have screened at many international festivals, including Hot Docs, Visions du réel, the International Festival of Films on Art, NXNE, DOXA, the Montreal International Documentary Festival (RIDM), and the Vancouver International Film Festival. He has also produced two documentaries directed by Ian Jaquier: L’or du golfe, with Kevin Parent, and Kanata: Aujourd’hui la colonisation, as well as the powerful documentary MTL Punk: La première vague, by Érik Cimon and Alain Cliche.
McCready is currently Executive Producer for the NFB’s Canadian Francophonie Studio. Previously, he worked on many NFB short and feature-length documentaries and interactive projects as a producer for the Documentary Studio and the Institutional Program.
Executive Producer (NFB)
Photo : NFB
Colette Loumède began her career at the Coop Vidéo de Montréal, a group that has had a significant impact on Quebec cinema. Alongside Robert Morin, Lorraine Dufour, Jean-Pierre St-Louis, Louis Bélanger and others, she learned every aspect of the film trade long before becoming the veteran producer she is today.
Currently the head of the French Program Documentary Studio at the National Film Board of Canada (NFB), Loumède is known for producing documentaries that stand out for both their subject matter and artistry. Her productions have screened at many of the world’s top festivals, including Hot Docs, the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam (IDFA), the Berlin International Film Festival, Visions du réel, Sundance, and the Rencontres internationales du documentaire de Montréal (RIDM).
Loumède’s work is driven by a desire to produce films with meaningful content by auteurs intent on addressing the important issues of the day. She has worked with Serge Giguère, Richard Desjardins, Patricio Henriquez, Hugo Latulippe, Benoît Pilon, Sophie Deraspe, Zaynê Akyol, Claude Demers, Jean-François Caissy and many other contemporary Quebec directors.
Over the course of her career, Loumède has collaborated with a wide range of groups and people. She was responsible for analyzing documentary projects for SODEC, Quebec’s public film-financing body, and founded and led the documentary program at the Institut national de l’image et du son de Montréal (INIS), Quebec’s foremost professional cinema training institute. She is actively involved with the Documentary Network, RIDM and other festivals across multiple genres, and has regularly served on panels, juries, and many domestic and international platforms devoted to promoting auteur documentary.
Written and directed by
ROZA SILA NÛDA
Director of Photography
Sound Man Turkey
Sound Man Kurdistan (Iraq)
Additional Sound Recording
Production Managers Montreal
Production Manager Turkey & Iraq
SAID NUR AKKUŞ
Driver Kurdistan (Iraq)
Script Consultant Canada
Script Consultant Germany
Post Production Supervisor
Musical Excerpt From
“LE DINE” BY ELIF & REMZI
On-Line Editor (NFB)
Technical Support – Editing (NFB)
Foley Technician (NFB)
COLETTE LOUMÈDE (NFB)
NATHALIE CLOUTIER (NFB)
DENIS McCREADY (NFB)
A Canada-Germany coproduction
with the financial support of the
Programme d’aide aux jeunes créateurs – SODEC
In co-production with
NATIONAL FILM BOARD OF CANADA
About the NFB
The NFB is Canada’s public producer and distributor of award-winning documentaries, auteur animation, interactive stories and participatory experiences, working with talented creators across the country. The NFB is taking action to combat systemic racism and become a more open and diverse organization, while working to strengthen Indigenous-led production and gender equity in film and digital media. NFB productions have won more than 7,000 awards, including 12 Oscars. To access this unique content, visit NFB.ca.