Making Films in Indigenous Languages

As an Armenian from Iran, it has always been a dream to make films in my native Parskahay dialect, but the number of people who can connect to the unique dialect and culture is so thin, that it undermines the possibilities of reaching an even very niche audience or any type of financial breakthrough.

Watching the works of two other filmmakers who made films with the same concerns, I aim to discuss some details that might come useful to other filmmakers who are willing to make films about their own indigenous culture with focus on language. For the purpose I have compared Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s “Tropical Malady” (2004) with Bahman Ghobadi’s “A time for drunken horses” (2000).

The huge diversities inside many Asian nations have made it difficult for indigenous films to find a firm ground within majority of cinemagoers of a country. The 2004 Thai film “Tropical Malady” by Apichatpong Weerasethakul and The Iranian production “A time for drunken horses” (2000) directed by Bahman Ghobadi share similar faiths in the way they appeal rural and urban audiences as well as how in contrast they made it big in foreign film festivals. Both films convey the story of characters that do not deal with the social problems typical of capital cities such as Bangkok and Tehran. In fact they belong to rural areas where the spoken language in film is not of the same dialect that the population of the capital cities may even understand; a major setback to become a blockbuster hit. n Just like Bangkok minor celebrities who express their amusement about the film but fail to understand it, the Iranian so called intellectuals also started to praise the film only when it wins the best film award, Golden camera from Cannes. This late recognition brings a slight financial success for the films although Ghobadi’s film was screened only for a limited time in a few cinemas and “Tropical Malady” according to Apichatpong was screened in one cinema for three weeks. Both films revealed a taboo topic and subtle political references that led the directors to confront the authorities and censorship. Ghobadi being of Kurdish origins but an Iranian citizen tells the story of the hardships that the parentless children of a Kurd minority family bare in their encounter against the nature to stick together and Apichatpong conveys the love story between two men in two separate takes one entirely inside a forest where nature is the dominant element. Both films contextualize man vs nature conflict and this portrayal while comes from the heart of the ethnic directors, is still pretty far from the comprehension of the middle class Bangkokians and Tehranians who rarely find something in common between themselves in their air condition supplied apartments and Ayub fighting to drag a drunken mule in the freezing winter of Kurdistan or Keng stranded in the tropical woods of upcountry Thailand. The reaction of the people in rural areas to these films isn’t the same at all; The Kurdish population of the region passionately acclaims the film just as much as those upper Thailand native people or those who had a history of hunting in Borneo jungles were positive towards the Thai movie. Could this simply support the argument of imagined communities in deeper layers?