Interview with Mano Khalil in "Taste of Honey"

Thu Mar 14,2013

Kurdish-Syrian director talks about his new film TASTE OF HONEY

There’s always something to talk about with Kurdish-Syrian director Mano Khalil, who directs a new film every year – at a pace that few others can match.

Khalil’s films have one thing in common: their focus on human beings in conflict, who are often torn between two worlds as is in the case of DAVID THE TOLHILDAN, in which a young Swiss man abandons his family in Switzerland to join the PKK (Kurdistan's Workers Party).

To date, he has made 12 documentary films that document the devastating effect of wars and massacres, with a special focus on Iraqi Kurdistan. His characters are usually people in exile, possibly reflecting something from his own life, since he left Syria, his homeland, in 1986. Khalil studied fiction and film direction in Czechoslovakia, but currently lives in Switzerland, where he has been working for Swiss TV.

When it comes to exploring the lives of the Kurds as a people, Khalil is able to portray harsh realities, as he has in his winning documentary AL ANFAL: FRAGMENTS OF LIFE AND DEATH, which was showcased at the fourth Gulf Film Festival (GFF) in 2010. The film highlighted the ongoing involvement of the Arab Socialist Ba'ath Party in Iraq during Saddam Hussein's rule and its instructions (through the Anfal campaign) to rage a genocidal war against the Kurdish people in Iraq led by Hassan Ali Al-Majid. He used archived photos of the massacres as well as focused on the survivors and their stories.

Latest film ‘a docudrama’

His newest film TASTE OF HONEY, which was produced by the Swiss TV and Franco-German ARTE TV channel, won first prize at the Solothurn Film Festival, the most important festival of its kind in Switzerland. He’s taken a slightly different approach to the film, opting to create a fiction feature that is still a documentary or as he says “a docudrama.” According to him, it’s the story that dictates the narrative approach. “The film is narrated by the main character as a voice-over as he shares his thoughts and observations while the audience can see his life and actions and garner their own understanding aside from his comments.”

Summarising Khalil’s take on the film, TASTE OF HONEY is the story of a Kurdish beekeeper, who is based in the Al Bustan area on the Syrian-Turkish borders. During the 90s, he was producing nearly 18 tonnes of honey while always staying on the move in mountains and valleys, searching for bees and ways to make more honey.

In 1993, war broke out between the PKK and the Turkish army, changing the beekeeper’s life as, on the one hand, his son joins the PKK and, on the other, he is forced into becoming an informer for the Turkish army. Faced with the conflict, he flees to the mountain, while his family – his wife and 10 children – escape to Istanbul.

Things, however, don’t get any easier for him. His wife commits suicide in Istanbul by throwing herself from the window of her house and two of his sons are jailed, after which they flee to London.

Finally, a humanitarian organisation steps in and takes his seven children to Switzerland, where the beekeeper is reunited with nine of his children. One of his sons, however, is missing. When posed with the question of what the beekeeper would do now that he is in Switzerland, Khalil says, “He will return to beekeeping, although this work is more of a hobby in Switzerland. He receives 3000 Francs from the Swiss government to buy furniture for his apartment, but he takes this money to buy bees and goes to live in the Alps, surrounded by a group of Swiss friends. Unable to speak the language, he communicates with them through gestures and facial expressions. "

Discussing how fictional the story is, Khalil say, “The fact is, it’s more imaginative than imagination."

As for the missing tenth son, Khalil says he manages to find out about him during the filming of the movie. "I communicated with the missing son on July 28, 2012. I got pictures of him and shared them with the beekeeper and his family. I knew that he had become one of the PKK fighters, but on August 18 2012, I received news that he was killed." Khalil says he tried to hide this tragic news from the beekeeper, but he got to know about the death of his son via a Kurdish newspaper published in Berne.

Feature film in future

When asked about the projects he is currently working on, Khalil says, his is in the process of shooting his movie THE SWALLOW, which will be his first feature film. He says he will begin filming in Iraqi Kurdistan in June. The movie is the story of a young woman’s return from Switzerland to Kurdistan in search of her father, 30 years after parting from him.
Undoubtedly, there’ll be more to look out for from Khalil, who doesn’t show any signs of slowing down anytime soon.

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