WASHINGTON DC (Kurdistan24) – The French writer, philosopher, and film director, Bernard-Henri Levy, was honored in Washington for two films about the Kurdish fight against the Islamic State (IS): “Peshmerga” and “The Battle of Mosul.”
The organization, America Abroad Media (AAM), last week, presented its award to Levy and three others as “outstanding filmmakers who are using their extraordinary talents to address issues of great importance” and “positively shape the ideas and values of the Middle East.”
In his speech accepting the AAM award, Levy gave a fascinating account of his work; what is most important to him; and what he seeks to achieve.
Levy explained to the AAM audience that he is a writer, before being a filmmaker, thereby, inadvertently, underscoring the unusual significance of his receiving an award for those two movies.
There are three conditions under which Levy trades his pen for the camera.
In expounding on those conditions, Levy reflected a deep sense of history and an understanding—which he, himself, acts upon—that we are not simply passive figures, watching events flow by.
Those events are shaped, fundamentally, by what human beings, like ourselves, do—for good, as well as for evil, and everything in between.
Levy conveys a profound conviction that we must not simply take for granted the good deeds and sacrifices of those who have shaped history for the better.
Much of Levy’s filmmaking is about memorializing such figures and their actions. His films deal with events that would otherwise “not be recorded,” as he explained.
When a documentary will allow “people deprived of everything, even their name,” Levy will take that up, producing a film that serves as “a place of memory” to living people who performed “some great deed” and who might otherwise pass forgotten and unknown.
Levy cited one of his own cameramen, who was seriously wounded shooting their films. “For me to make a documentary has this necessity: to give a place in the memory of all of us” to those who would otherwise be “faceless.”
The third circumstance in which Levy makes movies is when he has “the feeling” a film might help, even a little, “to change something in the course of history.”
Thus, the significance of the fact that the two films for which he was honored—“Peshmerga” and “The Battle of Mosul”—were screened at the US Congress and the UN General Assembly.
“Some prominent” European leaders watched the films as well, Levy explained, but “alas, not in America,” hinting at some failure of vision and understanding in Washington.
Levy ended his acceptance speech by explaining that the subjects of his documentaries were also their heroes, and Gen. Sirwan Barzani, “who appears at length in the two films is one of the true heroes of our times.”
“That’s why, tonight, this award is theirs,” he concluded.
At the AAM awards ceremony, Kurdistan 24 asked Levy about his efforts to have a statue in honor of the Peshmerga erected in New York City. He explained it was a “long process,” as there were many such requests, “but I’m confident that we will succeed.”
Levy declined to speak about his next project, although he has several in mind. But when asked how he became interested in the Kurds, he replied that the plight of the Kurds has been a long-standing concern.
“From the time of Danielle Mitterrand,” the wife of Francois Mitterrand, who served as French President from 1981 to 1995, there has been “a bond of life, of brotherhood between our two nations,” Levy said.
From the early 1980s, she took a special interest in the Kurds, helping to found the Paris Kurdish Institute; protesting Saddam Hussein’s genocidal Anfal campaign, including the use of chemical weapons in Halabja; and then, in 1991, playing a key role in prodding the US, France, and Britain to undertake Operation Provide Comfort to bring millions of Kurds down from the mountains, where they had fled fearing Saddam’s revenge, after US President George H.W. Bush gave Baghdad a green light to crush the popular uprisings that followed the 1991 Gulf War.
Levy added, however, that “this love for the Kurdish people and the Kurdish cause” accelerated in 2014, “when I realized, as did many Westerners, what the Kurds were doing to protect us against ISIS.”
“Then, I decided to spend a big part of my time” with them, Levy continued, and “to make these two movies, ‘Peshmerga’ and ‘The Battle of Mosul.’”
Asked if producing the films had changed his view of the Kurds, Levy replied, “No,” as I have always admired them, “but it changed my way of seeing life and death.”
Levy was introduced at the awards ceremony by Gen. Michael Hayden, former CIA Director, who, himself, is very sympathetic to Kurdish aspirations.
“I was very honored” that “I had the opportunity to introduce the award for Bernard-Henri Levy and to see some excerpts from his wonderful films,” Hayden told Kurdistan 24.
Hayden has spent time in the Kurdistan Region, as he explained, adding that “Americans have a great friendship with the Kurdish people” and have a “great opportunity to see the heroism of the Peshmerga” in Levy’s two films.
Hayden also shared his views about Iran, expressing his concern about “many things Iran is doing in the region.” While not opposing the sanctions that the Trump administration has placed on Iran, he noted that “the great strength” of the previous sanctions was that “they were international sanctions.”
Today’s sanctions, however, “are just American sanctions” and the challenge will be getting “the rest of our friends and allies to be supportive of what we’re doing.”
Finally, Hayden cautioned against any precipitous US withdrawal from Syria and the region as a whole.
“We need to completely defeat Daesh,” he said, using the Arabic acronym for IS, “but beyond that, we need to take care of the conditions on the ground that allowed Daesh to rise in the first place.”
“That needs a continued American interest and involvement in the region,” Hayden continued. “Not necessarily combat power, but American using its influence and power to make the region better.”
Editing by Nadia Riva