Dutch Kurdish filmmaker wins top photography award in Netherlands

Beri Shalmashi with her father in Gewrede (Photo: Beri Shalmashi)
Beri Shalmashi with her father in Gewrede (Photo: Beri Shalmashi)

ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – Dutch Kurdish screenwriter and film director Beri Shalmashi and documentary film researcher Lyangelo Vasquez have won the top Dutch photography award Zilveren Camera (Silver Camera) 2020 in the Story Telling category for an interactive documentary about Kurdish refugees who fled Iran.

The online documentary 'Big Village' tells the story of Iranian Kurdish refugees living in a village called Gewredê in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, where Shalmashi spent the first years of her childhood.

Vasquez co-directed the documentary.

“Thankful to everyone who helped us recreate this significant time in Kurdish (and in my personal) history, thank you for your trust, belief and the love you have all given to this,” Shalmashi, said in a tweet on Monday after she heard of the nomination.

The jury's verdict was unanimous: “Everything about this project is right: the journalistic story and the amazing interface, which makes very good use of the kaleidoscopic narrative form,” said Sara Kolster, an interactive director who specializes in digital storytelling, and this year’s Jury Chairwoman for the Prize for Story Telling.

“The story of Big Village takes place in a place and time that only remains in memory. In an immersive 360º illustrated environment, the village of Gewredê and its old inhabitants are brought to life by means of archive material and interviews.”

“You will be drawn into their personal stories and gain insight into the underlying political conflict that caused a large community of Kurds to now live in diaspora. The story is told in a personal and innovative way. There is a good balance between illustrations, photography, video, archive material and design. The whole can be viewed online and is told in doses by a few main characters. They take you to a world that everyone should know existed,” she concluded.

After receiving the prize, Shalmashi expressed her elation with the unanimous jury verdict in a tweet. “I am so happy to be understood in what you are trying to make. So proud of team BigVillageStory,” she wrote on Thursday.

The prize includes a cash award of €5,000. 

Although she was born in France and raised in the Netherlands, Shalmashi’s family has Iranian-Kurdish heritage. She graduated from the Netherlands Film Academy in Amsterdam as a script writer and director. She also completed a master’s degree in directing at the Utrecht School of Arts.

Shalmashi moved to the Kurdistan Region in 2012 to teach at Salahaddin University-Erbil and  work on directing new films. However, in the aftermath of the ISIS attack on the Region in August 201, life dramatically changed. She decided to return to Amsterdam in 2015 during the ongoing war.

In 2018 she released the short film “Shouted from the rooftops,” filmed in the Kurdistan Region.

In addition to her work as a movie director, she is a columnist for the Dutch Volkskrant newspaper, where she writes about various topics, including the Kurdish question.

Editing by Joanne Stocker-Kelly