There’s a point in Apo W. Bazidi’s documentary RESISTANCE IS LIFE (Berxwedan Jiyane in Kurdish) where a volunteer, just finished performing for the children in a refugee camp, says “we are going to win this war with smiling children.”
His assertion represents two of the major themes of the documentary: one is the fierce resistance of the Kurdish people, exiled from their homes and living in refugee camps on the Syrian-Turkish border. The other is the livelihoods of the children, running and playing with smiling faces, despite the vicious circumstances surrounding them. Nowhere do we see this more than in the brave, jovial face of eight year-old Evlin, the incredible figure at the centre of the film.
Evlin and her family have been forced to live in a refugee camp after ISIS attacked their village in northern Syria. Her father, Aladdin, initially stayed to fight (the courage displayed here is a distinctive trait), but has since joined them. One of the startling things in RESISTANCE IS LIFE is the contrast between the parents’ description of events and their children’s: when Evlin’s mother emotionally depicts the horrors of moving from their village to Turkey, her son chimes in afterwards, ‘you didn’t say we made it’, with a wide grin. It is a touching moment, filled with pain and sanguinity.
The children in this film are all stoic, cheerful characters. Where you would expect blind innocence, they give a rather frank, impassive commentary on their circumstances. RESISTANCE IS LIFE doesn’t need to show scenes of horror, gunshots or bombing to strike its audience with alarm- it simply shows a young child eagerly leading a cameraman to a fallen rocket, right in the middle of a war zone.
The film’s strength lies in its allowance on the Kurdish people to tell their own story.
Horror, however, is not the prime focus of this documentary. The clue to the overall theme of RESISTANCE IS LIFE is in the film’s title. Most of the refugees in Evlin’s community are from the city of Kobane, immediately south of the Syrian-Turkish border. Extremely proud of their homeland, Bazidi exhibits the love for their city throughout, using stories from a variety of individuals from the community. Kobane was a battleground; resistance movements quickly sprung after the ISIS siege in 2014, as citizens refused to give up on the fight for their city. RESISTANCE IS LIFE doesn’t dwell on outside forces or the complicated politics behind the Syrian crisis; it focuses on this community and their experiences. Disregarding a brief instance where the history of Kurdistan is explained, the film’s strength lies in its allowance on the Kurdish people to tell their own story.
The film rightfully highlights the feminist spirit of the resistance, showing the women and their own resistance movement, which plays a huge part in the battle for Kobane. They say that no one has stood for women in Syria, so horrendously treated by ISIS, so they will stand for themselves. This radiates from the adults who fight for the YPJ (Women’ Protection Units), right down to the young girls like Evlin, equally defiant and admirable.
It is to Evlin that RESISTANCE IS LIFE constantly returns. She is the admirable figure at its centre, inspires tremendous emotion and awe. Taking pictures in order to be ‘like a journalist’, her photos are often used as stills in the film, to show ‘the pain’ around her. Evlin nevertheless goes further and demonstrates the spirit around her, from her valiant words to her emotive, joyful expressions. An inspiring force, she is a wonderful icon in the community.
There is sadness and horror in the story of Kobane, but Bazidi chooses to show an uplifting element to the city and its people. Their resistance to terror is the heart of RESISTANCE IS LIFE – making it an astonishing, rousing watch for all audiences.
See RESISTANCE IS LIFE on Saturday 21 at 15.00 and Monday 23 at 12.15 at the Arts Picturehouse.