Gulistan, Land of Boredom

The 2016 Hot Docs festival is currently on, with a few days of programming left (the festival began on April 28 and runs to May 8).

I enjoy documentaries and eagerly scanned the schedule when it was released.

Gulistan, Land of Roses immediately caught my eye with this description on the festival website:

“Female Kurdish guerrillas fighting the Islamic State have received a lot of media coverage—but you’ve never seen these revolutionary women portrayed like this. With painterly beauty, filmmaker Zaynê Akyol brings us into the lives of an all-female brigade. Each shot is carefully composed, a considerable feat given that most of the film takes place in the rough mountains and deserts of Kurdistan. The battlefield is one of the only places these women can escape constricting gender roles. Fierce and proud, they instill fear in their enemy, not only for their bravery and skill, but also because, for Daesh (also known as ISIS) soldiers, dying at the hands of a woman means they’ll never reach paradise. In turn, the women live in fear of being taken as spoils of war, believing that “every woman left to the mercy of man is condemned to slavery.””

Yes! A true story about empowered women fighting against social/cultural/political/religious (?) oppression for the safety and freedom of their people, their lives, their future– sounds fascinating and exciting right? I bought my ticket, and last night, went to see this film.

The description you read above — that was the most interesting part of the entire cinematic experience. I had never fallen asleep in a theatre, but Gulistan, Land of Roses changed this for me. I dozed off a few times and I didn’t even feel bad about it, because the woman seated behind me was (loudly) snoring away. Her snores were all the more noticeable because there were long periods of silence and minimal sound during the film. I stared at the screen, listened to this woman’s snores and thought about popcorn (I didn’t buy any because movie theatre popcorn is so overpriced and I already paid $20.00 for my ticket. I’m living on a budget).

For a film with such an interesting premise, Gulistan, Land of Roses turned out to be an absolute bore. You meet some of the female fighters at the start of the film – learn their names, what they name their guns – it’s all very promising – but then NOTHING happens and you don’t see them again. Where did they go? How and why did these young women join the guerrilla group? What do their families think? Do they work closely with men and what’s the dynamic there? You learn very little about their lives, motivations, back stories…and instead listen to one woman (the leader of the brigade) go on and on in a rather self important way…about what, I do not know. She was repetitive and uninteresting and I just lost all will to follow along after a while. Also there’s no actual fighting. Fine.

I know this review is harsh and I don’t like to or want to shit on someone’s art (and certainly not on the film’s subjects or their cause), but I thought this was a terrible documentary. There’s probably a story in there somewhere, but I just could not make it out. I’m trying to figure out if I actually learned anything last night, but all I can recall is sheer boredom and I don’t even want to think about this film anymore. I wish I still had my $20.00. And popcorn. The caramel kind.

Why this film was called “Gulistan, Land of Roses” also escaped me. Apparently one of the women in the brigade has/had a sister named Gulistan…I really could not follow what was going on and this was not well-explained. My friend Robyn (who was totally awake), also didn’t get it (I say this to prove that I’m not a clueless idiot).

I found an alternate description of the film on the production company’s page, and HOW I WISH this story was actually relayed in this movie:

Land of roses, my name is Gülistan is a documentary that tells about the mysterious journey of Gülistan, a young woman who left Canada, her adopted country, to enlist in the Kurdish guerillas. She fought with her comrades until her death in 2000. From Canada to the borders of Turkey and Iraq the film retraces the steps leading to Gülistan’s tragic death. Who was she? What really happened to her? What were her reasons for joining the guerillas? Director Zayne Akyol happens to be looking for her ancient babysitter Gülistan right at the time during summer 2014, when Islamic State attacks Kurdistan and its neighbour regions. Land of roses, my name is Gülistan is a search for meaning and an intimate portrait of an insurgent whose unusual fate evokes the journey and identity of an entire people.”

Hopefully I’ll have better luck/make better choices at next year’s Hot Docs festival.

RATING: The cure for insomnia

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