Hani al-Gamal – Cairo
Film director Ali Badrakhan is committed to the Kurdish cause and uses cinema in an inspirational context.
The 73-year-old is one of Egypt’s most celebrated cinema directors. Some of his films were landmarks of Egyptian and Arab cinema for decades. The eleven feature films he directed and the dozens of other works he either directed or co-directed never failed to impress audiences, not only in Egypt but everywhere in the Arab world.
Badrakhan discovers the stars: he has created inspirational films and has been behind some of the most important works that have been produced in the history of Egyptian and Arab cinema. However, being appreciative of a little personal and historical context serves to explain how and why he is committed to the Kurdish cause.
Badrakhan’s father, Ahmed Badrakhan, was also a cinema director and hails from the Kurdish Kikan tribe which ruled the kingdom of Bhutan since the time of the Umayyads and until the Ottomans occupied it.
His great great grandfather, Badrakhan Pasha, was a resistance hero against the Ottomans. His army defeated the Ottoman army in many battles, but he finally was defeated by them and was expelled to Crete. Badrakhan Pasha spent ten years in exile before returning home. However, many of his children and grandchildren moved to other countries. Some of them came to Egypt where they settled in the cities of Beni Sueif and Fayoum.
The Badrakhans gained wealth and rose to power by assuming important positions in the government and became popular. However, the nationalization of the wealth and properties of major land owners in the 1960’s brought them close to breaking point financially. These were the circumstances and historical contexts which influenced Ali Badrakhan. He joined the Higher Cinema Institute after finishing high school.
After graduation, he directed a number of documentary films and then began to assist some of Egypt’s most important cinema directors, such as Youssef Chahin. By the time Badrakhan began his directing career in mainstream films, he had acquired enough experience to make a name for himself and he went on to establish a great reputation in cinema direction. He has a huge number of films to his name, including Karnak, a film that reflects his personal experience with imprisonment in 1974. Badrakhan was arrested and imprisoned for ten days for joining the protests against a visit to Egypt by then American president Richard Nixon.
Inside prison, he was lucky enough to meet some of Egypt’s cultural celebrities, including renowned Egyptian composer Sheikh Emam and well-known colloquial poet Ahmed Fouad Negm. “This was a very rich experience”, he told MedyaNews. “It just introduced me to people that I would never have met outside of prison”.
Brief as it was, his experience of imprisonment also left its mark on Badrakhan who had just returned from Italy where he pursued studies through a scholarship.
He married acting sensation Soad Hosni who also has Kurdish origins. During their marriage, Badrakhan and Hosni observed Kurdish traditions to the letter. “We just kept these traditions alive every day”, he said. Behind his observation of these traditions is Barakhan’s obsession with his Kurdish roots.
He never stops contacting fellow Kurds in Syria and Iraq. He calls his brothers in Qamishli, Afrin and Iraqi Kurdistan on almost a daily basis. He always responds promptly to requests for advice from Kurdish artists. He dreams of making a film about Kurdish leader Mustafa Barzani and his struggle for Kurdish statehood. “This is something that deserves my effort”, he said.
A few years ago, Badrakhan founded a cinema academy with the aim of passing on his vast film directing expertise to budding learners and cinema students. He hopes that those coming through his academy will include Kurdish cinema professionals in the coming period. “I hope that my academy can be at the service of Kurdish cinema students and professionals”, he noted. “There is an urgent need for the presence of a new generation of Kurds who can defend the Kurdish cause and document Kurdish history. This can best be done by cinema”.