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Director's Statement

Iraqi men fill our television screens— politicians, peshmerga, pundits—we’ve seen them all.  But where are the women? Iraq is a civilized and educated society whose roots go into ancient time. Women have been a part of the action there since long ago.

In 2000, veteran of many Iraqi peace missions Frances “Sissy” Farenthold, author, filmmaker, and Iraqi Shia expert Elizabeth Warnock “B. J.” Fernea, and I decided that putting a face on the women of the Middle East should be a major priority of the newly founded Smothers Bruni Foundation. We further decided that video and film best served this purpose. With that in mind, we formed and funded SB Productions, LLC., wholly owned by the Smothers Bruni Foundation.

The failing situation in Baghdad dictated that we could only work freely in the north at that time. Thus the Zhinan (Kurdish for women) project was born. Our mission was to explore, document and present to the world the realities of Kurdish women. This would include Christians, Yezidis and other groups, as well as Kurds, who inhabited the region under the Kurdistan Regional Government of Iraq.

Quest for Honor, SB Productions’ first film in the Zhinan series, opened in competition at Sundance Film Festival in 2009, played in festivals and conferences around the world and was declared one of 2010’s ten most important documentaries by the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences.

Other SB Prouctions’ films include Lalish: Holy City of the Yezidis, which premiered at the Explorers’ Club 2013 Annual Dinner Weekend.

All of SB Productions’ footage of film is cloned and archived at the Human Rights Documentation Initiative at the University of Texas Libraries.

Zhinan: Architects of the New Iraq was a mission of exploration and discovery. The stories that we eventually filmed came about slowly. We did not craft them. We discovered them. Along with the exploration and discovery, we documented and we filmed. We have over 1000 hours of footage documenting life in Iraqi Kurdistan, as well as interviews with women judges, politicians, physicians, and poets.

Kurds were on both sides of our cameras—busy at work as cameramen, assistant directors, story consultants, production managers, advisors and translators. We let them tell their own story and reveal themselves without explanations or interruptions from outsiders or experts.

SB Productions experiences and contacts in Kurdistan have enabled us to produce a nuanced version of Kurdish, the amazing roles they have assumed in the recovery from Saddam’s brutal genocidal attempt on the Kurds and the rebuilding of Iraqi Kurdistan .

I hope that Zhinan: Architects of the New Iraq will bring the men and women of Iraqi Kurdistan to life in their full complexity for an international audience and educate all people about the vast process of cultural change taking place in Iraqi Kurdistan and similar places.

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