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Sidik and the Panther: In the Middle of Time
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Sidik and the Panther (2019) a documentary Film

Sidik and the Panther (2019) a documentary Film
Firat Yucel
If Reber Dosky’s Sidik and the Panther (2019) is a documentary about nature, we shall start to tell the story from the middle. Not the beginning or end, but the midway or in the midst of. For that nature, these mountains, these trees, these animals have no beginning or an end. Or rather let’s say, the ideas of beginning and ending are unknown to them.
Sidik and the Panther, in all its visual representations of the mountains of Kurdistan in northern Iraq, makes the viewer keenly aware of this insight. Dosky along with his companions on this journey – the talented cinematographer Roy van Egmond, the sound recorders, and the film’s star MuhammedSidik Barzani, who has been searching for a leopard for 25 years in these mountains – are all in a way passers-by. They are not the beholders of this story for that the leopard was here before them, has seen many of the things they haven’t seen.
So, let’s start somewhere from the middle of the film, where something unexpected happens. We hear the voice of the director, one of the eyes behind the camera. It’s unexpected because until this point, the film carries an observational style: we don’t feel the existence of the film crew or the camera until this moment, when the film reflects its craft.
Dosky asks Sidik for a favor: “could you write something for me?” He then tells him about his grandfather, and Sidik writes in his small notebook: “On the White Mountain, near Zakho and the village, near the spring…”
This is the place where the Ba’athists, Saddam Hussein’s troops, killed Mehemo Rasho, the director’s grandfather, and the other peshmerga who were fighting alongside him on 24-01-1975.
Perhaps not the exact spot, but there’s no need for an exact spot: the mountains are broad, absolute, and timeless. And in these infinite hills, Dosky’s story is not the first one we hear. Many people that Sidik and the film crew encounter on the way share similar stories of longings, aspirations, expectations from future.
We also see people mourning, next to real or symbolic gravestones. Each have their own rituals of commemoration. A teacher visits the spring that his late father used to visit. An elderly man talks about his father and two brothers who disappeared in 1975. He talks about Kurdish people who were killed by Ba’athists, who have no graves, not even memorials.
Through these encounters, Sidik becomes more like an intermediary between these stories and the viewer, rather than a protagonist in a pursuit. Just like Sidik, who records wild animals with “trap cameras” carefully installed on trees, the film positions itself as a medium for sharing the stories of the people encountered on the way.
The patient editing of the film (by Stefan Kamp) confirms this by investing time in the gestures of salutation and farewell. Every time the conversation comes to an end between Sidik and his interlocutor, what would have been most probably cut from another documentary fills the screen and the filmic time, namely the point of departure between two men saying goodbye to each other after a satisfying conversation.
All the people Sidik meets on the mountain are men, yet there’s also a beautiful scene, in which women sing an elegy and tens of women lament for the dead and dance on the hills. Just after this scene, we hear lines from Sidik’s notebook: “Water flows from our springs… Nightingales sing to the flowers… And the bees will make honey… The leopard with its black spots will surely soon return…”
Sidik and the Panther is surely a film about the beauty of nature. But not just the beauty of course. It’s also about interdependency between humans, animals, and nature and how this is torn apart not just by industrial capitalism but also by the war technologies that go hand in hand with it.
The leopard doesn’t signify the unspoiled nature, it’s not a cry out to a form of primitive fantasy or a dream of a preindustrial time filled with nostalgia. It’s rather a symbol of utopic imagination, a future with no wars on Kurdish mountains and no nation-states benefiting from it.
This at times paints the film’s depiction of nature with a tone of romantic holism. Concepts like revival, rejuvenation, and spring are utterly attached to the possible appearance of the leopard, as if it’s a kind of ‘animal messiah’ for Kurdish people.
Yet amidst this utopianism, Sidik and the Panther never cuts its ties with irony – in one scene, a young man wags his finger at the landscape and asks Sidik, “can this beauty find me a job?” – and materiality. As Sidik points out regularly, his search has a useful goal: if it’s proved that his homeland has leopards, it can be declared as a national park, and in that case, Sidik hopes, “nobody would dare bomb it.”
That is also perhaps why the film has, so to say, a “scientific” ending in contrast to its lyrical tonalities. Near the end we see two men arguing: Sidik and a hunter chasing goats. He asks the hunter, “do you want to destroy all this again? This place our ancestors protected and our enemies destroyed?” and confiscates his gun by force.
At this point, Dosky masterfully shifts the narrative. We suddenly see a woman on her own, standing on the same rocks on which Sidik had stood, installing trap cameras just like him. All of a sudden, we find ourselves out of the mountains, watching an academic presentation by the same woman, Hana Raza, an expert on wild animals researching the Persian leopard in the Zagros mountains.
Though it’s not just a change in scenery. With Raza’s words, the rhetoric shifts from finding the leopard to the return of the leopards. “When I was sure the leopard was back, I felt a period of peace and stability was coming back,” Raza says. In her words the human is no longer at the center, the searching is no longer the precursor of things to come.
In line with Dosky’s previous documentary Radio Kobanî, which focuses on the reconstruction of life in Kobane after the defeat of ISIS, Sidik and the Panther also engages with the idea of a new beginning.
Yet all in all, it’s the sudden but elegant semantic shifts between destruction and revival, ideal and material, return and search, man and woman, human and post-human, and values attached to these concepts that challenge our presumptions. This makes the film not just a poetical but also a political tale about nature and hope.
When the film ends, one feels that we are not approaching the apocalypse, but rather somewhere in the middle of time, and the wish for peace in the Kurdistan Region and the Middle East is just a step, not forward, not backward, just a small step.
Sidik and the Panther in Festivals
IDFA (international Documentary Festival, Amsterdam), winner 2019.
Duhok International Film Festiva,l winner 2021.
Trento Film Festival 2022, winner.
Banff Centre Mountain Film and Book Festival.
München International Film Festival.
Fırat Yucel is a film critic and a filmmaker. He co-founded Altyazı Monthly Cinema Magazine in 2001, and worked as the magazine’s editor in chief since then. He co-directed Kapalı Gişe (Only Blockbusters Left Alive, 2016), worked as the co-editor of the documentaries Welcome Lenin and Audience Emancipated: The Struggle for the Emek Movie Theater in 2016. In 2019, he co-directed Heads and Tails with Aylin Kuryel.[1]
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[1] Website | English | kurdistanchronicle.com 11-02-2023
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Group: Articles
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Publication date: 11-02-2023 (1 Year)
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Added by ( Hazhar Kamala ) on 27-08-2023
This article has been reviewed and released by ( Ziryan Serchinari ) on 29-08-2023
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