On 8 June 2016, Lévy’s documentary Peshmerga premiered in Paris theaters after receiving an ovation at the Cannes Film Festival, where it was shown as an Official Selection on 20 May 2016. A war film and wake-up call, Peshmerga was filmed in the second half of 2015 on the front lines of the face-off between the Kurdish troops and Daesh. Bernard-Henri Lévy and his team captured live the major battles in and around Kirkuk, Mosul, and Sinjar. The documentary’s exclusive images of territory held by Daesh and aerial footage of the city of Mosul taken by drones flying at low altitude are the first of their kind in this conflict.
Director: Bernard-Henri Lévy
Runtime: 1 hr 32 mins
“An intellectually gripping tribute to Kurdish fighters battling Isis. Bernard-Henri Lévy travels into Iraq to document the Kurdish forces taking on Isis – and praises their commitment to equality as well as their bravery”.
“A breathtaking war film gloriously shot from Lévy’s long journey along the front lines of Isis”.
The Sunday Times
“It’s rare to attend a screening in Cannes whose guests of honor include several decorated war generals and a singer known as the “Kurdish Madonna,” but that was the case for the premiere of Peshmerga, Bernard Henri-Levy’s gripping and somewhat flowery combat documentary.”
The Hollywood reporter
“This film offers a close-up look at the Kurdish Peshmerga fighters”
The Cannes Film festival organizers
From July to December 2015, Bernard-Henri Lévy and a team of cameramen travelled the 1000 kilometres of the frontline that separates Iraqi Kurdistan from Daesh’s troupes.
From this journey, comes a logbook in images that offers a privileged view of a war that is unfinished but whose stakes are of global importance. In close quarters with the Peshmergas, these Kurdish fighters who show unfailing determination in their fight against obscurantism and jihadi fundamentalism, the film takes us from the heights of Mosul to the heart of the Sinjar Mountains passing on the way via the last Christian monasteries threatened with destruction.
Many remarkable characters make their mark on this account, men and women of an ilk one rarely encounters.
“This whole story started in spring 2015.
I directed a documentary in Iraqi Kurdistan.
I brought six of the commanding officers to Paris. Men who struck me by their determination, courage, solitude and position in the heart of the combat on the frontline in the global war against Daesh.
The minute they arrived, they wanted to go straight to the Bataclan to show their respects and then to the Hypercacher kosher superette at Porte de Vincennes.
We spent hours discussing how to counter this rapidly expanding terrorist threat.
And the idea came up that even if Daesh is a force that can strike anywhere at any time by surprise, and that even if this new enemy is most often elusive and invisible, there is a place in this world where it has its bases, its commanders, its training and command camps, its back bases – and that, there, on the other hand, it is within reach of attack.
That place, was the “Islamic State”.
With me, I had some of the “Peshmergas” (literally: “those who stand in the face of death”) who were physically involved in the combats against those assassins.
That’s how the idea came about to go and meet these legendary warriors, to share, as much as possible, their hopes, their dreams, their daily lives, their fight, and in order to do that, follow the long frontline which from the South to the North, from the border with Iran to the border with Syria, runs a thousand kilometres and separates them from the jihadis. And based on this journey, we would make a film.
Our agreement was clear.
We wanted to see everything.
We wanted to record everything.
We wanted access to the command rooms, operating theatres, outposts.
We wanted to be right in the midst of things; as close as possible to the attacks.
And with no restrictions whatsoever, we would tell the story of what we would see.
The Peshmergas gave us their trust.
So from early July 2015 to the end of November, they made it possible for us to follow them.
We didn’t do the journey all in one go, of course.
There were breaks; we went back and forth to Paris, returned to certain places.
There were moments where our desire to understand and our love for this people whose spirit and history we were learning of led us to go out of our way to meet for example with a Dominican priest saving Aramaic manuscripts, to see the tomb of a biblical prophet or an army doctor carrying out an operation.
But on the whole, we filmed along the length of this 1000 kilometre front line.
We filmed the strategists drawing up their plans of attack; the captains exhorting their troupes to be disciplined and courageous; we saw six battles (Al Murah at the start of July; Albu Najim at the end of August; Albu Mohamad on September 10th; Muzrya on the 30th; Sultan Abdullah plain in October; and finally the Sinjar); we filmed the faces of hundreds of men and women volunteers of a war they hadn’t wanted, that they do not like but that they are winning; except in two places(“Hajjar” and Magdid Harki’s last battle). All of these images are ours and this road movie tells the story of what we experienced.
I say “We”.
I say it here, but also in the narrative that accompanies the film.
Because, if a film is always, as a matter of principle, a collective adventure, this one is more so than any other.
The point of view expressed is mine, of course.
The opinions expressed are also mine and thus my personal point of view.
I’m obsessed by the idea of an “Enlightened Islam” that I’ve been seeking ever since I came of age and that I have never come so close to seeing as here in this mainly Muslim land where Christians from the plains of Niniveh are taken in and protection is given to the Yazidis; and where the people are so proud to show the last traces of the Jews that ethnic and religious purification of the region has not managed to erase.
But for the rest, there is not a sound, not an image, not a scene of this film that does not belong, fully, to those who made it with me.
Gilles Hertzog, of course, who, without mentioning the numerous documentaries we have made together over the past forty years, had already co-written “Bosna” and “Le Serment de Tobrouk”.
François Margolin, an outstanding director who is also a friend and who was right there by my side for the duration of the shoot.
A sound engineer (Jean-Daniel Bécache) and a team of three cameramen (Olivier Jacquin, Camille Lotteau, Ala Tayyeb) reduced to two when the third, was seriously injured whilst filming.
And a team of drone operators, who were there from time to time, and who also came down to the frontline and to whom we owe, for example, the sole images, to my knowledge, of Mosul in the clutches of Daesh.
I greatly appreciated this team work.
I was very touched by the camaraderie it brought about and which I know will last beyond the film.
It’s very moving when from behind your camera you witness the liberation of a town, the emancipation of populations from suffering, and the recovery of a companion who fell victim to a mine; the violence of a battle that only the Peshmergas’ sang-froid prevented from being the most deadly; or the spiritual resistance of the last monks of Mar Matta holding out under the watchful eyes of the barbarians.
All of that brought us a feeling of companionship which was further intensified as it was the same group of people working closely together, taking on all the roles and bound together to the very last day by this spirit of adventure, who gave this film its final, and I believe, just form.”