Rojava Film Commune, Forms of Freedom

Rojava Film Commune, Forms of Freedom

Rojava Film Commune, Stories of Destroyed Cities (film still), 2016.

e-flux presents
Rojava Film Commune, Forms of Freedom
February 21–April 4, 2020, 6pm
311 East Broadway
New York, NY 10002

This exhibition is temporarily paused until further notice. Please check back on this page for updates.

The Rojava Film Commune, a collective of filmmakers founded in 2015 and based in the autonomous region of Rojava (which means “West” and refers to the western part of Kurdistan in contemporary northern Syria), inaugurate their first exhibition in an art institution in the US. For the exhibition Forms of Freedom, curator iLiana Fokianaki and the Commune drew from the Commune’s vast archive of collectively and individually produced films to arrive at a selection reflecting the methodologies, thinking process, and radical imaginaries of the collective.

The Commune tasks itself with mediating and depicting the daily struggles in the Syrian war and Rojava’s collective attempt to build a new society. Learning the process and unique values of the Rojava Revolution is crucial to understanding the conditions of the collective’s work. Rojava’s grassroots stateless democracy is based on women’s rights, ecology, and equality in all spheres of life. This political project has challenged the patriarchal system, empowered ethnic and religious minorities, and inspired the opening of local democratic spaces. All decisions on social issues, from infrastructure and energy to education and domestic violence are discussed through public assemblies and made collectively. Despite facing the most ruthless threats, this population has been writing a new page in their history.

Now in its third iteration at e-flux in New York after State of Concept in Athens (2018) and Galerija Nova in Zagreb (2019), the exhibition Forms of Freedom offers the possibility to witness the methodologies, morphological idiosyncrasies, and aesthetic references that have formed the work of the collective, which moves between fictional representations of real historical events, documentary, and testimony. The Commune aims to reclaim cinema and film as a means of reimagining society. At e-flux they will present an overview of their practice as well as their recent film, Berfîn (2019). 

The Commune also runs the Rojava Film Academy, which offers one-year courses in Kurdish language and international film history, film theory, and all the stages of film production, taught by local and international film professionals. The structure of the Academy is horizontal, thus allowing the students to co-organize it. A small selection of student films is part of this exhibition. In 2016 graduates and co-founders produced the Commune’s first feature film Stories of Destroyed Cities, presenting the realities of war zones. In the same year, their international film festival, inaugurated in the city of Kobanê, introduced films from all over the world to the Kurdish, Assyrian, and Arab populations of the region. Their first screenings consisted of early silent films such as those of Charlie Chaplin, which were chosen for their immediacy and humor, as well as to break the barrier of language for elderly populations. The silent satire in films such as The Great Dictator (1940), eerily reminiscent of the increasing narcissistic authoritarian profile of today’s world leaders, operate in the exhibition as mute visual evidence of the Commune’s toolbox. Hand-painted posters from local artists and a selection of bibliographies and other printed material from their film festival are presented in the exhibition as well. 

The exhibition in New York follows the United States’ withdrawal of all troops from northern Syria last October, destabilizing the region and igniting a Turkish attack on civilians, particularly around the areas of Rojava (whose forces liberated various regions from the Islamic State). The Commune thus works in highly unstable and uncertain conditions, which is reflected not only in their choice of film technique but also in their ideas on revolutionary cinema.

“This is the revolution that will be televised”—this claim unveils the role of filmmaking in the Rojava Film Commune’s ongoing struggle for self-governance. For the Commune, speaking about and showing the histories and culture of the people—who have been severely oppressed under the Syrian regime and are now threatened by Turkey—is inherently revolutionary.

Opening and Public Program
e-flux, Friday, February 21, 6pm–8:30pm
6pm Opening
7–8:30pm “Art and the Specter of Ideology” - act 1
With Janet Biehl, iLiana Fokianaki, Elif Genc, Matt Peterson, and Laura Raicovich

Vera List Center for Art and Politics, Saturday, February 22, 11am–5pm
“Art and the Specter of Ideology” - act 2 - session 1
“Art and the Specter of Ideology” - act 2 - session 2
With Marwa Arsanios, iLiana Fokianaki, Coco Fusco, Amir Husak, Not An Alternative, Christian Nyampeta, W.I.T.C.H. collective, and others

Produced by e-flux, with the support of State of Concept Athens and the Vera List Center for Art and Politics.

For more information, contact


iLiana Fokianaki is a curator, writer, and the founding director of State of Concept Athens. Her book Gossips: WomXn Gather will be published in 2023.

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