In The Exam, director Shawkat Amin Korki explores corruption in the Kurdish educational testing system. He joins star Avan Jamal and producer Roj Hajo to discuss the inspiration and production of the film, Iraq’s Academy Award submission, THR Presents , powered by Vision Media.
The Exam centers on two sisters, both played by film newcomers industry. Jamal stars in the film as Shi Lan, Rokin’s married older sister, played by Vania Salar. To protect her sister from being forced into marriage against her will, Shi-lan helps her get involved in an organized exam-cheating system so she can get into college.
“My daughter, she told me about the idea of some students using cheating bluetooth devices,” Korki explained. “Then I researched for a few months, went to the schools and the Ministry of Education, and I found out that there was [massive] corruption in the education system there. …During my research I found these two girls, and I started talking to My co-writers wrote the script together, writing the story of the film through the eyes of these two female characters, these two sisters.”
Due to the relative number of working actresses in the region For Less, Korki casts from a crowd of unknowns two leads for whom he has no previous acting work. “I’ve never had the experience of acting in any movie or any other project before,” Jamal explained. “It was a first experience in my life. But like everyone else, it was my childhood dream. I always wanted to be an actor. It was all by luck – I got it through some friends in the area and film The producer introduced me to each other. It was really interesting for me to finally see the script. The protagonist I played was like a role model to me. In general, in the Middle East, women are going through a lot of difficulties and challenges in society. Obstacles, unfortunately, as you see in Iran now. The character, how she saves her sister by taking her own life, and then her life too, because she is married against her will.… …Unfortunately, this is true for women in the Middle East. Unfortunately, my sisters also married against their wishes. So everything is new for the casting of Silan, but Somehow, I felt really connected to the character.”
When working with a new actor, Korki advised Jamal to keep the character between takes. “When he first saw me, I was a completely different person, a completely different person from a character standpoint,” Jamal explained. “The way I dress, the way the character is in the director’s imagination…so he totally tries to encourage me to stay in the character by keeping it as simple as possible.”
in Shooting in Iraqi Kurdistan meant working in a place without a very established film industry, though Korki was able to hire several team members he had worked with before. Hajo explained: “There was no casting agency that could contact and source professional actors. [But] over the past few years and the productions we’ve produced, we can build an infrastructure and have a crew that we can work with — curate Local actors that we got from drama school, but actually practiced in our productions. … But, there is still a long way to go, looking for a funding system like in Europe that has the ability to pass Financing supports locally produced cultural film institutions.”
For Korki, the story finds a relevant theme in its specificity. “It’s a story set in Iraqi Kurdistan, but I think the topic is universal,” he muses. “Also, it’s part of the women’s issue and the education issue. It’s also about corruption in Iraqi Kurdistan and the Middle East. The story, to me, in this context — who’s right? Who’s doing something illegal thing? In this moral situation, I thought about this topic. I think all the characters are in the gray [area] – they are not black or white. They all have a part in [causing] this situation.”
This issue of THR Presents is sponsored by mîtosfilm.