Interview with Mohydeen I. Quandour, January 2010
Mohydeen Izzat QUANDOUR
Mohydeen Quandour, famous Circassian director of the upcoming movie "Cherkess" has answered questions of CW about his new movie and future projects. CW gratefully acknowledges the insights that Mr. Quandour has kindly shared with us.
Profile: A writer, film producer and businessman with more than 40 years experience in international arenas. Quandour was born in Jordan and completed all his education (BA. MA. MIS. PHD) in the USA. He began his creative & business career in New York at J. Walter Thompson Co. (1962) in advertising and documentary film productions. He later moved to Bristol Myers in marketing and remained until end of 1969. In 1970 he published his first novel "The skyjack Affair" and moved to Hollywood in the early seventies where he worked as a screenwriter and later producer/director for television and feature films. (Mannix, Bonanza, etc. and "The Spectre Of Edgar Allan Poe" and "Yanco" in Mexico). In 1974/75 Quandour returned to the business world as a marketing specialist and later as a consultant to several multinational companies and banks. In 1990 Quandour resumed his writing career with several historical novels (listed below) and produced many documentary series (The last Horsemen, Musical Journeys, etc.). Quandour is also known as an international expert on horses and equestrian sports and as a breeder of pure Arabians.
CIRCASSIAN WORLD: First of all, I would like to ask about your latest movie project, Cherkess (Circassian). It has attracted a lot of attention even before its release. Could you please talk about this project a bit? How did it start, and when and in which countries is it going to find an audience?
MOHYDEEN QUANDOUR: The film idea began quite recently. The Royal Film Commission in Jordan invited me to their new center in Amman last summer and I was impressed with their plans to create a new cinema industry in Jordan. They wanted me to start the process and I said I would produce the first film but it would have to be a meaningful subject for me and for Jordan. I immediately began writing a screenplay about the Kabardians’ arrival in Ottoman territory in what later became Amman, capital of present-day Jordan. I chose this subject because very few Arabs, and even fewer Circassians know the histroy of our presence in the country. It is an obscure history that has never been recorded before (except by me in the fourth novel of my Circassian series “Revolution”). This is a story that has been pretty much ignored by both Circassian writers and Arab historians. The Arabs assume and accept our presence in Jordan but have no idea that we were the modern founders of the capital city of Amman; that we formed the backbone of modern Jordanian society in partnership with the local Bedouins.
I believe that the audience for this film is to be found in Jordan itself, in Turkey and possibly in Syria. I am hoping that it will have a wide release in other countries as well, if we are successful in the International Film Festivals in Europe, Asia and possibly America. I believe the Arab World is curious to know about us and about our culture. I am also hopeful that our compatriots in Turkey (who number in the millions) will also support this film. If it succeeds, then we hope to follow it with a continuation of our Circassian story, in Turkey and in Syria.
I know that many of our Circassian Diaspora are waiting for release of the film. I am hoping to have a first copy in April 2010 ...Inshallah! It is taking time because I want to do a great sound design and convert to Dolby for Cinema presentation. I think the film deserves to be finished with the highest possible standard.
CW: The film script is written by you. How was the story formed? What resources did you rely on with regard to history and folklore?
QUANDOUR: The story is based mostly on my own novel (Revolution, soon to be published in Turkey) for which I had done considerable research. The Kabardians were sent down from Istanbul by train, on the new Hejaz Railway, which had reached the area of Amman in 1900. The Ottoman authorities settled them by the only source of water in the area, near the railroad works, because they were farmers and needed water to survive. But this led to conflict with the Bedouins of the region, who insisted on keeping them away from the water source. I invented a love story between a young Circassian boy and a Bedouin girl as a subplot, in order to emphasise the differences between the two cultures.
The universal message of the film, I believe, is that wise dialogue can resolve all problems without resort to violence, a lesson humanity has yet to learn!
CW: Are there traces of your own ancestors in the scenario?
QUANDOUR: No. The characters are all fictional, although I used the names of some real personalities of the period in order to keep their memory alive. None of them represented my own family.
CW: We know that there are actors and actresses from the motherland in the movie. How did you put the cast together?
QUANDOUR: I decided to make the film bilingual in Arabic and Circassian. I needed Circassian actors who could speak the language fluently and were also professional actors. I was lucky to find these in the Caucasus, primarily from the Adyghe Theatre of Nalchik. I brought eight actors from the Caucasus, including Azamat Bekov for the leading part, to take part in the film. I was very satisfied with their performance, even though it took some time to get them used to acting in a style suited to cinema rather than theatre. Only two of the Circassian actors already had experience in films -- Ruslan Firov (presently Minister of Culture in the KBR) and Bacir Shibzukov -- and they were brilliant.
I knew there were Circassians in Turkey who wanted to participate in the project, but I decided to save them for our next Circassian film. I don’t know whether they can act fluently in Circassian, but then the next film might be produced in the Turkish language anyway.
This was the first time that the young Azamat Bekov had ever acted, but I recognised his talent during the casting session and he did well in the film. He is a fast learner with a promising future if he chooses to continue acting.
CW: I know that you, along with your wife Luba Balagova, have been working for a long time on a project including the story of Ivan the Terrible and his wife, the Kabardian Princess (Goshanay) Maria Temrukovna, based on historical facts. Can you tell us something about this project? Do you have any other projects on Circassian themes under development?
QUANDOUR: Yes, this is a project very close to our hearts and it is a huge project. The story is based on Luba’s epic poem (Tsaritsa or Goshana) and I wrote the screenplay in collaboration with another Hollywood screenwriter, Richard Lasser. The option on the film was purchased two years ago by Firefly Films in England, but they could not raise the necessary funds to do the film on the grand scale required ($100 million). Now the rights have reverted to me and I am promoting it with Mel Gibson, among others. We hope to see this project in production in the near future. There are encouraging signs!
The other project I am developing now is a thirty-part series for television entitled Swords of Islam, which is entirely based on my ‘‘Kavkaz Trilogy’’. This project is planned for production in 2011 and preparations are underway. The series will be filmed in the Caucasus and in Turkey.
CW: Although there are interesting subjects such as the Nart legends, the Russian-Caucasian Wars, and the Circassian Episode, why do you think Hollywood does not show any interest in the Caucasus, even though there are a vast number of movies about Amerindians, Jews, the colonization of Africa and many other wars and historical tragedies?
QUANDOUR: It is a good question. The American public sees what Hollywood produces and Hollywood has not discovered the epic stories we have in the Caucasus yet… But our time will come. My books have attracted some interest from film production companies and we might see some action in the near future.
One of the major obstacles to progress has been the fact that the Caucasus is politically part of Russia and Hollywood has had a few disappointments making films in Russia in the past, so they shy away from it. When there are any Russian stories or locations, these are filmed in Scandinavia or Canada rather than risk the difficulties of working in Russia itself, even though production facilities and talent in Russia are superb. The import restrictions and customs procedures are most difficult and expensive, and to do anything in the Caucasus you have to go through Moscow.
CW: Have you ever discussed these issues with your colleagues in Hollywood? Do they have sufficient accurate information about Circassians?
QUANDOUR: There is not enough information in Hollywood about Circassians. I tried to develop my ‘‘Kavkaz Trilogy’’ as a mini-series in Hollywood in the 1970s and failed because nobody was interested in investing in a new topic that would expose viewers to a new culture. We just need to continue promoting our culture until the world realize who we are, where we came from, and most importantly what happened to us on the way!
CW: Besides being a movie producer, we also know you as an author, historian, musician, and businessman. Moreover, as far as I know, you are an international authority on horse riding as a member of the International Equestrian Federation and the World Arabian Horse Organization, and you have the title of international judge with the FEI. You are so successful in all these fields. What is the secret of this success of yours?
QUANDOUR: Thank you for your compliment. I simply have this character… to do many different things and I am lucky in achieving some success in what I do. To answer your question…The secret is hard work. Nothing has ever come to me easy. I have always had to work hard for anything I wanted to achieve. I have alternated between creative work and business for over forty years and I find the alternation natural. I think the other secret is that I always do what I like, and enjoy what I am doing.
CW: Other than the occupations I have mentioned above, you are among the founders of the Cherkess Fund founded to support Circassian Culture and the International Centre for Circassian Studies (ICCS) founded in Jordan last year. Can you give us some information about the efforts of these two foundations?
QUANDOUR: I created the Cherkess Fund in Nalchik after perestroika and glasnost in the early1990s. I was in Kabardino-Balkaria at the time and I saw the tragic turn of events for our wonderful artists in the Circassian republics. These people lived with salaries from the state during the Soviet period and had privileged positions in society. Suddenly these salaries stopped and many musicians, painters and artists discovered they had to find jobs to make a living. It was not surprising to find great musicians or singers driving trucks in the bazaars and as a result the nation’s culture was being abandoned. This period also coincided with great success of my historical novels in Russia and so I dedicated all my earnings to support culture in the Kabardino-Balkaria Republic. We established prizes for poets and authors and sent musicians abroad for performances. We helped music schools with instruments etc. My wife Luba was instrumental in keeping the Fund functioning well for many years. She established the literary Journal Horizon or Shaplipa and published in three languages including Circassian. It was an important and necessary action at the time.
Recently we established the ICCS, which is still in its formative period. But we already have a great website (http://iccs.synthasite.com) and we have a Board of Trustees representing some important scholarly figures in Caucasian studies such as Prof. George Hewitt from London University, Prof. Reeks Smeets of Leiden University, Prof. John Colarusso of McMaster University and Prof. Alexey Chagin of the International Literary Institute. I am hoping to include in our Board of Trustees some eminent Turkish scholars as well as some from the Caucasus in order to make it a representative group of the entire Circassian nation.
In other words, we are on the move to regenerate our cultural heritage with expertise and forward planning to resolve some major issues regarding our language and literature. The aims and objectives of our project are to be found on the website mentioned above. We look forward to maximum participation of all concerned and look for moral and financial support in order to achieve our objectives. The project director in Jordan is Dr. Amjad Jaimoukha, who is supported by my wife, Dr. Luba Balagova.
CW: Would you consider making a movie in Turkey, home to the largest Circassian population?
QUANDOUR: I am sure that Turkey is the most important Diaspora for all the Circassians. It has more Circassians than the motherland, and so of course I would be most interested to make films in that country. It only requires support and investment to produce quality products that we can all be proud to show to the world. I am ready for any proposals and will have a few of my own when I come to Istanbul in April. I plan to attend the Istanbul International Festival in April (although my film might not be ready to show at that time) to meet Turkish film makers and distributors and talk about possible joint projects.
Another of my reasons for coming is to meet with publishers for my six volumes of the Circassian Saga series. These have now been translated professionally into Turkish and should be published in Turkey. I look forward to this visit.
CW: I guess you know your colleague Çetin Öner in Turkey. Have you ever had a chance to discuss these issues with him?
QUANDOUR: Unfortunately I have not seen Çetin for some time. I have no contact address for him but I respect Çetin very much and think he is a wonderful Circassian actor. I considered involving him in this film but was unable to communicate with him. I hope to cooperate with him in the future and will make an effort to locate him again when I come to Istanbul in April.
CW: Caucasian history and politics figure greatly in your books. How do you see the future of Caucasia (both North and South), taking the new conditions and balance of power into consideration?
Well, this is a big question and I am not sure I can answer it in a short interview. Needless to say, the latest development, the formation of the “Southern District” to govern the North Caucasus, is cause for alarm to all inhabitants of the region. But the political move is probably motivated by the activities of the Balkars and Karachays, who are supported financially by Turkey with a view to creating a Turkic Republic in the North Caucasus. This represents a serious threat to the security of the Russian Federation and a reaction was bound to occur. Foreign powers are constantly intervening in the Caucasus to serve their own political agendas and unfortunately the inhabitants always suffer the consequences. We are facing difficult times ahead. Of course it makes sense for ethnic groups to unite and undo the errors of the Stalinist period, but when foreign interests intervene then it causes anxiety in Moscow.
CW: If we compare the Middle East and Russia, what do you think about the current situation regarding minority rights in these two regions?
QUANDOUR: The answer really depends on your definition of “minority”. The term does not apply to Circassians either in Russia or in the Middle East. In the Arab world the concept of minority does not exist: we all belong to the Islamic community (umma). For example, in Jordan Circassians have never been considered a minority. But we enjoy cultural freedoms; we have our own Circassian school and enjoy full cultural expression. We are one of the founders of modern Jordan. In Turkey the question is much more complex and historically encumbered with ambiguities. Circassians in your country represent a large and vital segment of the Turkish citizenry. But I don’t believe that you have achieved the full cultural freedom you desire, because that would contradict the prevailing interpretation of the Turkish Constitution.
In Russia as well, the concept of “minority” is difficult to define; the legal status of the Circassians is fully protected by the Constitution and many legal edicts because they are full citizens of the Federation. But culturally and socially all Caucasians are looked upon as “second class citizens”. Despite this social problem, all Circassians enjoy full and equal rights with ethnic Russians in the Federation.
CW: What kind of organization and action plan should there be for the Circassian Diaspora, in your opinion?
QUANDOUR: This is a question which has occupied our fathers and grandfathers for many years. I believe the only way forward is to eventually create one international union of Diaspora Circassians, based obviously outside of the Russian Federation and without interference from the Motherland. I am NOT talking of a “Khassa”, rather of a professional entity with support groups worldwide. This Union should be based preferably in the European Union, possibly Brussels or London, in order to have our concerns and ideas heard by the European Community and the world. It is not difficult for such a Union to be established legally and to obtain support. It is the formative stages that require financing and help. It should be run by professional people (not volunteers!) and should create a lobby to voice our concerns to the world and campaign to regenerate our cultural heritage worldwide as well as our political grievances.
CW: Finally, do you have any messages for Circassian World readers?
QUANDOUR: Yes I do. We are the forgotten diaspora. We had and continue to have a cultural habit of effacing ourselves, which we must get rid of. We must make the world aware of our existence and our aspirations. Historically Circassians have willingly dedicated themselves to serving foreign leaders, but when one of our own people came up to the standards of leadership we worked hard at preventing him from succeeding. This was and continues to be the cause of our failure to move forward. This characteristic has also been historically responsible for us never attaining the status of a Nation. How do we overcome this generational handicap…!?
I think the answer and the hope lies with our youth, the new generation of our young men and women who grew up in a world of electronics and free communications. They must learn from our mistakes and rid themselves of the inbred jealousies and rivalries that have plagued us for generations. The wise elders of the community must make it possible for them to carry on.
We are an old and worthwhile culture with distinctive and commendable features and worthwhile traditions to contribute to humanity. We must not allow our culture to become a museum piece for future generations.
- Thank you.
Metin Sönmez, CW
|From ''Cherkess'' production|
|From ''Cherkess'' production|
|Conducting in Moscow|
|With David Carradine on set of Cherokee. Universal Studios 1971|