Oxford filmmaker shows immigrants through new lens in ‘Little Kurdistan’

Posted on Apr 20 2017 - 8:01am by Rachel Lambert

The Nashville Film Festival will screen “Little Kurdistan” next weekend,  a documentary short by Oxford’s Ava Lowrey that highlights the Kurdish immigrants’ food and culture in Nashville.

Lowrey, a filmmaker who works for the Southern Foodways Alliance at the Center for the Study of Southern Culture, said it’s easy to find common ground with her subjects through food.

“The nice thing about food is that it connects us all,” Lowrey said. “‘Everyone likes food, and everyone has to eat,’ as one of the women in the film said. So, it’s the easiest way to connect people from different cultures. The big thing with this film was hoping that people from Nashville or people passing through will actually check out the market and the restaurant and interact with this community more.”

Lowrey said many Nashville natives and visitors are unaware of the Kurdish community in the city. “Little Kurdistan” puts the immigrants’ humanity and normalcy on display.

“The good thing about the film is it not only puts a human face to the issue, it also shows that these people are adding to the local culture and to society,” she said. “These people have skills. Obviously, in this film, food is featured, but there is also a member of the Kurdish community who is a police officer in Nashville, and there are Kurdish elected officials. I hope that the film does change the minds of people who have a negative view of refugees or immigrants.”

Nashville has the highest concentration of Kurdish immigrants in the United States. Lowrey said she thinks this may have something to do with its geographic similarities to Kurdistan, like its mountains and mild weather, but the city is a good fit in more ways than one.

“Nashville is a super welcoming city, not just the local government but also just the people,” Lowrey said. “It’s a city of newcomers; people with a dream go to Nashville to make it in country music. These people came there to make it as valued members of an American town, and they are pursuing their own version of the American dream.”

The film is available to watch on the Southern Foodways Alliance website. Lowrey used Vimeo to upload the video and has noticed its broad reach.

“We had people in the Middle East, the U.K. and other areas like Canada that have large Kurdish populations watching,” Lowrey said. “Seeing those places light up on the map was really exciting.”

The film premiered the summer of 2016 and has been featured in the Cucalorus Film Festival in Wilmington, North Carolina, and also at the Oxford Film Festival. Melanie Addington, executive director for the Oxford Film Festival, said Lowrey’s film was selected out of nearly 1,000 entries.

“Ava Lowrey is a fantastic filmmaker, and another of her short films, ‘Otha Turner,’ won best Mississippi film this year,” Addington said. “We are glad to have filmmakers like her in the community.”

The Nashville Film Festival is the third festival to feature “Little Kurdistan.” The festival is competitive, and the film is up for awards.

“Obviously, I hope we catch the judges’ attention,” Lowrey said. “There are ton of films; we are in good company. But really it’s just exciting to have this film about Kurdish refugees and immigrants in Nashville featured in a Nashville-specific festival and highlighted as a really important and vital part of the Nashville community.”

This article was submitted to The Daily Mississippian from an advanced reporting class.