WE ALL ARE HEROES OF OUR OWN LIVES
Interview with Hüseyin Karabey
from Rapporto Confidenziale numero37
Director, writer, and producer Huseyin Karabey was born in 1970 to a Kurdish family and studied at Uludağ University and Marmara University. After making over a half dozen documentary films from the 1990s through the 2000s, he made his first feature, My Marlon and Brando (2008). The film premiered at Rotterdam, won the prize for Best New Narrative Filmmaker at Tribeca, and earned him praise as a director to watch. (mubi.com)
RR: In 1999, you directed a very strong short documentary: Boran. It’s about political activists who have disappeared during the 90s and whose mothers still look for them. It is dedicated to the mothers of Plaza de Mayo and yours too. In this film you mix fiction and reality to tell a true story, as you will do later with Gitmek – “Benim Marlon ve Brandom” .
What made you decide to tell this story this way for this first time?
Hüseyin Karabey: Actually, I have filmed many documentaries before Boran. Mostly, I treated the theme of human violations in Turkey. I found out the audiences sometimes get what you show but most of the time, working only with documentary form, they are so far from understanding the emotions of the victims. Back then I got to know Jean Rouch cinema. It changed my concept about making movies. I find out that documentary is more fiction than fiction. Then I said to myself: “Huseyin you should use every single way to tell your story no matter if through documentary, fiction or even animation”. I believe that if truth is hidden in reality you need to use lies to make it visible.
Episode Sonsuz Bir Gün from F Tipi Film (2012)
RR: Next is Sessiz Ölüm – Silent Death, a documentary about a very controversial issue in what it’s called “Fortress Europe”: the policies about prisons. I unfortunately coundn’t find the film but I read that you interviewed political detainees and former prisoners in various countries in Europe (Italy included). Can you tell me more about it?
HK: In 1999 Turkish Government decide to change Turkish jails. Before they were dormitory style and they wanted to bring new European type jails. At that time, the Ministry of justice said: “We will bring European Standards to Turkish Jails”. Turkish people always dream of the EU so it was cheap State propaganda. I decided to see what were the European Standards so I travelled to 5 countries, including USA, where i visited Texas private jails.
I saw horrible things, of course. I had chance to speak to former political prisoners (IRA, RAF, ETA, etc) who stayed more then 20 years in solitary confinement cells… Unfortunately this new jails opened with a terrible operation by the state and army and more than 30 people died while being transferred to the new F type prison. And after the transfers, during the following three years, 100 people died for hunger strikes and more then 300 injured terribly because of forced feed. After 12 years this problem still exists in Turkish prisons… 100 thousand people are in prison jails and 30 thousand of them are political prisioners mostly Kurdish…
Now 9 directors, me included, made an omnibus film about those prisons… It will released next week in Turkey and at the same time in some European countries… (the film, which is composed by nine 10 minutes episodes, is titled F Tipi Film and it’s directed by, besides Hüseyin Karabey, Ezel Akay, Sırrı Süreyya Önder, Barış Pirhasan, Aydın Bulut, İlksen Başarır, Reis Çelik, Vedat Özdemir and Mehmet İlker Altınay; RED.).
RR: Gitmek – “Benim Marlon ve Brandom” (My Marlon and My Brando) was the first film directed by you that I saw. The film mixes again fiction and reality to tell a true story in the most realistic way. How did you come across the story of Ayça and Hama Ali?
HK: After film school I worked with many theatre groups to learn how to direct actors. It was in 2003, I guess, when first I met Ayca. Back then, Ayça was trying to go Iraq and she knew that I had been there there many times so she asked me how to go there during wartime. She told me all about her story at that time. She wanted to do something about it but I told her: “First go and live your life… Later, if you’ll still want to do something, I will think about it too”. She went and had many other experiences. In 2005, I decided to work on my first feature and so I went Ayca and told her I wanted to tell her story combined with mine. She accepted.
Hüseyin Karabey on the set of Gitmek – “Benim Marlon ve Brandom”
RR: In Gitmek, Ayça and Hama Ali’s story is how we see it in the fim and Ayça co-wrote the film with you. Was it difficult for you to enter in such a personal story?
HK: My first demand to her was that she should have acted herself. She was confused at the beginning but then she accepted the challenge and we started to write the story. I asked her to write and bring whatever she had in this journey. All the letters, everything. She trusted me and give all the materials she had. Then I started to write. When she asked for some changes I would listen to her and continue. It took 2 years to finalize the script.
It was difficult but at same time amazing. She trusted me 100 percent. I was so sincere and honest to her she was the same to me…
RR: You use a love story between two separated people to tell another story: the one about the situation of Kurdish people. What made you decide to use this approach to tell the story?
HK: During the internal war in Turkey between 1984 to 1999 I saw all kinds of horrible things: I lost some of my friends, me and my brother were arrested, tortured, I saw massacres… I tried to tell those stories by using my camera to bring them to people who don’t know, but people don’t want to see the naked truth. Or when they see such horrible things they prefer to ignore them…
I thought about it a lot. Then I found my own way. Information and knowledge don’t change our acts… Emotions, experiences or empathy change people’s decisions and push them to change their acts. Just like Ayça. At the beginning she only wants to reunite with her lover. Thats all. Through this fact she finds out about all the other stories. Just like audiences…
RR: What strucked me is how effectively your film deals with a very basic human need: love. During the film we see how this need is shared by all characters, even if in different ways. In fact Ayça crosses the border but it’s very difficult to tell there’s a real difference between the countries. After finishing watching the movie I thought that it was all about love and peace, the most important things we have. And this is what makes your film revolutionary: dealing with war, separation, isolation not forgetting for one minute to show love between the people.
HK: Thank you very much about your wonderful thoughts… I agree: at the end we are all human being looking for someone to love. I think art has the power to remind people very basic instincts. We are dying to find love and be loved… When you tell stories about big events like war or peace people don’t get involved with the subject directly but when you talk about a person who needs peace to reunite with her lover during a war situation then they can remember they own experiences or they can put themselves in the main character’s position. We call this empathy!
RR: What’s your opinion on the Kurdish situation now?
HK: I am optimistic even though there are lots of wars around us. I am really optimistic about the Kurdish situation. If I compare these days to the past, we have more freedom and more visibility. This is not enough but much better than ever before. We need to discuss and tell more stories to Turkish people to make them understand our positions. So thats all I am trying to do. But I am generally an optimistic guy even when there is no reason to be…
RR: In the film, Hama Ali always appears on video through the videotapes he sends to Ayça. In this way we never see the actual situation he is in. While watching the film I thought that this was for sure a precise choice. Ayça see Hama Ali through the screen as we usually see everything that happens in countries distant from us. We followed the last wars through TV and very often the images come from just one source so it’s getting more and more difficult to verify if what we see is the actual truth. Your choice appeared to me as a critical statement against the media. Am I right?
HK: Yes you are right totally… Even Ayça at the beginning always follows the news and then to her lover’s love tapes but when she decides to leave then we see real people, real life and real feelings of the daily routine during the war…
Hüseyin Karabey on the set of Gitmek – “Benim Marlon ve Brandom”
RR: In these days, media treat the news in a bulimic way, it’s very easy to be overwhelmed and this can’t be casual. Do you think cinema can solve this by entering reality in a deeper way?
HK: Yes I believe so because medias are doing this systematically to manipulate people. We can oppose them by using the same kind of instruments: art or cinema, or whatever you call this. But we need to fight against them by using moving pictures. When medias want to change the meaning of anything, they use moving pictures and create some new meanings to it. When they show us hundred times a scene, we forget the real meaning of that subject.
We need to do same but for good reasons. If I believe in peace, then I need to convince people with my art which uses any kind of telling stories.
RR: Ayça and Hama Ali are very normal people, people we can all identify with. Is this the reason why you chose to tell their story?
HK: Yes, we are the real heroes of our lives. Ordinary people. We have real and amazing love stories. We all deserve any kind of good things, not only beautiful or rich people or some stereotype. I also wanted to break any clichés with this movie.
RR: In the film you really give much attention to secondary roles: the illegal immigrant artist in Istanbul, the driver, the woman at the border who hasn’t received news from his son for two weeks, even the two old women who live in Ayça’s building. Everyone of them help to deepen the issues you tell in the film. Are these all actors or people you met along the filming process?
HK: Actually both, but everything was planned. Sometimes I chose to work with real people, helping me to make the main story more real, sometimes with actors.
RR: At the moment you shot the film would have been really possible for Ayça to go to Iraq?
HK: She could have reached North Iraq more easily but not the South or Baghdad!
Ayca for me was a metaphor for the rest of the people who live similar situations.
RR: How was it to film in Iran? Was it hard to obtain the permissions to film there?
HK: It was but I had lot of experiences working in this conditions during my documentary days. We always worked with locals and our crew was composed by less than 10 people, actors and myself included. We were so quick that most of the time permissions arrived after shooting.
RR: How was it for you crew to work on those conditions?
HK: My crew was great because I invited only people who were aware of what we were going to do and who wouldn’t complain about the hard work conditions. That’s why we were almost invisible. We never invaded reality of daily life in shooting places.
RR: Gitmek is a very complex and multilayered film. Did you already have in mind precisely what you finally wanted or did you allow real situations to surprise you along the way?
HK: I was planing to have multilayered story but also we were open to record some real situations to surprise us like a wedding. When we saw all crew just look at me and then we started shot. I just told some small things to Ayca and no one else knew what we were doing… It was real wedding and people were so friendly to invite us to their happy day. Then, suddenly, real soldiers passed behind us. It was an amazing moment that shows what is war and what does it mean to local people. You can’t create such scenes in fiction.
RR: How long did the filming last and how did the editing process work?
HK: Shooting lasted eight weeks, including travels. Editing took almost four months. I worked with great experienced editor Mary Stephen, who worked with Eric Rohmer for more than 20 years.
RR: Just out of curiosity: while travelling, Ayça keeps finding people who listen to Ibrahim Tatlises songs and this creates some funny situations. I read that he is a Turkish singer who sings both in Turkish and Kurdish.
HK: This guy is a Turkish Kurdish singer who denied his Kurdish side in the Media for a long time. It was transformed in a role model for Kurdish people by the State. But he also is a really talented singer. So I just wanted his existence to remind ourselves how a very famous made by media character reflects other Kurdish people in the region. On one hand he is a clown Kurdish singer for Turks but for the Eastern people he is one of them who is accepted by Western side of Turkey. So he is a kind of a bridge between the Eastern and the Western people….
RR: The film was distributed in Turkey after being awarded in many festivals. What were the reactions of the various audiences and authorities to it?
HK: It had a great reaction from the people but unfortunately not from Turkish critics even though I got two Fipresci awards in International film festivals. In Turkey main medias mostly ignored the movie or didn’t get it… (laughs)
RR: To produce this film you officially co-founded Asi Film, which is a collective of independent filmmakers. Would have been possible for you to direct Gitmek if not produced independently? How does the company work now?
HK: I am the founder of the company. We are still resisting to make our own movies. But each day it becomes more difficult than ever even though we have good movies. It would have been impossible to produce this movie with big producers and TV’s. They hate art house movies. Our company is experiencing difficulties but we also don’t have big expenses so I hope we can keep it open. We produce many documentary and short movies.
RR: I have the impression that you don’t like definitions. You mix documentary, fiction and use different cinematic languages. Do you always choose the form for your films depending on the subject?
HK: Yes, I always go where the story takes me. This is the most basic thing for me about telling stories. But being independent also gives me this chance.
Hiçbir Karanlık Unutturamaz – No Darkness Will Make Us Forget (2011)
RR: In 2011 you directed and wrote a beautiful short film animated by Aksel Zeydan Göz: Hiçbir Karanlık Unutturamaz – No Darkness Will Make Us Forget. It is about the funeral of Hrant Dink, an Armenian journalist who was living in Istanbul and who was killed by a 17 years old for nationalists reasons.
In the film, we hear the voice of his widow during the funeral. I know that this project was produced by ART for The World within the project Then and Now – Beyond Borders and Differences. What were the reactions to it in Turkey?
HK: We had very good reaction actually. They liked the film very much. We use it for the campaign.
RR: Is the issue of recognition by the government of the Armenian genocide slowly changing?
HK: People is ready to discuss everything, things are changing. The Armenian Genocide has been a big tabu for Turkey but not anymore. At least we can talk about it now. Of course some parts of the State hate this issue but things are changing.
RR: Is it difficult for your film to be distributed in Turkey? My question comes from the fact that in every country is getting more and more difficult to arrive to the public against blockbusters created on the Hollywood style.
HK: Unfortunately yes… Each day it becomes more difficult. Some movies can not be released in the theaters or broadcated by TV, only DVD, Pay TV and the internet…
RR: You have always been a political activist and this caused you a few big problems. And I read that you studied economics, how did you decide to become a filmmaker instead?
HK: When I was age of 23, I had to take some serious decisions about my life. I decided to become a filmmaker, I wanted to protest with my movies. But tomorrow I can change my mind and return to the streets or the mountains.
RR: If somebody would want to know more about Turkish contemporary cinema, what directors would you suggest?
HK: We have great directors nowadays: Seren Yüce, Özcan Alper, Emin Alper are the most interesting ones, according to me. ■
December 14, 2012
Hüseyin Karabey in Rapporto Confidenziale:
– F Tipi Film: Sonsuz Bir Gün (An Endless Day) / Review
– Bir Hayatı Masal Gibi Anlatmak! (Life as a Fable a Narrative!) / Review
– Hiçbir Karanlık Unutturamaz (No Darkness Will Make Us Forget) / CINETECA
– Gitmek – “Benim Marlon ve Brandom” / Review