Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Article | "Gitmek" (My Marlon and Brando)

Hüseyin Karabey, Turkey’s pride at Rotterdam film festival
Turkish filmmaker Hüseyin Karabey poses for a photograph at the Rotterdam Film Festival, where his film “Gitmek” is being screened.

It is another frightfully cold and windy day as I head to meet with director Hüseyin Karabey during the International Rotterdam Film Festival.

His first feature film, "Gitmek" (My Marlon and Brando), just had its world premiere the night before -- and obviously it went quite well, as Karabey greets me with a relieved expression and a warm smile. As for me, not only am I excited to talk with the man who has shot this wonderful film but I am also more than happy to finally talk with a compatriot in this crazy jamboree. We are among the handful of Turks attending one of the most world's most popular festivals for film professionals in the world.

"Gitmek" is one of the best films I have seen that has come out of Turkey in recent years. It is simple, yet profound; meticulously shot, but with the right amount of documentary feel; it has a captivating female lead and, even more important, it is genuine. On a film set in Anatolia, actress Ayça (played by Ayça Damgacı) meets Hama Ali (Hama Ali Khan -- who happens to be a Kurdish actor). Ayça and Hama Ali fall in love, but Ayça lives in İstanbul and Hama Ali in Sulaimaniya, Iraq. In the following months, they communicate over the telephone and with letters and, once in a while, Hama Ali sends Ayça tender yet passionate video diaries. However, the year is 2003 and eventually the US declares war on Iraq. In this time of chaos how will they ever see each other? The strong-minded Ayça wants nothing more than to unite with her beloved. She decides to embark on a journey from İstanbul to Sulaimaniya via southeastern Turkey, Iran and eventually Iraq. Thus her real adventure and introspection begins. This is the story of a real woman in a real world and one has to congratulate Karabey for his determination in making this film.

Reversing standards

Coming from a Kurdish family himself, Karabey ended up studying in İstanbul. He is better known for his documentaries. When I ask him how his journey toward fiction started he replies: "Well, I always saw cinema as a whole and never really differentiated between documentary and fiction. When I saw what was broadcasted on television I realized that the media never showed what was really going on in the country or the world. What I saw on the screen was not what I or the people I knew were experiencing. I wanted to change that and make something that told the story of ordinary folks like us and not far-fetched characters living in a bubble."

Indeed Karabey has achieved his aspirations, as the delightful Ayça Damagacı, whom the film's story is also based on, is not the picture-perfect damsel in distress. Ayça is chubby, not the smartest person in the world and, furthermore, she is a woman -- thank God, someone finally realized that strong female characters could lead a story in Turkish cinema!

As we continue our conversation Karabey further comments, "Besides the lead being a woman, another 'standard' we wanted to reverse was the concept of going to the East instead of the West in the search for happiness. Ayça's quest is not as such and her heart lies in the East -- in the middle of a war. As we watch her travel through Diyarbakır, Van and even Iran, we realize that the people residing in these places, which we have misconceptions about, also have lives and maintain wonderful traditions and practices that enhance their joy de vivre." I notice that Karabey always uses the word "us" when he is talking about the making of his film. To him "Gitmek" is the collaborative effort of his crew and I admire his sense of camaraderie.

The production story of the film is even more interesting. One of the few directors to hold the complete rights to his films, Karabey gathered a significant amount of his funding from abroad -- namely the Hubert Bals Fund of the Rotterdam Film Festival, where he is currently being hosted. He was also supported by the Turkish Ministry of Culture and, later on, he formed a co-production team with producers from the Netherlands and the UK. Karabey states: "As you know, the production of independent films is quite difficult in Turkey. However, if I managed to make this film, this means that I can form an example and shed a light for younger filmmakers who want to do something that is not the usual mainstream [material]."

"Gitmek" will open in Turkish theaters at the end of April. I recommend this film to anyone who enjoys good cinema. I am already looking forward to Karabey's next film.


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