Sunday, November 16, 2008

Interview | Film director Hüseyin Karabey

Film director Hüseyin Karabey
Claims that the film "Gitmek" (known in English as "My Marlon and Brando") was too "divisive" have led to its screenings in Switzerland being halted earlier this month. But on Friday, 20 copies of the cross-border love story hit the big screen in Turkish movie theaters.

This film, which has already collected such prizes as best film, best director and best actress at a variety of international film festivals, has a total of eight awards to its name. And this can be said about the work: "Gitmek" is absolutely not divisive; to the contrary, it highlights Turkish-Kurdish brotherhood.

The film is based on the story of a journey taken to Iraq during the war by a young Turkish woman named Ayça, who risks her life to see her Iraqi Kurdish love, Hama Ali. The fact that the screenplay is based on the real lives of the leading actors makes this film all the more interesting. This is the first feature-length film by director Hüseyin Karabey; the shooting of this film occurred over a total of 6,000 kilometers in Turkey, Iran and Iraq. We, of course, discussed Turkish-Kurdish tension with Karabey when we talked about his latest film. As a last point before moving on to our interview, it would be fair to note that though "My Marlon and Brando" is an art film, it is certainly neither boring nor slow.

What do you make of the statement from Minister of Culture Ertuğrul Günay, who said that the showings of "Gitmek" at the Swiss Culturescapes Art Festival had been banned because the film was divisive?

Well, actually, this was not the statement made by the minister. But that was what people inferred from that statement. In news about this incident, these were the words attributed to the minister, though.

Well, actually, the minister said: "We do not have a problem with this film. This film is already a part of the festival program." But some articles that appeared in Swiss newspapers carried quotes from different people in various regions of Turkey who said that they would not have allowed the film to be shown, which is why I never took any of this to be aimed at me. There is definitely no such divisiveness in this film. This is, after all, a film that received support from the Ministry of Culture and has passed through the most detailed inspections. In fact, there was not even any age limit placed on this film.

In any case, these recent developments have helped formed certain preconceptions about this film. How are you going to transcend these preconceptions?

I have spoken with high-placed authorities at the Ministry of Culture, who have assured me that in fact Ertuğrul Günay will be attending our gala showing in Ankara. This gala will be on either Nov. 24 or 26.

You say, "If only there were 10 films made like 'Gitmek,' the Kurdish problem in Turkey would be solved." As a cinematographer, how do you think the Kurdish problem could be solved?

Television series tend to portray Kurds as terrorists, narcotics smugglers or people who carry out honor killings. We need to talk about the Kurdish problem on a more real, human level. We need films that show Kurds and Turks living in equal conditions, so that people understand that both sides are people who can fall in love, who have senses of humor, who miss their children, who want the warring to end. All Kurds really want to achieve the same level of life they see others enjoying when they watch television; they really don't want anything else.

The people in the main roles are not types we are accustomed to seeing in films. One is a quite heavy woman, while the other is a bald man. Why did you make these choices for actors?

I wanted to turn all the clichés upside down. For me, the real heroes in life are us, the real people. I try to remind people of this, convince people of this. I am not going to create false heroes in my films. To wit, you notice that during the film, Ayça becomes more and more beautiful, and in fact you begin to become jealous of her love affair, and you begin to wish that you too could experience something like it.

Right up to the end of the film, the viewer doesn't see the conditions of war in which Hama Ali lives. Was this because of the difficulties in filming in that region, or for some other reason?

There is a different reason, actually. In the film, we always view Hama Ali through Ayça's screen. This is actually a criticism of our perception of reality these days. … These days, we make do with what we see on our monitors. We no longer seem to say, "Let me go and see what actually happened there." Also, I wanted to make the action of Ayça going to Iraq form some question marks in the viewers' minds. Like, "Is it worth it for this man? Is this man really giving it his best effort? Is it really difficult to get from Turkey into Iraq?" Because if the man awaiting her on the other side had been some sort of Brad Pitt type, I have no doubt everyone would have jumped at this journey! I think what is important in life is not who you love, but how you love.

In the news, we read that while people pass from the north of Iraq into Turkey, that the reverse is impossible. While Ayça attempts the impossible, Hama Ali says in his video to her that as soon as the borders are opened, he will walk all the way to be by her side. Is this a mistake in the plot? Or are we to understand that Hama Ali does not love her as much as she loves him?

Actually, there is not enough information provided in the film at that point. I should have underscored this more clearly. You are not the first person to ask this question, and you are clearly a careful viewer. It is impossible for Iraqis to go back and forth between Iraq and Turkey. As for Turks, they do have permission to pass from Iraq back into Turkey. But Turks do not have permission to go from Turkey into Iraq.

In one part of the film, we hear the words, "The Americans are killing the Arabs, and the Arabs are killing each other and the Kurds. The Kurds are afraid of being killed as Saddam did to them in 1991." Are the Kurds as pure as all this?

No, definitely not. In fact, the film contains criticism of Kurdish leadership because there is no meaning to savior and freedom that comes from another's hand. In the end, forces may come and stay for a while in your land, but the same pressures put on by Saddam will be exerted by another this time around. Hama Ali is living out these conflicts on his insides. He is afraid that what happened to the Kurds in 1991 will happen again. In the end, this is the result of mistaken decisions taken by their politicians.

A chauffeur from Diyarbakır is talking to Ayça as though he knows absolutely nothing about Istanbul, and asks her "Do they ask for passports in İstanbul?" Then he adds: "I am from Diyarbakır, but they ask us for our identification. It's a crime if you have one and crime if you don't!" What is it that you are trying to explain here? I understand how not carrying your identification around with you could be a crime, but how could it be a crime to have your ID with you?

With these words, I wanted to portray some of the pressures that Kurds experience in daily life. There is no one who doesn't know that when certain [violent] incidents take place in Istanbul, police stop people to check their identity cards and that it is always the citizens from the East who are taken under arrest. In this sense, whether or not you have your identity card with you, there is no way to avoid being arrested. If what we are talking about divisiveness, this derives directly from the fact that the state itself does not treat its citizens equally. The anger of the chauffeur is this: "You come and go from over there. But did you know, around here, it's not so easy. No matter what we do, it's difficult. No matter what we do, we are guilty!" Automatically seeing certain factions as potentially guilty in a number of situations opens the way to great anger. And what I am most afraid of is this anger exploding. That anger, which still hasn't exploded despite all the provocation that has occurred, if it does in fact explode one day, there will be very bad things that happen here in Turkey. Because some people no longer have anything left to lose: no village, no home, no work, belittled every day … With this film, I am saying, "Be a little different from the others, try to understand the spiritual state your brothers and sisters are in, support them." This film really says "The real problem facing the people living in the East is how they are supposed to live dignified daily lives. There is really no other request on the table, be aware of this." I believe that the moment people really become aware of this, peace will settle permanently in Turkey.

When he sees images of mountains in his video, Hama Ali says, "The mountains are the friends of Kurds." After that, he shows a photograph of himself from when he was 23 years old, saying that at that time he was a peshmerga. Won't these things disturb Turkish viewers?

Well, I think that if a viewer is determined to find something wrong or disturbing about the film, they will find it in the end, no matter what. We need to allow an approach which is on the side of friendship, peace and talking about the brotherhood between these two peoples. If you are trying to prove a certain point, of course you can perceive certain things I say, or certain things you see in the film, as proving your point. But of course, this should not be my goal, nor yours either.

It is quite clear that this film is not in fact divisive. But there are unsettling details in this film.

Well, for 92 minutes, this film does talk about gigantic topics. You are not, for example, mentioning the words spoken by the Kurdish mother. If you put the spotlight on these words, which are about peace, then this is what the viewer will watch out for. I am defending this film, which is why I have invited the Ministry of Culture to attend the gala opening.

Is the love between Ayça and Hama Ali, who risk death for this love, still ongoing?

The war does not allow this love to live on. Their relationship turns into a very close friendship. If they weren't such good friends, we would never have been able to make this film.

That whole "I don't want a Kurdish son-in-law" or "I can't imagine having a Turkish daughter-in-law" mentality continues in Turkey even today. Why? How do we get over this?

Well, to prevent peace just because certain people don't want it is stupid. This is actually a kind of special wealth; it's from God that we have become so intertwined. If it weren't for the rising tides of nationalism we have seen over these past five years, no one would even be thinking these things. We need to share with each other the richness that our mutual existences provide. Actually, I do believe that an incredible level of peace and brotherhood really does exist on this soil.

16 November 2008, Sunday



Raf De Dobbeleer said...

It doesn't surprise me that some wanted to seek, and found divisionism in this movie, which was to me a briliant take on a hot issue - I was pleased that the situation was shown from inside out, through the lives of individuals, thus giving a face to people we are ever so keen to put and talk about as if they were mere groups acting in total unison.
The film is gripping, showing the difficulties as individuals face them being part of their lives but without ever judging. It is a call for empathy and understanding, something ever more hard to find nowadays. Of all the Turkish movies they showed this year on Gents Filmfestival Gitmek was probably the most 'refreshing'.

Raf De Dobbeleer said...

divisiveness in stead of divisionism.. :)