Saturday, January 31, 2009

Rotterdam 2009 |Mahmut Fazıl Coşkun interview

Mahmut Fazıl Coşkun: a new voice in Turkish cinema Turkish cinema kicks off this year’s international adventures with a welcome surprise. Award-winning documentary director Mahmut Fazıl Coşkun’s impressive feature debut “Uzak İhtimal” (Wrong Rosary) is enjoying its world premiere here, at the International Film Festival Rotterdam 2009. What more, Coşkun’s film is among the 14 feature films that are competing for the festival’s top prize, the Tiger award, and it’s the first Turkish entry to be included in the main lineup throughout the 38-year history of the festival. For me, talking to Coşkun in Rotterdam has a special meaning because about seven years ago, we were studying film in the same master’s degree program. Knowing him in this context surely caused us to diverge from the path of the conventional interview -- it takes us about 30 minutes before we can actually stop ourselves from laughing and joking. I realize that there is one thing that strikes me about Coşkun, besides being talented, he was always a very humble, self-effacing and warm person, and it’s rather relieving to see that he hasn’t lost these rare qualities, as sometimes it’s quite difficult to meet someone on the cultural scene who doesn’t have an ego the size of the Hindenburg. In this regard, I am not surprised to see that his cinematic style reflects his distinct type of ease and idiosyncratic humor, without ever becoming superficial. “Wrong Rosary” is the simple story of a fresh-faced muezzin called Musa, appointed to İstanbul’s Galata region, and falls in love with Clara, a reticent and devout Catholic nurse who lives next door. The story might sound like a contemporary version of the TV melodrama “The Thorn Birds,” but do not be fooled. It is simply a contemplative and quiet journey about an impossible love between two very nice people. Big words are not spoken, there is no schmaltzy drama, just the fact that these two people never dare express their adoration for each other. Coşkun’s style is not a judgmental one, and his strange mixture of compassion and humor toward his characters are touching. In one scene, Musa is talking with his superior at the mosque, a wise and pious imam. The imam cheekily probes him over whether he has a love interest. Musa denies it only to get the reply: “Come on, I know you are thinking of a girl. I hope she’s also a believer, because you’ll never get hurt by a believer,” a beautiful line that sums up the irony of the situation. For Coşkun, his film does not have any political undertones and is not predominantly about the unspoken walls between religions. Rather, it is about the very universal situation of humans not being able to fully express themselves and communicate their feelings. We also talk about the process of the production of his film. Turkish filmmaker Mahmut Fazıl Coşkun poses for a portrait at the International Film Festival Rotterdam, where his debut feature premiered this week. How did you get the idea to make this film and how long was the process of getting it off the ground? Two years ago, we had the idea with a writer friend of mine to make a trilogy titled “Three Things” -- which would be about the concepts of love, money and religion. We couldn’t really come up with something that was satisfying. Then I focused on the concept of religion, but in that light, it was to be about impossible love. I’m not a writer, I brought together a group of people (Tarık Tufan, Görkem Yeltan and İsmail Kılıçarslan) who would write the script. Was it easy to gather the funding and get the film rolling? It wasn’t easy. Although we received production support from the Culture and Tourism Ministry, we ran out of money halfway through the production. Luckily, later on, Bank Asya sponsored us so we were able to complete the film; however, I still think it’s very difficult to finance a film in Turkey -- the Culture Ministry is almost the only body that provides funding. And what about the production process? Was it easy to work with the crew? Unfortunately it takes a lot of convincing to put together a cast and crew for feature films. I realize that because so many crew members have such difficult working conditions on the sets of television series where they normally work at, they almost lose their will and spirit when it comes to making movies. It’s very difficult to establish a spirit of camaraderie. On that note, I felt very tired and discouraged once filming was over. But thankfully, we had a great editor on board, Çiçek Kahraman, who really helped us in attaining a satisfying result. What are your main influences? And which Turkish directors do you like? I’m a huge Woody Allen fan. I also admire Semih Kaplanoğlu. What if we asked you to sum up “Wrong Rosary” in just one sentence? You know I wish I could really answer that question, but I really can’t. If I were able to sum everything up in one sentence, I don’t think I would be making films. 30 January 2009, Friday EMINE YILDIRIM ROTTERDAM

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