Tuesday, June 09, 2009

'On the Way to School' Where did these boys come from?

İKİ DİL BİR BAVUL| 'On the Way to School'
The young Turkish teacher Emre works at a school in an isolated Kurdish village in the South-East of Turkey. Emre's initial enthusiasm quickly turns into frustration and loneliness. The teacher only speaks Turkish whereas the students only understand Kurdish.

Director: Orhan Eskikoy, Özgür Dogan Photography
: Orhan Eskikoy Screenplay: Orhan EskikoyEditing: Orhan Eskikoy, Thomas BalkenholSound: Özgür Dogan Production: Özgür Dogan for Peri-san FilmCo-production Pieter van Huystee Film World SalesPeri-san FilmSales Contact : Pieter van Huystee for Pieter van Huystee Film, Özgür Dogan for Peri-san Film

You can watch the film’s trailer and get more information at: www.perisanfilm.com/school.

'On the Way to School' Where did these boys come from?

28 November 2008, Friday | EMİNE YILDIRIM AMSTERDAM

Perhaps the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam (IDFA) will not ring a bell for your average film buff, but those in the global film industry know that it is by far the mother of all creative documentary film festivals.

Furthermore, this year’s festival should have a special meaning for Turkey since, for the first time in the event’s history, a Turkish film is competing in the Joris Ivens competition for feature length documentaries.

For the Ankara-based, fresh-faced directing duo Özgür Doğan and Orhan Eskiköy, their “İki Dil Bir Bavul” (“On the Way to School”) has been a relentless journey of hard work and patience spanning over three years. Watching their film’s premiere Wednesday at Amsterdam’s historic art-deco Tuchinski theatre, I’m more than happy to say that their efforts have not been in vain. The film is a simple and profound piece of work that depicts the one-year journey of the 20-something primary school teacher Emre Aydın from the western city of Denizli who has been appointed to teach in southeastern Urfa’s remote Kurdish village of Demirci. Here’s the catch: Aydın, who cannot speak Kurdish, will have to teach Turkish to a classroom of kids who do not speak a word of the state’s official language. After all, the language spoken in their homes is Kurdish, although most of the adults can speak Turkish. Aydın, being the well-intentioned epitome of the image the republic has set for teachers since its foundation, patiently struggles to bring “civilization” to the provinces by means of primarily teaching the official Turkish language. God knows Aydın tries, and the kids try (they truly love and respect their teacher) but, much like the country’s current policy in dealing with the Kurdish populace, the school year ends without much success. But how could it not? Beyond the fact that the kids speak Kurdish amongst themselves, their lives are limited in the fields of a desolate village prone to constant power cuts where water is a luxury. Except for the presence of the teacher, the state has forgotten them.

I can already hear those grumbles coming from various factions in Turkey regarding the subject matter. Let it be known from this writer that the film is by all means an observational and astute piece of work that aims to raise the right questions in forming a peaceful human dialogue based on tolerance. Nobody can deny that issues of integration, education and cultural and ethnic identity are a reality in Turkey. What “On the Way to School” does is to bring forth, without any kind of intervention, that which is currently being lived and experienced in the daily life of eastern Turkey. The filmmakers’ camera points in the right direction -- in the classroom, not the trenches.

Doğan and Eskiköy have been working together since 2001 and have a handful of award-winning short documentaries under their belt.

The results of the IDFA’s Joris Ivens competition will be announced this Saturday. In Amsterdam everyone is already buzzing about “On the Way to School,” which has already secured its place in the competition’s top 10 favorites. Still, even if Doğan and Eskiköy don’t come home with a prize from Amsterdam, they’ve already come a very long way by being showcased at the IDFA.

Speaking to Today’s Zaman following the film’s premiere in Amsterdam, there is a noticeable glitter in their eyes as they mention their own production journey and the general state of documentary filmmaking in Turkey. Eskiköy answers most of the questions, but it’s obvious that these boys are a rock solid team of two.

How did you decide to make this film?

We had a close friend who was in a similar situation. He was officially appointed as a teacher to another village in the region where the kids didn’t speak Turkish. We found his story very interesting and wanted to capture it on screen. Unfortunately, our friend preferred not to be filmed, but still the story stuck in our minds. We knew that every year new teachers were appointed to villages in the region. We located the Demirci village and waited. Luckily, Emre Aydın who had been appointed there, let us capture him on film throughout the year.

The camera is noticeably invisible throughout the film. How did you manage to get the trust of all the people on screen -- especially the children, who never seem to notice that you were filming?

Of course, before filming we introduced ourselves to everyone in the community and clearly explained what we wanted to do. After a while they got used to seeing us stick around and forgot our presence. As for the children, all of them were focused on the teacher, not the camera, since Emre, after all, was the highest authority in the classroom.

As the film shows, Emre has a frustrating experience throughout his tenure, not only due to the language problem but also as a result of the region’s destitute situation. What kind of an experience was it for you as filmmakers?

Since Özgür knows the region a lot better than I do, he wasn’t surprised. As for me, it was different and slightly shocking, since the Kurdish life that I had envisaged was not what I later saw.

The production story of the film is very interesting. You have a Dutch production partner and you’ve received funds from abroad. Could you elaborate?

We first looked for financing in Turkey. Unfortunately, we were rejected by the fund of the Culture and Tourism Ministry. But we knew we wanted to do this film and do it right. Later we were accepted to the Greenhouse feature-length documentary workshop, supported by the European Union and specifically designed for filmmakers in the Mediterranean region. This was a great opportunity. Not only did we get the chance to develop the project artistically, but we were introduced to producers, commissioning editors and representatives of documentary institutes. A lot of people started talking about and believing in the project, which was great! During this period, we applied to the IDFA’s own Jan Vrijmun Fund and the Sundance Documentary Fund, both of which we received the support of. Also, our Dutch producer, Pieter Van Huystee, came on board.

Was it easy to bring all these partners together?

Naturally it has been a great experience to work on the international level. However, the more people that are involved, the more voices there are that have a say in your project. You have to make everyone happy without forsaking your own perspective. I really wish that we could have been able to find financing in Turkey. After all, this is a film made in Turkey and we want to continue making films in our country, not somewhere else.

Speaking of Turkey, what do you think of the current state of documentary films in the country?

It’s definitely going in a positive direction. There are a lot of great projects being made, especially by the Filmist collective, which includes Berke Baş, Haşmet Topaloğlu, Somnur Vardar and Belmin Söylemez and also the Docist organization, by Necati Sönmez and Emel Çelebi, is admirable. But the real issue is that non-fiction films are still always pushed aside when fiction is mentioned. Documentary directors should be willing to stand up for their rights and not undervalue themselves; they should push for distribution and ask for copyright compensation.

Will you exhibit and maybe distribute the film in Turkey?

Hopefully, it will be shown in the İstanbul International Film Festival in 2009. But, other than that, I highly doubt that any TV channel in Turkey would show it. Our real hope is to distribute the film in cinemas abroad and locally, but transferring from digital to 35 mm prints is not a small task.

Will you be working together again? What’s your next project?

Yes we will. Right now we’re focusing on the exhibition aspect of “On the Way to School,” but we are hoping to make a feature-length fiction film in the near future.

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