Interview: Su Baloğlu & Suzan Güverte

Turkey may not be the first country to come to mind when talking about rogue, sensational waves or movements that rock the global auteur cinema. Nevertheless, in the past 15 years, especially before the political turmoil threw the dynamics off balance, Cinema of Turkey made significant progress. It has almost recovered from the deluge unleashed by the collapse of the industry in late 1980s, gave birth to globally acclaimed and award-winning examples of hi-end cinema and most importantly, took steps toward comprehending its own potential. Sustained by ambitious individuals rather than movements or systems, Turkey accommodates a generation of future filmmakers and creatives obsessed with finding their own voice.

Su Baloğlu and Suzan Güverte are two emerging producers operating from their bases in Istanbul. Perfect embodiments of what the world of independent cinema needs and values most at the moment – a mélange of creativity and practical excellence – they are creative-entrepreneurs with intellectual perspective, savviness in picking projects, knowledge of global resources and and satisfactory experience in TV and commercial outings.

Below is an interview conducted with Su and Suzan, for Largo followers to learn more about how the industry works in Turkey and what challenges the newcomers, especially female professionals face.

Names in alphabetical order.

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A scene from Turkish film Distant. Directed by Nuri Bilge Ceylan. Cannes Film Festival 2003, Grand Jury Prize and Best Actor.

You are two emerging woman producers from Turkey, a country known for a tradition of cinema that started considerably early (a few years after the Lumières screening) however had suffered a lot on the path to develop a distinct cinematic language of its own (as if this was a dire necessity). What does it mean to be a striving young producer in Turkey? 

Su: Most people who are into this profession in Turkey begin knowing that producing is an extremely difficult path. For me it requires a lot of patience and openness. It can take years and years of searching for funds for a project and since the only big financial source for cinema in Turkey is the production fund of the Ministry of Culture, you have to keep your eyes open for all of those “teeny tiny” funds, constantly be on the lookout for international sources and industry platforms, companies, private investors, crowdfunding sites, in-kind participants, etc. In my opinion, the lack of a unique cinema is just one side of the problem, which also concerns the writer/directors in this industry. But for producers, the lack of an efficient, working system for funding is the biggest bump in the road. For each new project, having to form an entirely new business plan, different from the one that got your previous film made, re-modeling the financing and starting from zero each and every time can be very frustrating. But knowing that this is the system that we have to work with, it’s not all that discouraging. If you believe in your project, all it takes is patience and hard work. Or maybe I am just too fresh in my own professional journey and still very optimistic!

Suzan: There are some fuzzy social factors too but the focus is on institutional barriers to become an active producer. Independent movies are/should be made with the public funding and that is the only feasible way to manage the operation without any/minimum debts. The fact that we are doing this job in Turkey limits our financing alternatives since Ministry of Culture and Tourism is the only public money source for filmmaking. That makes you a striving producer J

On the other hand, the ‘do-it-yourself’ movement has revolutionized filmmaking and made it really cheap for people to make movies.  This has enabled the developing of ‘a distinct cinematic language of its own’ as you have mentioned because there is a much tailored personal approach to the projects and ideas. The approach to apply both new way of filmmaking and traditional methods of financing together makes producing challenging in Turkey.

The concept of “creative producer” has recently been made a popular term in Europe. On the arthouse side of things, being a producer certainly does have an aura and a distinguished status as opposed to occupying the seat of a mere “supervisor”. It has a streak of creativity, requires financial as well as artistic knowledge and people skills. In this regard, what sort of projects are you, as creative producers, mostly interested in? 

And, as a follow-up to this Q, why haven’t you opted for the director’s chair?

Su: The concept of creative producer has become prominent mostly because now producers tend to come up with a story and get involved in developing the script. As a person who has studied film theory for years, my choice in pursuing a career in producing certainly involves being a part of the creative process rather than merely controlling the money and getting a project done within the constraints of a given budget. For me, being the creator of a project and being the one who executes the production is inseparable. I like stories that stem from actuality, when there is a degree of blur between fact and fiction somewhere along the process. I’ll be interested in making a film about a day in the life of an aspiring actor, playing himself, for instance.

I do not produce because I am good in handling money, but because I’m truly passionate about a good story. A producer may not be perfect at every aspect of putting a story on screen but she or her can spot and bring together the right people who will do their parts perfectly. There are extremely talented writers, directors, DPs, actors, musicians and editors around. The key is to recognize the particular talent in people and bring them in at the right moment.

As for directing, I am in post for my directorial debut – a documentary feature. I would not say that I will not direct in the future, but given the present situation in the industry, there is more of a lack for producers, than for directors.

Suzan: I think as filmmakers, that everyone has a story to share and being a ‘creative producer’ allows us a platform to dream and to share a viewpoint without being the director of that story.

There are many styles of producers and each create their own mix. Some producers just get things done, know everyone in town… Some bring value when they are involved in the creative development process and see that through production…. And some like to deal with execution and management.

I am more into finding ideas and then the team to execute it.

I don’t only love my stories, but also others. That’s why I like being a producer not a director.

The great thing about that is I use both of my skills; the concept and creative side, plus the side that puts together a list to make it happen.

Being a director is not a part time hobby but a profession to be developed and taken as a lifestyle. I do write scripts and direct shorts films but to become a full time director, one should reconsider if they have zero inclination to pick up a camera and go make little videos in their spare time, edit them together and improve them next time.

Do you have any role-models, if any, who are they? 

Su: There are many people –more than I can count- who inspire me in so many different ways but I don’t believe in “role models”.

Suzan: I have a list of influencers and I don’t think they know about it J This list has occurred when I was dreaming to become a filmmaker. There are mostly innovative people who had overcome struggles of being the black ship or making something ‘for the first time’.

My mentor always changes with each project since the attitude and skills that project necessitate changes by its nature.  Some producers are great influencers for execution, some for their attitude and leadership, some for creativity.

You both are into documentaries. What’s your outlook on the brand new type of documentaries that breathed fresh life into the genre, refreshing the image of it? (The Act of Killing, 5 Broken Cameras etc).

Su: It’s inspiring to see how much representational strategies of documentary have evolved since the Griersonian tradition. I think that the pleasure that we get from watching the kinds of films that have been coming out particularly after the 2000s lies in the blending of fiction and non-fiction. Everyday we’re bombarded with such a big amount of images that it’s become a part of our daily routine to see 2-3 minute videos on social media, subjects ranging from news about refugees to cat videos. People have come to a point where they don’t take an image at face value anymore. Nowadays using fictional interventions in documentary can be more effective in getting the message across than straightforward, spoon-fed reality.

Suzan: Act of Killing is one of my favorite films of all times. I wish I had come across with such movie years ago since it is master lesson for every filmmaker with its execution, creative methodology, patience and ideal. We know several methods for documentary storytelling and Act of Killing adds another one to the list when you think there is not much left to discover.

I always thought I love fictions, but I think I am more into documentaries now. The movie examples you gave had that power on me. I love brave stories from brave geographies which is told by brave people.

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Do you think, honestly, Turkey is a “treasure chest” etc that is full of stories yet to be explored and exploited, as we have been told again and again over the years? 

Su: I do believe that there are stories to be explored but I also think that we’ve been focusing far too much on one or two stories in particular. There is so much more if you know where to look for it. On the other hand, there is also a great deal of government control that determines what stories get to be made with the government funding. So, even though there is this massive amount of story material to make movies about, we are forced to refrain from meddling with “sensitive” subjects and have to look for funding elsewhere. And even you get to tell those stories with other sources of funding, you risk getting your name blacklisted. That being said, I don’t mean to hierarchize stories based on their level of being political. It’s equally important to create something universal out of a very local material. Maybe what we can work on is the narration, the formal approach to a subject, rather than the story.

Suzan: Being a treasure chest for stories doesn’t necessarily mean it’s also a treasure chest for talent discovery. And a treasure without an inventor is useless. It can stay there for decades and no one will see how shiny or unique it is.

Turkey is not an encouraging country for artists since ‘being unique’ is not something accepted as a virtue. The stories to be told is yet under and on the soil but the courage and talent to tell them or tell them in a unique way is not nourished. But, yes, Turkey is fool of stories. Every time I watch a good film from Turkey, I get excited to know there will be even more. And as much as much discovering them, I am excited to see some people are given chance to tell them.

Mustang, 2016
Mustang – 2015. Oscar nominee Turkish film, directed by Deniz Gamze Ergüven. The film is set in a remote Turkish village and depicts life of five young orphaned sisters and challenges they face growing up as girls in a conservative society.

Which details you devote attention to, when drafting a financial plan for a project? Do you consider the ever-changing political landscape, the newest trends, the tendencies of certain hubs in the funds/festivals circuit etc?

Su: Taking into consideration the political climate, and trends during particular periods is sort of mandatory when you’re trying to get your film seen, and even more so when you’re in the funding process.

We also have an estimated rotation as to which countries would be likely to get involved in a co-production based on the needs of the project when we’re creating a business entity. Tendencies may vary according to the geographical location but there is always an overarching theme that the industry is after. Turkey is one of the “hot topics” in the Western world at the moment, and this is very likely to continue for next few years.

Suzan: Every project has its own personality and you organize the development, financing and the sales strategy of the project according to this personality. Some projects walk together with its clients and audience even before the production, some projects has to find them after or during the shootings. Some like new trends like crowdfunding, some project’s audience don’t like to see your project is attached with anything related with ‘asking money’.

The finance plan of a debut film and a movie by an established director might be totally different.

About my movies: ‘Under the Sky’ doesn’t have any funding or support money in the finance plan. But, it had crowdfunding, private equity and post-production sponsor. This was related to Under the Sky’s nature as it is more of an experimental movie. On the other hand, ‘Blue’ has support from the Ministry of Culture and Tourism and product sponsorships since it has more commercial value.

7) Which projects are you involved in at the moment, if they are not confidential? What are your expectations and what specifically excited you about them?

Su: There are a few projects. One is the documentary that I’ve mentioned earlier. It’s about the gender discrimination in Turkish filmmaking industry. It’s going to be a film within a film, where we include our own journey of filmmaking as two women (me and my co-director) and our own take on instances of sexism that’s prevalent in the industry.

Other than the doc, I’m involved in a narrative feature, a high-budget period film that’s based on a true story. It has the potential to be a great thriller, which I’m particularly excited about! Another feature that I’m doing is a trans-media project that tells the story of an Afghan refugee woman.

f3a3e4c1-253e-490a-909d-ab961b061d2dSuzan: Enkaz (Under the Sky) by Alpgiray Uğurlu was at 35th Istanbul Film Festival and at the moment we are on the process of world sales. USA and Canada are couple of the sold territories. This movie was a challenge with 2 actors and 2 locations. It is an experimental film about earthquake. For me, the unique methodology for financing and a topic about an international sorrow was very exciting as a producer to challenge with.

I always wanted to make a music documentary and I was very lucky to meet with Sertan Unver since it was his dream to make a documentary about Yavuz Cetin and Kerim Caplı. Blue is a feature music documentary about two rock stars of Turkey and I love to discover the inner life and drives of these two music hero who are the muse of every talented rock musician in Turkey at the moment.

I am attached as the Associate Producer of Boarding School by Rezan Yesilbas which will be at Cannes L’atelier 2016 and also I am working on Nehir Tuna’s first feature Yurt (Dormitory) as one of the producers.

In addition to my production related jobs, I work as the General Coordinator of Antalya Film Forum, the co-production and project development market of Antalya Film Festival.

prepared by Mutlu Yetkin.

Film Review: A Shadow of Dara

Is it The Age of Aquarius that oozing into imaginations that film narratives, shorts as well have increasingly entangled daring speculations about the nature of reality that can’t help touching and at times referencing a wide palette of philosophical schools?

A Shadow of Dara is like an interstellar Matrix that jumps into showing the Nebuchadnezzar right after its beginning. Dehrin-Dara, “the scion of the House of Dara” is the commander of a benign alien race who is captured by the enemy, “The Shadows”.

ShadowOfDara (1)He is imprisoned in a Matrix-like reality (the scenes of his ‘awakening’ transpire in an office space and his dream-personality put in a mental straightjacket of sarcastic paper-pusher hints at a corporate critique that lurks beneath) as the evil aliens are bent on extracting the vital information that is in his brain. Opposite, a human rebel leader plugs into the “matrix” to rescue him.

In the best science-fiction fashion (think about The Sphere, The Avatar etc), A Shadow ofDara utilizes suspense in an intelligent manner. The acting in the film is good, its cinematography well-crafted, its pace nor rushing neither dragging and it treats its story impressively. Yet squeezing too much into the duration of a short film is somewhat risky. For in the space of a short, certain quotes which may hit the spot in a feature length (also concerning the cinematic atmosphere features can usually create) sound trite, overdone or just out of place. Meanwhile the philosophical implications embedded – parallel realities, reality being nothing more than a dream, the hint at a butterfly effect etc – may suffer the same fate.

All in all, A Shadow of Dara is a compelling narrative that points at a very promising director and crew. It is certain that subsequent offerings will be as pleasing and thought-provoking if not more.

prepared by Mutlu Yetkin.

Film Review: Cold Matchsitck

Is 2016 a magical year where the full poetic spirit of Portugal materializes in films like no time else? From Ricardo Franco, the assistant director of the magical A Noite de Santo António, a glowing part of the most recent selection of Largo comes a directorial debut and an elegant meditation on and an ode to Faustian (yet lovelorn!) souls that push the boundaries.

-_CartazAlfonso Luis Campos – a reference to Pessoa heteronym Alvaro de Campos? – is a poet obsessed with his Beatriz and living, like all genuine poets ( true distillers of the invisible, remember Rilke, Rimbaud or Lautreamont), with a predisposition to a pretty spiritual hubris. When he finds Beatriz about to slip away from life, he seeks to close a deal with Death itself, and offers his own life, committing to take on a large dose of suffering, in exchange for her coming to life again. In the face of Death’s repeated warnings, he proceeds to the handshake. Nevertheless, fate doesn’t come as straightforward as him and Beatriz passes onto the other side, leaving Alfonso full of desperation and with muses hovering over him – which, in turn, give birth to a tome of mesmerizing poetry dedicated to / inspired by her. The deal that’s sealed however, returns at an unexpected turn in his life and Alfonso will understand the price of hubris and confusing ‘need’ with love and dabbling with the very foundations of his own life.

Well-saturated B&W cinematography (with a palette between Coffee and Cigarettes Jim Jarmush and meditative Bela Tarr where at times blacks are as dark “as the devil painteth” and whites are as blinding as staring directly into the sun) with its contemplative grandeur and excellent use of mise-en-scene (the shifts from scenes that display as well as formidable acting highlight the utterly romantic nature of Cold Matchstick.

Cold Matchstick’s pace is slow and the film lasts an hour (at least this festival version) and this may be a problem for some viewers. Yes, there is this feeling of a debut film that penetrates into some scenes, especially when characters utter ultra-poetic lines. The very slow pace also might be a problem for some viewers – yet many will hail this as another invitation that dresses the spirit of the film and will pleasurably immerse themselves into it as there isn’t any millisecond where this choice of slowness signals a pretentious ‘minimalism’ or some other unconscious unpalatable experimentation.

Conclusively, Cold Matchstick is an impressive film that hits the mark and achieves what its director makes us feel he was set to achieve. I hope the waves it will create will provide the right launch-pad for him to strive for and accomplish ever more.

prepared by Mutlu Yetkin

Film Review: Lan Jiao Lang

9Lan_Jiao_Lang_-_AfficheSoliloquys rarely make good and captivating movies – if we are not talking about a Robbe-Grillet film.Lan Jiao Lang is a family drama sans the family itself. An endnote that crowns a poignant, smoking pile of ash and incinerated remains of a nebula of hurtful emotions – as well as yearning. Lan Jiao Lang is the tale of a father and a daughter, of the latter listening to (or rather interestingly, awakening to) the testimony of the former. Reconciliation and reunion awaits, for the film is not without its promises, but not fully before the father reunites with the late mother.

Story-wise, we are talking about a brief moment expanded into the duration of a short. Lan Jiao Lang flows like poetry – grey poetry in this regard. The debris that remains after the self-torture (the fruit of a backlash of karma, as the protagonist/father expresses) is almost splattered onto the viewer from the depths of the screen. The spleen of the father is, though not well-dissected, makes its heaviness felt through narration as well as camera grammar.

However, self-talk rarely makes masterpieces. Lan Jiao Lang stands at the edge of being an exercise in translating deeper emotions into the language of film. Even though the centrepiece feeling of the film is caustic and is destined to be highlighted over and over, a diversification of pathos and inclusion of some other elements, along with some more craftiness in plot-work, are asked for. Nevertheless, departing from the impact of the film, it can very well be said that the director has skill and bravado in mediating certain situations and is talented to work out, in near future, more expansive stories.

prepared by Mutlu Yetkin.

Film Review: American Dynasty

American Dynasty boasts the voyeuristic pleasures and the captivating energy of a film de clef (if such a label exists) with a sophisticated and exciting cultural commentary addressing one of the least cinematically excavated segments of contemporary American society: Chinese Americans. A TV series project accumulating momentum and backing for a launch, American Dynasty is about a Chinese-American family whose remaining members – a colourful motley crew rather than a tightly knit tribe – are trying to come to terms with the legacy of a deceased mother who happens to be a famous author with colossal triumphs and an equally riddling image and personal history.

American_Dynasty-web-8The characters that populate this ark are extraordinarily imagined and played – Chris, one of the personae who happens to be around the centre of the drama, is a haunting mélange of the self-imprisoning tendencies of both worlds: a Western fixation on decorum and Mandarin aloofness supported by an occupation with ‘should be’s that is puissant enough to hide icebergs of repressed sentiment. Nevertheless, the task of ‘keeping the kingdom intact’ – Chris’ particular obsession that marks the intersection of a hi-fi Asian modus vivandi and American social etiquette, which means preserving the appearances and self-convictions in this particular context – is executed with significantly better results by his sisters.

The ‘involuntary sensuality’ scene x-raying Chris’ emotional closet may compete with Nic Roeg’s unforgettable ritual in Don’t Look Now featuring a Venice-struck Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland, in means of heat and bringing the subconscious to the fore.

American dynasty is not simply about being stranded inbetween cultures, or about a limbo of belonging and non-belonging. Having to put dual straightjackets – that of palatial, what-to-whisper-in-the-Emperor’s-hall Chinese politics and that of American garden party politics – may seem to crucify the remaining members of Han family, but as the late mother concluded, her kids are already assimilated, already a part of the new terrain that had once given her plenty of challenges to overcome. In this regard, American Dynasty seems to offer narrative lessons on how to manage ghosts given in person by a festivity of characters – a narrative promise that is pregnant with pleasurable twists and knots.

In this contemporary climate where TV series writing, taking advantage of the crises that haunt silver screen production and attendance, stalks some stunning heights the auds should look forward to salute the emergence of such a daring and written-from-the-heart drama into the white screen.

prepared by Mutlu Yetkin.

Film Review: I am Terry Zou

Penetrating neon colours of Winding Refn and twisted stories of Tarantino crash into each other in I am Terry Zou, the story of a not so well known pop singer being kidnapped by the Chinese mob and trying to find a way out of the mangle.

As in several contemporary ‘rock’n roll’ mob movies, I am Terry  Zou makes a tour de force with its dynamic, almost MTV style editing. Frozen stills, jump cuts, repeats, intros/interventions intercut into the flow introduce a speedy and captivating timeline. Split screens or reaction shots would make it all the more impactful, and one can’t help wishing if slushy C-pop could be replaced by something more rock’n rollish, The pace slows down as story progresses, as Terry Zou charms his way to stage to launch a show that would hopefully save him, appealing to the arch mobster’s wife.

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This Guy Ritchie’esque pathos fails, as expected, on the character development side of the palette. Caricatures abound, as this particular ‘genre’ of mobster tales usually do not require a compelling depth. The fat clumsy mobster who isn’t really that intelligent, the line-managing mobster whose kowtow to the head figure is as passionate as his commanding his minions, the chief of mischief bullied by his want-it-all wife. And lastly,Terry Zou, as stainless and innocent as a swan.

Such takes, with their frenetic flow, compact plots and editing sprees, include some of the ‘musts’ commercial directors should excel at, hence may serve as exercises. Terry Zoumay herald the dawn of a career too, but for a future to solidify, more elusive cinematic tactics, rigorous plot-work and an eye for character development are essential.

prepared by Mutlu Yetkin.

Film Review: The Trial of Everett Mann

How could your entire conception of reality reshape itself if you were doomed to proceed to your death at the mercy seat (or the gallows)? How could one put an end to the self-questioning (if any committed) as the hour is about to come?  The Trial of Everett Mann revolves around this question but goes beyond the ordinary in working out a guess and provokes thought on deeply philosophical subjects of fate, salvation, agony, the nature of reality and sacrifice.

“You set the stage, it’s your show”.

TTOEM_poster_FINAL_1As he awaits the end, Everett Mann, an arrogant death row inmate is told,  by a warden who delivers his last meal that the very torture he was going through could be overcome by playing “as if”. The mind composes one’s own mental environment and though one cannot change reality, one can pretty change how to feel about it. This initial revelation, seemingly unsatisfying compared to what such a spirit would yearn for at that minute, sets the scene for a thorough deus ex machina. The show goes on, the court that tries him doesn’t exonerate Mann. However, a stranger enters Mann’s cell and replaces him on his path to execution, offering his own life instead his after showing him grace.

Asides treating, though as a side-reference, the entire issue of the justice of the death penalty –Everett Mann perfectly pictures the mental agony the death penalty entails – is an impressive tale of salvation that makes sense when read even linearly. Who is the man that replaced Mann? A savior figure cropped out of a religion? His own personal guardian angel? His higher self urged to lend a hand after Mann came to terms with his own fault? Regardless of the answer, we should remember that the stranger’s real work starts only after Mann’s letting go of arrogance and his insistence, accepting his guilt (and maybe applying the warden’s advice and succeeding though not knowing it).

Shot in a historic jail and courtroom (blessed with a bona fide atmosphere in that regard), The Trial ofEverett Mann distinguishes itself also for its style – solid compositions, crisp cinematography, intriguing plays of light, smart use of music, smooth changes of ambiance and last but not least, very impressive acting. Considering its nicely knotted plot and overall success in execution, The Trial ofEverett Mann is a very good short that advertises the talent and commitment of its director, Mike Gerard.

prepared by Mutlu Yetkin.