“Only emotions change the audience’s minds”
by Vladan Petkovic
- Turkish director Hüseyin Karabey tells Cineuropa about the troubled production of Come to My Voice and his desire to continue the Kurdish tradition of storytelling
The Turkish director of Kurdish ethnicity Hüseyin Karabey broke out internationally in 2008 with his first film, Gitmek: My Marlon and Brando, which won him awards such as Best Balkan Film at Sofia and Best New Narrative Filmmaker at Tribeca, as well as the Heart of Sarajevo for Best Actress for the film's star, Ayça Damgaci. He could be called a “political” filmmaker, as all of his films tackle the Kurdish issue, including the 2012 title F Tipi Film,about the solitary confinement of political prisoners in Turkey.
With his latest film, Come to My Voice [+see also:
interview: Hüseyin Karabey
film profile], Karabey sticks with the same theme in his story about a little girl and her grandmother who are looking for a way to free the girl's father from jail. The director tells Cineuropa about his desire to continue the Kurdish tradition of storytelling, and the troubled production of the film with a taboo subject matter.
Cineuropa: The structure of the film is all about storytelling. It is being narrated as a story by the old bard, and there are numerous stories being told within the film.
Hüseyin Karabey: I love cinema, and I always want to try something new. This time I decided to go back to my roots. The bards, or the dengbej (which means "master of the voice"), are highly respected in Kurdish society. So this is where I took my inspiration from, this tradition of storytelling. If you look at the characters in the story, they are all storytellers, some of them professional, some non-professional. And as at the end of the film the little girl continues this job of storytelling, I wanted to do the same, but in cinema. This is my contribution to this tradition.
All of your films are related to the Kurdish issue. How do you see this problem, and how do you see yourself in the political sense?
The Kurds are always connected to terrorism in the minds of Turkish society because of how they are presented in the media. They have no knowledge of our culture. They don't even know the geography, so in the film I used some beautiful locations, but it is all in how you show it. I wanted to create empathy with the Kurdish lifestyle and culture.
There was a political background to the story, as there always is, but I didn't want to go deeper than what you see in the film. I am a Kurd from a working-class family, and in the eyes of the state, I am a potential criminal. During my time at university, I was arrested for taking part in demonstrations. We never see the real stories from a Kurdish perspective on the big screen, so that is why I wanted to become a filmmaker, to tell the public about my problems and the problems of my people. I have a responsibility to tell these stories. Through filmmaking, I learned that information does not change the audience's minds, but emotions do. And to be able to put these emotions on the screen, you have to live them; they have to be your own emotions.
You had a lot of problems with financing and the production of the film.
There are not many funding options for independent filmmakers in Turkey, and for a film about a taboo subject matter, the difficulties are much greater. We applied twice to the Cinema Fund of the Ministry of Culture and were rejected both times. They openly told me that they could not fund the film, because it might cause them problems with the army.
But, thanks to my first film, I had the chance to work with French and German co-producers, and got money from funds in these countries. Luckily, my producers helped me to be able to spend this money in Turkey, which rarely happens.
The crew was also ready to help by working for free for a part of the shoot, and I decided to start with 60% of the budget. We were also rejected by the Ministry of Culture for post-production funding, so we decided to start a campaign on Kickstarter and got $15,000, and we found a post-production partner in Germany, Cine Plus.
At the time when we were shooting the film, in summer 2012, there was the last big battle going on between the Kurdish guerilla forces and the Turkish Army. We found good locations away from the battles, but by the end of the shooting, the battles had spread almost to where we were, around Lake Van, near the Iranian border. We had several local production assistants who were helping with the villagers. I told them about my story and they said these things were really happening between 1995 and 2000. Every night, the army would raid villages and humiliate people, and these people really helped us with the shooting. I also found the little girl in the same village where we filmed and Feride Gezer, who plays the grandmother, in a nearby town.
What is your next project?
It will be a story about the military coup in 1971 and the kidnapping of an Israeli diplomat by students after some of their leaders from the 1968 protests had been sentenced to death. A kind of political thriller, but with my own twist.