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“The visual style resonates with our distorted collective memory of events”

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Gürcan Keltek • Director

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- We talked to Turkish filmmaker Gürcan Keltek about Meteors, the difficulties of political filmmaking, and his artistic and visual inspiration

Gürcan Keltek  • Director
(© Locarno Festival / Marco Abram)

We sat down with Turkish director Gürcan Keltek – whose feature debut, Meteors [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Gürcan Keltek
film profile
]
, took part in the Filmmakers of the Present competition of the 70th Locarno Film Festival, winning the Swatch Art Peace Hotel Award – to talk about the difficulties of political filmmaking, plus his artistic and visual inspiration.

Cineuropa: Is Meteors a purely political film, and how difficult was it to create?
Gürcan Keltek: It’s always difficult, especially when everyone has a different take on what has happened and you must reconsider everything while the events are still unfolding. Meteors was a reaction to what was going on, and there was a certain urgency to it, something that helped me to finish it. As a filmmaker, my intention is to go beyond current political situations. There were places I wanted to explore, where I don’t belong and which I want to observe differently. So it’s true that the film has political dimensions, but it starts to build itself up from something very personal, and then it becomes something else. I was originally fascinated by the history, the region, the people and the beautiful creatures in it, and Meteors is about them. The most difficult thing was to keep all of these elements intact while everything was fundamentally shifting or literally disappearing.

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Why did you divide the storyline into chapters?
The fragmented structure of the separate narratives led me to divide the story into numbered chapters. I edited a series of sequences with my editor, Fazilet Onat, and we tried to make them speak to one another. There were geographical time jumps and different events happening simultaneously, so they were necessary for the narrative, which was sometimes intentionally sloppy. I like chapters; I pay attention when they appear on screen. I was doing some research on old pagan texts and anonymous Kurdish folk songs while making the film, so all I was seeing was chapters. 

How did you manage to preserve the found footage?
I collected found material from many sources: from Russian news channels that captured the meteorites to independent reporters and CCTV footage. The most important footage came from Güliz Sağlam, a great filmmaker from Istanbul. What she shot for the Women’s Initiative for Peace in the south-east of Turkey was amazing, and we also used other recordings from them. When we felt that there was a gap to fill, we also went to the spot itself to do our own shooting. Apart from our handful of scenes, we preserved and edited everything else at once. 

Is this an experimental film or a documentary?
Initially, I was joking that Meteors would be a documentary with psychedelic undertones, but now it looks more like a fiction to me, as there is written dialogue and a rough timeline or script. Even if everything shown is real, the idea of natural or supernatural forces intervening while some huge political turmoil is going on is completely fictional. There are no limits in documentary filmmaking, and when you try to describe them, it just expands. There were some images that still haunt me, so I never thought of particular criteria. I believe that experimental fiction and documentary co-exist. 

Why did you use grainy, monochromatic cinematography?
I shot the opening scene at Mount Nemrut in grainy black and white many years ago; I used celluloid, and I really like the texture, which paired well with the low-quality videos with high-resolution grains. This is also directly linked to the elements of the film. At that time, there was such scarce information and limited news coverage on south-eastern cities. I believe the visual style resonates with our distorted collective memory, like one of those anonymous, web-streamed videos from the region, with glitches, monologues and the like. I was fascinated by those images. What happened back then is a faded memory now, and Meteors is my re-imagining of how we remember everything.

What was your experience of co-producing Meteors?
It started off as a self-financed film, and for a long time, I was alone with very few people. We won a work-in-progress award at Meetings on the Bridge at the International Istanbul Film Festival, which was a great help. Afterwards, with 29P Films and Marc Van Goethem, we managed to wrap the post-production. Then, two brilliant filmmaker friends of mine, Burak Çevik and Arda Çiltepe, joined me as producers, and we literally finished everything together – with a very tiny budget, of course. There is no conventional way to finance a film like this in Turkey right now.

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