Young Wrestlers: The boys get ready to rumble
by Vladan Petkovic
- BERLIN 2016: Turkish-Dutch filmmaker Mete Gümürhan's directorial debut received a Special Mention in the Berlinale's Generation Kplus section
Rotterdam-born Mete Gümürhan is best known internationally as the Dutch co-producer of Asli Özge's Men on the Bridge [+see also:
interview: Asli Özge
film profile] and Lifelong [+see also:
film profile], which he worked on through his Amsterdam- and Istanbul-based company, Kaliber Film. He has now entered the arena of directing with the feature-length documentary Young Wrestlers [+see also:
film profile], which-world premiered in the Berlinale's Generation Kplus section and won a Special Mention.
The film follows several 12-year-old boys as they are preparing for a competition in Turkish oil wrestling, a sport that has been gaining international attention in recent years thanks to social media. The boys all live, study and train in the Wrestling Training Centre in Amasya, a city in north-central Anatolia, along with other youngsters aged between ten and 18.
Mostly hailing from poor villages, the kids are separated from their families for the first time. Some of them find it hard, like Baran, a motherless boy with a weight problem who sneaks into the teachers' room to phone his grandpa, while for some, like the super-talented Beytullah, the real trouble is his health, which might prevent him from becoming a champion. We watch their everyday routine, with the coaches not only pushing them in terms of physical exercise and imparting the finesse of the sport, but also ensuring they do not fall behind with their studies – a fail in maths or languages could mean that they have to leave the training centre.
A feeling of camaraderie, finely contrasted with competition, pervades the film, and this goes for the coaches, too – they are sensitive to the boys' needs and the delicate situation they are in. Gümürhan shapes the film as an observational documentary, catching telling moments and always keeping the big picture in mind.
It is probably true that the sport has attracted international attention mostly because of its homosexual implications (just watch any YouTube video with "Turkish oil wrestling" in the title), but the film does not go there. Firstly, the boys, whose competition takes place on the sidelines of the main event, are not wrestling covered in olive oil, like their grown-up counterparts, so to the untrained eye their fights look just like regular, Greco-Roman wrestling. Secondly, this has been a sport that the Turks have been proud of for centuries, celebrating its manliness – and if there is a homosexual thread to it, it runs much deeper than we have been led to believe recently.
Young Wrestlers is a co-production by Kaliber Film and Turkey's Filmalti, and Wide House handles the international rights.