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Zeynel Dogan • Director

Filming the sounds of the past

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- Voice of My father : a dive into the audio recordings of a family, transformed into a docu-fiction. In competition at the 10th Brussels Film Festival

Zeynel Dogan • Director

Seen for the first time at the latest Rotterdam Film Festival, Voice of My Father, made by the documentarists Zeynel Dogan and Orhan Eskikoy, is a curious mix of fiction and documentary based on sound recordings belonging to Dogan's family. Cineuropa met Zeynel Dogan at the Brussels Film Festival where this co-production between Turkey, Germany and France was screened in competition.

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Cineuropa : How did your film originate?
Zeynel Dogan : Between 1978 and 1992, my father worked abroad. Every time he left, he was away from home for two or three years. At that time most homes in my village didn't have a phone. It was very hard to communicate with him. My parents therefore decided to send each other audio cassettes which my mum has kept for all these years. It's the existence and the content of these recordings which are at the same time the film's origin and its subject.

Why a docu-fiction rather than pure fiction or a documentary?
At the beginning my idea was to make a documentary. That is how I had conceived it for three years. But when Orhan Eskikoy, with whom I ended up making the film, entered the project, he also managed to convince me that the material we had went way beyond the framework of a documentary. By going towards fiction, I was able to surpass my topic and to expand it. We tried to recreate a kind of fiction through the codes of reality.

Was it a risky choice to share the making of such a personal project?
On the contrary. As I knew the film's subject very well, since it was the story of my family, it was very complicated for me to look at the project from the outside. Orhan's arrival brought better balance to my own work. I gained from having a fresh perspective. Moreover I was in the film with my mother. Orhan really brought a cinematic point of view on a very personal story and on the relationship I had with my mother.

Your mother is very old. Did she feel that she was playing a role or that she was playing herself?
My mother is used to being filmed because I had already shot other films, for school, with her. Since originally the idea was to make a documentary, she told herself that she would carry on with her life as usual and that I would simply be there with the camera! As we slid towards fiction, she had to adapt herself. In the film there are some scenes which are recreated and others which didn't happen and this was much harder for her, who's not an actress. While the scenes that allowed her to come back to a « documentary view » of her daily life were much easier.

Coming up with a narrative and writing a script to film it with a focus on sound must have been a complex process. Is everything we hear real?
From the moment we decided to make a fiction film, we decided that everything we owned would be used for this new way of conceiving the film. If need be we would have to recreate everything. 85% of the sound sources are original ones, but we had recorded them with other voices because of the bad quality of the original sound.

The characters of the father and the brother are very present in their absence. We never see them; they are like ghosts. Why did you choose to do this?
In fact, it's a film about two characters we never see. They are stronger in their absence. The whole film was made so that my mother and I would only be there to talk about them. The fact that you hear voices without ever seeing the faces makes it a more intense cinematic experience.

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