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Tolga Karaçelik • Director

“Who remains at the top of the hierarchy when we don’t need it anymore?”


- Cineuropa sat down with Turkish director Tolga Karaçelik to discuss his film Ivy, winner of the Cineuropa Prize at the Lecce European Film Festival

Tolga Karaçelik • Director

Tolga Karaçelik is part of a new generation of Turkish directors, known for his own unique style. After a number of shorts and music videos, the filmmaker made a splash with his feature debut, Toll Booth, which earned him the Antalya Film Festival’s prestigious Golden Orange Award for Best First Film, and also won the festival's Best Cinematography and Best Actor awards. Cineuropa caught up with the director to discuss his latest film, Ivy [+see also:
film review
interview: Tolga Karaçelik
film profile
, the winner of the Cineuropa Prize at the Lecce European Film Festival.

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Cineuropa: What was the main motivation behind this film and its theme?
Tolga Karaçelik: The real motivation for Ivy came when I came face to face with the Turkish authorities, to be honest with you. So the main question of the film became “who is at the top of the hierarchy when we don’t need it anymore, and how do they try to maintain status quo?” The ship isn’t moving, so what do we do with the captain? From there, I looked at what I have been facing in my own territory and that made me come up with this concept. What do leaders, like the captain usually do? I tried to look at the bigger picture and the power struggle between these six characters from that point of view. 

What were some of the difficult parts of shooting the film?
During shooting, while shooting in one location, there were always difficulties trying to continue a story visually without becoming boring, while still giving it that claustrophobic feeling. But there were also some easy bits to shooting in one location: you can always go back to the scene that you shot. It’s something you have in the back of your mind – you don’t lose any location while shooting. So it has its pros and cons. It’s also hard shooting on a ship, with all the equipment and stuff.

How did you go about trying to create the feeling of five months passing in just two hours?
For me the biggest issue in filmmaking is about rhythm. The rhythm of the characters starts with the dialogues, and also the rhythm of the film. After deciding each character’s rhythm and the film’s rhythm, there comes this issue of time. I believe that the concept of time, through its uniqueness and unity, is something that you can make sincere or insincere in a movie. At times, I tried to combine this concept of time and deal with it as a single unit. I wanted it to feel like an oppressive blanket over them. That’s why I chose to use kind of smooth camera movements. While I wanted the idea of time to always be present, I didn’t want the audience to be thinking about how many days have passed. I think in only one instance I say something like “50 days”. Other than that, we don’t talk about the time. So that was kind of a challenge for me: to give the impression of those five months passing through the acting and dialogues.

Is there a specific reason behind the six characters you chose?
Well, firstly, it had to do with the law. According to maritime law, six people have to stay in a ship like that: one from the engine room, one from the kitchen, two seamen, one able seaman and a member from the captains’ class. But all these characters represent something in this power struggle, and they are similar to the characters you'd find on a Turkish cargo ship, where there are three or four main groups you fall into: dopers, alcoholics, the religious guys, and so on. I tried to have one character from each group. I also tried to convey the Turkish society in that way. They don’t symbolise it directly, but because they are characters they do carry their social and economical backgrounds with them.

As a jury, we were impressed by the use of sounds and music; how did you work on making such a bold soundscape?
In a movie like this, which takes place in only one location and uses absence of sound as a threat, we had to put a lot of thought into it. With music, this was how I felt it had to be. There wasn’t a lot of music only a 1970s Turkish rock song and what we made on a synthesiser. I wanted this music to be part of the sound system, and we designed sounds and music together. That was our aim, and we looked at it as one soundtrack, which I think more and more people are doing in the film industry.

How was the film received in Turkey when it was released?
The film won four awards at the Antalya Film Festival: Best Film, Best Director, Best Screenplay and Best Actor. It also won Best Director and Best Actor in the International Ardana Film Festival, but we couldn’t compete at Istanbul because of the censorship issues. It was only released in 12 movie theatres across Turkey, and we weren’t able to get any television pre-sales, because the film is seen as kind of hard and tough, and wouldn’t have been able to be shown without censorship. It’s unfortunate because this is a huge source of income for movies like ours.

Why did you leave the film’s ending so open?
My main idea was about that certain period of time, how do people react to each other and this power struggle, and when do they break? After that, anything else would be a different movie. I also found using Cenk’s last question to Ismail to let the audience decide what happens kind of romantic. I enjoyed this romantic, open ending for the film. My focus of the movie was up to that point, after that it can be a thriller, it can be anything. I didn’t want to label my characters as a killer or as a loser.

What can you tell us about your next project?
My next project, which is called Butterflies right now, has been to the Sundance lab. I’m excited to be making this kind of dark comedy about three siblings coming together in their home village after 30 years. It’s the same time and place as in Toll Booth. I think I will be shooting it in 2017, but it all depends on whether we can receive backing from the Ministry of Culture or not. Things in Turkey are complicated right now: last year we were supposed to have four sessions, but didn’t have any, and this year we had one, so I don’t know how it will go. 

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