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BERLINALE 2021 Panorama

Ferit Karahan • Director of Brother's Keeper

“I think being better treated as children would help people to rise and be successful”


- BERLINALE 2021: We talked to the Turkish director about his social drama with tragicomic elements, based on his own experience in a boarding school for boys

Ferit Karahan  • Director of Brother's Keeper
Director Ferit Karahan (right) (© Diren Duzgun)

Turkish director Ferit Karahan has created with Brother's Keeper [+see also:
film review
interview: Ferit Karahan
film profile
a truly touching and fascinating tragicomedy with an impressive young protagonist played by a non-professional actor. The film had his premiere at this year's Berlinale in the Panorama section. We talked with the director about his own experience in a boarding school, how he found his protagonist and his work with the children.

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Cineuropa: You were also in a boarding school as a child. When did the idea come to you to use your experience for a film?
Ferit Karahan:
I began to write a film about my experience in 2009, but I realised I didn't have enough personal distance to the material yet. For me, the boarding school is a big trauma. I spent six years in a boarding school, and it was a really hard situation with a lot of violence. The entire society back then in the 1990s was used to violence, and the school was no exception. So after the first draft came the second, in 2013, which wasn't good enough either. In 2016, the climate about the Kurdish people changed in Turkey and I thought I was ready to write a new version of the script. We sat down and seven days later, we came up with this version of the film.

What made you realise that it was important to have enough distance from the story to be able to tell it?
Without it, I would have told a one-level story that would speak only about politics. I realised that the teachers were also victims of the same system. They were in a big dilemma about how to cope with the repressive atmosphere around them. Besides, a lot of them are still teaching nowadays and the system is mostly still the same as it was then.

What strikes me is that the children are not heard and mostly ignored.
This is a big problem. Basically, the reason behind this behaviour is that the adults do not believe that the children are reasonable, that they understand and can talk with adults about certain topics on the same level. I think if that was different, you could avoid a lot of things. I think being better treated as children would help people to rise and be successful. I believe we would face a brighter future. Working on the film, I wanted to change that. I gave the children roles, I explained my strategy to them and talked to them as if they were adults. It worked out very well, they immediately understood. It was new to them, that someone was listening to them and believing in them.

How did you find your actors?
The teachers are all professional actors, some of them very popular. Although the film could be seen as a political critique, they luckily accepted immediately. When it came to finding Yusuf, to play the main children role, it was more difficult. I did a casting with more than a hundred children. One month before the shoot, we still didn't have a Yusuf and my colleagues started to get stressed. I wanted Yusuf to find us, and he actually did. I met the boy and ate something with him while chatting about animals, the land and family for an hour.

How did you make the children feel comfortable around the camera?
It was very funny to work with them. In the first week, when I told them to walk along a certain spot, they walked as if they were some mafia guys. Children are used to TV series and thought they should act as being part of the Turkish mafia, not only in the way they walked but also in how they spoke. But they learned quickly. In order to make them focus, I was very serious when we were shooting. I never laughed and that was very effective, they immediately got serious too. It was necessary, otherwise we wouldn’t have managed with the 500 children we had there.

How did you choose the location to shoot the film?
The film was shot in a real boarding school. In the beginning we had another place in mind, but when the head of the education resort of the city learned about my political background, he refused to give us the permission. In a similar way as my main character, I was suddenly stuck in bureaucracy too. This is why we had to go to another village.

I was reminded of a film by Kiarostami while watching your film. Where does your artistic inspiration come from?
I seek my inspiration in literature. For Yusuf, there is a character, an apprentice written by Marcel Proust, that inspired me. He has an opinion on everything, but all of it is wrong.

Besides the harshness of the topic, you manage to have some humour in your story.
I didn't want to make it especially funny, but the situation is more of a tragicomedy. There is a Kafkaesque atmosphere which made it funny for me. By the means of repetition, I could create some funny scenes like the slippery floor. This and the repetitions in general are also very important as a metaphor for the bureaucracy that makes the people inside of it feel like they’re part of a carousel.

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