Selcen Ergun • Director of Snow and the Bear
“The story is based on the power relationships that I and many women of all ages around me experience in their daily encounters”
- We caught up with the Turkish director to discover more about her debut feature, which scooped the Cineuropa Award at the recent Cinemamed in Brussels
Selcen Ergun is a director, scriptwriter and producer from Turkey. She obtained her master’s degree in Screenwriting and Directing from Istanbul Bilgi University in 2009 and is a Berlinale Talents alumna from 2018. She began her career as an assistant director, working on many national and international productions, and started directing short films, adverts and music videos. Snow and the Bear [+see also:
interview: Selcen Ergun
film profile] is her debut feature, which premiered at Toronto in 2022. The Turkish-German-Serbian co-production has just screened at Cinemamed in Brussels, where it won the Cineuropa Award (see the news), and it will go on to have its US premiere in January at the Palm Springs International Film Festival.
Cineuropa: What were your motivations for making the film?
Selcen Ergun: This story is a reflection of a core feeling that I have been experiencing increasingly as a young woman, on a daily basis, for a long time. The feeling of living under this constant pressure which is not fully visible, but which surrounds us like heavy air; the perpetual feeling of not being safe, which many people consistently face in various places on Earth, to different extents. On the other hand, when I have started confronting this more and more, I have also realised that I’m stronger than I thought I was before. In this film, I wanted to explore all of these feelings of fear, confinement, struggle and hope, in the microcosm of a small, isolated town where they would become more tangible. This movie also reflects my contemplations on how we, as humans, see ourselves as the centre of the world and the unfair way in which we treat nature and all of its creatures.
Do you think the film reflects the situation of women in Turkey nowadays?
Although this story takes place in an imaginary, remote town, it is based on the feelings and power relationships that I and many women of all ages around me experience in their daily encounters. I think that many women from Turkey and around the world can easily identify with the uncanny feeling that persists throughout the film. For me, the comment by a viewer who watched the film at its premiere at Toronto reflects the core of Snow and the Bear: “This film meditates on a time when the winter will cease and the world will just let women and nature be.”
A recent study by the European Audiovisual Observatory pointed out that in Europe, the films made by female directors in the last five years account for just 30% of the total. Is this also true for Turkey? Is it more difficult for a woman to find financing in Turkey than it is for a man?
Unfortunately, this figure stands at only 6% for Turkey. This is an unbelievable and thought-provoking ratio. Of course, at the heart of this inequality lie many layers of obstacles that are confronted by a female director who is trying to make her first film and forge a career. The most significant barrier to getting started is the imbalance in both public funds and private investments. Again, in the last five years, only 8% of the films that received support from the public funds in Turkey have been made by female directors. Besides these statistics, when I listen to the individual stories of female filmmakers who are on the same path as me, I hear again and again about the barriers they encounter at every step of the way, and the words they often face: “You can't do it.” I think that all those women who can continue to make films, especially in Turkey, are fierce warriors armed with endless determination and perseverance.
Storytelling is a medium for human beings to express, communicate and make sense of their collective and personal experiences. Especially in complicated times like these, we need this kind of collective contemplation. Stories have the ability to make people feel like they are not alone; they can make you feel stronger. In the last few years, more and more women – scriptwriters and directors – have been creating their own opportunities to tell their stories. They have inspired and supported each other. I would like to see this not as a tendency, but as the first steps towards the elimination of a strange imbalance that has existed for a long time. However, there is still a long way to go.
What were the main difficulties when shooting the film in a remote village in the middle of winter?
The location and the weather conditions were the biggest challenges for us. We needed the most extreme winter that we could find and as much snowfall as possible, which would last for the entirety of our very tight 29 days of shooting. Climate change also affected our filmmaking process: we discovered that many locations in Turkey, which had been under the snow for months in previous years, are now getting very little snow. In the end, we needed to go to a high mountain village in the far north-eastern part of Turkey. During the shoot, there were days when we could not leave the base to go to the village where we were shooting because of snow storms and frozen roads. Some nights, we needed to work at below -30 degrees. However, I’m grateful for all these challenges, since they also enabled us to create the unique atmosphere of the film.
Did you enjoy reading this article? Please subscribe to our newsletter to receive more stories like this directly in your inbox.