Nick Read and Ayse Toprak • Directors of My Name is Happy
“We were trying to capture the personal impact of gender-based violence on a family”
by Elena Lazic
- The co-directors discuss their documentary about a young Turkish singer whose rise to fame was interrupted by an attack from a suitor, and her fight for women’s rights
Telling the story of Mutlu, a young Turkish singer who was on the path to national fame when she was attacked by a disgruntled suitor, My Name is Happy [+see also:
interview: Nick Read and Ayse Toprak
film profile] paints a portrait of a country where gender-based violence is rife, but where more and more women and men are defiantly raising their voices to ask for justice. The film is self-distributed, and currently touring the UK, since its 19 May premiere. We talked to the film’s co-directors Nick Read and Ayse Toprak about their journey making the film and their hopes for its impact.
Cineuropa: How did you get involved with this project?
Nick Read: I first travelled to southern Turkey in 2012, making a short film for the BBC about polygamy at a time when honour killings and all kinds of examples of gender-based violence were commonplace. I really wanted to go back and revisit some of those issues. In 2015, I read about Mutlu's shooting and had she not been on the talent show, I don't believe it ever would have been reported in the English language. Me and our Turkish producer, Mahmut Kaya, approached the family about a year after the shooting. We stayed in contact and in 2020, when I read about a whole string of femicides in Turkey, we got back in touch and learned that Mutlu’s sister Dilek had been murdered. At that point, I reached out to Ayse and we began making the film.
Ayse Toprak: I knew about the case because I'm Turkish and it was a really famous case. I was already involved in the cause and I knew the story, so when Nick approached me, it was kind of a no brainer for me.
How did you split responsibilities?
NR: I don't speak Turkish, so I would pay credit to Ayse’s amazing ability to establish a relationship of trust with Mutlu and her family, which was crucial to the tone and, I hope, honesty of the film. I was also producing the film, dealing with the logistic and funding issues we had because we were making it through the pandemic. But I hadn't co-directed before, so it was a learning curve for me.
AT: I do not like the ego behind being the one and only director, so I really enjoyed the collaboration that we had. There were points where we were both very confused, and the fact that we could rely on each other and sort things out together was super helpful. Even though Nick doesn't speak Turkish, he had the sensibility to become part of the team and the family.
NR: Ayse brought the most incredible, mainly female team, including a really wonderful cinematographer, Meryem Yavuz. I was the only non-Turkish person on the shooting team, and I think that made a difference to the family.
Why include the perspectives of Mutlu’s brother and father in the film?
NR: We were trying to capture the more unreported legacies of a patriarchal society and the personal impact of gender-based violence on a family. We did go looking for male voices outside the family, in the community, but they were not articulate and we didn't feel they contributed to this personalised and intimate portrait. So the two male voices are the father, who has a burden of guilt and shame about what happened to his two daughters. And then there is Hakan, Mutlu's brother, who has a burden of anger and just about manages to keep a lid on it. He was a very important voice to us to represent the younger Gen Z generation, but also his outrage on behalf of his sisters.
AT: I think it's harder for men, especially Turkish men, to be emotional and express their thoughts about femicide. I think it was thanks to the connection we built that they became comfortable and could show their vulnerabilities. It's important for us that men watch this film, and I think they will have somebody they can empathise with when they see Hakan.
Nick, you mentioned that impact campaigns were new to you.
NR: When a film is described as speaking to people who care about human rights, then the art of impact producing is far more sophisticated than I've experienced and is separate from a commercial release campaign. We have very ambitious goals for the film to engage at a political and governmental level, to lean heavily on the Turkish government to protect the rights of women. A lot of our plans for the future are conditioned by the result of this election. Another objective is a campaign to inform, educate, stimulate debate, and lend our support to existing women's rights organisations and campaigns. The third objective is to support Mutlu with her care and therapy. We are being amazingly supported by an organisation called Think Film Impact, and are getting offers of support from large women's rights organisations. It's very exciting, it's all new to me and we've got it all ahead of us.
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