Serpil Altın • Director of Once Upon a Time in the Future: 2121
“I wanted to show a ‘documentary of the future’ today because of my growing concerns about what’s coming next”
- The Turkish director talked us through the making of her charming sci-fi picture revolving around a society trapped underground
Cineuropa met up with Serpil Altın, the director of Once Upon a Time in the Future: 2121 [+see also:
interview: Serpil Altın
film profile]. Recently awarded the Prize for Best Directing at Santarcangelo di Romagna’s Nòt Film Festival (see the news) after taking part in many other gatherings, this fascinating sci-fi picture is set in a future where the Earth’s surface has become uninhabitable owing to the climate crisis and famine. The few survivors form colonies and start to live underground. The narrative zooms in on the vicissitudes of a family of four, played by Sukeyna Kılıç, Aysenil Şamlıoğlu, Selen Öztürk and Çağdaş Onur Öztürk. During our chat, Altın talked us through the making of the film, touching upon both the artistic and the technical challenges involved.
Cineuropa: When did you start working on Once Upon a Time in the Future: 2121?
Serpil Altın: I wrote the story five years ago. During the pandemic, I wrote the script with my co-writer Korhan Uğur. The atmosphere during that period had a huge impact on the screenplay.
Why did you decide to tell this story today?
I wanted to show a “documentary of the future” today because of my growing concerns about what is coming next. I am 25 years older than my daughter, Nisan Uğur – a quarter of a century. One day, she asked me: “Will there be a world left for us to live in?” I wanted everyone to ask themselves the same question.
Could you elaborate on the casting process?
I wanted to portray the emotionless and soulless underground people using stylised acting. It was impossible for me to do this with ordinary performers. For this reason, I had to find talented actors. My casting director, Selim Bahar, and I worked for months to find the four leading actors. In the end, I think we found the best ones.
Were there any external references that influenced or shaped your work, such as books, films or plays?
I have loved reading science-fiction books since my childhood. 1984 and Brave New World were the works that impressed me the most. You can see the influence of these books on my film. At film school, they used to call me “Miss Méliès”. Outside of literature, my sources of inspiration are the Greek Weird Wave, especially Yorgos Lanthimos; the visual aesthetics of Wes Anderson; Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s films; the realities of the pandemic period; and Salvador Dalí’s The Three Sphinxes of Bikini.
What type of vision did you work on with your DoP, Kaan Çalışkan?
First of all, we worked on a light design where sunlight would not be present in the underground blocks. This was a challenge in itself. Wes Anderson’s visual aesthetic has always impressed me. Symmetrical compositions and calm camera movements helped to depict this flat and uneasy world. Anamorphic lenses give the illusion of a wider field of view, so we created a different world design with these lenses as well.
Could you tell us more about your work on the score and the production design?
I made sketches of the underground blocks in my film during the scriptwriting phase. I showed these detailed drawings to my production designer, Özüdoğru Cici, who built the sets according to them. In the selection of the material, my line producer, Mustafa Topçu, suggested that a stone texture would give the feeling of being underground, which was a very good idea. It helped to convey a realistic feeling. The only thing that would remind us of the existence of nature was this texture.
The music was a long and painful process because we discussed styles a great deal. [These] people [are] living in a world without music. We could have ended the film with classical music, but that was the easiest way. That’s why we started to work and experiment on scenes with music-box sounds and electronic music. The music box was a good option for the transition between generations.
Your film is part of a trilogy. Could you talk us through the other two films? What stage of production are they at?
The name of the trilogy is Once Upon a Time in The Future. 2121 is the middle part of the story. Young Revolution: 2071 will be the first film. It talks about the revolution of the young generations, who want to take revenge on the old rulers who ruined the world, and take it over. It is an extremely bloody story, as no revolution can be bloodless. We are currently writing the script for this story with my co-writer Korhan Uğur. We look forward to bringing it to life as soon as possible. The last film in the trilogy, titled Heavenly World: 2222, is about some people who destroy the underground system and all the technology so that they can return to the heavenly world with nothing, just like Adam and Eve came to Earth. Since these stories tackle universal themes, I think they will also be of interest to producers around the world.
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