If you had told director Canan Turan 3 years ago that she would be living in Barcelona making a film about her tumultuous relationship with her father, she probably wouldn’t have believed you. Yet here she is, with her first feature film project in full-swing. A crowdfunding campaign is underway and I managed to get a hold of her despite her busy schedule to ask her some questions about the intriguing film.
Hi Canan. We have a lot of ground to cover so let’s just dive right in.
EL: KAYA – THE ROCK AND THE SEA is your first feature-length film. What is it about?
CT: My film tells the story of my father and I with a focus on the ways we can live freely and be caring family members at the same time. Our main conflicts in the past arose from the fact that my father saw this as impossible: One had to think of the family first, live only for them, and never go too far with one’s own needs. He had seen how excessive personal freedom resulted in tyranny against the family with his own father and drug abuse with his older brother. Meanwhile I as a third generation migrant in Berlin wanted to have the same freedoms as my peers and rebelled against my father. I left home after high school and things began to eventually change. Instead of controlling me my father started to become more of a supporter. That’s when I got more interested in his story and realized how unfree he himself actually was. So, this is a documentary where I am taking a look at our past and present in order to understand each other better and to take the next step towards personal liberation.
EL: What compelled you to make such a personal film about your family?
CT: The main reason is that I believe in the power of the camera and the process of filmmaking in bringing people together and creating more understanding, compassion, and love. That is what I am seeking in my relationship with my father and this film is a wonderful tool to not only document us in that process but also as an enhancer because I have to ask myself: How can I tell all this in 90 minutes? What are the key questions I want to ask my father in life? What do I have to ask myself to really portray the heart of my personal story?
Another important reason for making an autobiographical film comes from the need that I see for self-representation in the film industry: There are many directors out there that make documentaries about the lives of others, which can be especially problematic if their protagonists are being “othered”, meaning being compared to the so-called Western lifestyle and culture. Those kind of films can’t reach the level of proximity and certainly can’t look from within, as an insider, like I am trying to do with my documentary.
EL: Is there anything that surprised you about the filming process so far?
CT: One of the things my father never allowed himself to do was return to Turkey, neither alone nor with his family, as he saw the good life only possible for us in Germany, economically speaking. That produced a lot of frustration and unhappiness in him that I can very much relate to as someone who also suffered from not being able to live out her dreams for a long time due to her role in the family. So I thought I could film him in a happier and more relaxed state of mind in Turkey. We travelled there together last summer – and it was a disaster. My father was constantly stressed out and still didn’t do what he loves most – that is, spend time in nature, especially fishing by the sea. He was simply angry with us for wanting to do other things. I also realized he couldn’t let go because he feared that he would meet his father in the village. My grandfather had been a violent and alcoholic husband and father, from whom my grandmother only divorced a few years ago. Understandably, my father is not interested in seeing him. This meant that almost all the shoots we did outside of the house were tense and really difficult to carry out. In the end, I could turn that material into a valuable part of KAYA’s story. I decided to shoot those scenes of bliss and letting go in a more neutral place: Barcelona. This is where I recently moved to and where my father will come to visit me during his holidays in August.
EL: How do you feel about the media portrayals of the Turkish-German experience as a Turkish-German filmmaker yourself?
CT: Turkish-Germans and other People of Color in Germany still don’t have many opportunities to make their own voices heard in films. So, the little representation we see on TV and in the cinemas are done by white Germans and can be very stereotypical and even racist. One of my favorite films from recent years is ALMANYA – WELCOME TO GERMANY by the Şamdereli sisters who are Kurdish-German. This is a powerful example of how an insider’s view on a migrant Turkish family can both entail criticism and respect, without the Orientalist clichés that are all too often applied in the mainstream media.
EL: Your film will deal a lot with the concepts of freedom and home, where do you see the connection?
CT: Home is something every human being needs to feel they belong somewhere and requires a group of caring, loving people. For many migrants, home remains an unfulfilled desire as they are neither accepted as full members of the society they migrated to, nor do they feel home within their families that are often traumatized, alienated, and struggling in various ways; whether it be economically, politically, and/or psychologically. This can lead to a situation where families become more rigid and oppressive as they are seeking to keep or create their “identity” and a sense of belonging. It is not the case with all families, of course, but it happens a lot in migrant communities, as I have experienced it myself and observed it in my neighborhood in Berlin-Kreuzberg. The dominant discourse in Germany represents this conflict as a cultural or even racial one, which I strongly disagree with. It is most certainly a rather complex phenomenon that also has to do with the racism migrants and their children have to deal with in Germany.
On a more abstract level, home and freedom have one thing in common, which is a sense of wholeness that comes from being one’s own person and of being loved and respected while you are loving and respecting yourself at the same time.
EL: Right now you are in the middle of a crowdfunding campaign. What made you decide to go that route?
CT: My project is in an in-between-stage of production. I have been applying for film funds in Germany together with my producer Zülfiye Akkulak from Newa Film. It usually takes a long time till the funds make their decision and I don’t have time since my father will come visit me in Barcelona in August. He won’t have the possibility to travel again till next year. So, I had to act fast and come up with an idea that would help us raise the money that we need to make this shoot happen without traditional film funds. Crowdfunding seemed to be the perfect solution as a film like KAYA can touch many hearts, which is why I think it can be a successful financing platform for the film.
EL: When is the movie going to come out?
CT: Probably in the winter of 2016/17, or later, depending on how the financing process and filming with my father will develop.
EL: What got you interested in film in the first place? Who inspires you?
EL: I graduated in film studies in Berlin before I moved on to study practical filmmaking during my MA in London. My BA thesis was on the theory of cultural competence vs. identity-based representation in Turkish-German cinema. Back then, I realised how important it is to make films about migration without the simplistic binary so common in mainstream media that clearly distinguishes a presumed holistic “Turkish” culture vs. “German” culture. In my films I wish to challenge this perception. My father often justified his controlling behavior by saying it was his “Turkishness” while I saw enough examples in our community that were quite different. So, I learned to look deeper into biographies and the human soul and to not fall into the trap of explaining behaviour only through culture. I want to contribute to this way of seeing the world, inviting viewers to open their minds and have a more complex understanding of migration in Germany.
I love Tony Gatlif’s films that are highly sophisticated in the way they combine humor and cultural representation based on the deep knowledge and life experience of an insider with a critical eye who uses it to distrupt traditional norms and narratives. He has definitely inspired me to become a director myself and in my choice of subjects.
EL: I know that you recently moved to Barcelona. How is the Barcelona film scene compared to Berlin’s?
CT: I’ve only recently started to make contacts in the film scene here, but as far as I can tell there is really a lot of solidarity among the filmmakers that support each other wherever they can. Berlin is very similar to that, but maybe it is also due to the economic crisis here that people understand that they have to help each other in order to keep the industry alive. There is a great network called The Barcelona Documentary Club. They organize monthly meetings where the founders really make a wonderful effort to bring filmmakers together. I met very talented and engaged directors there with whom I had inspiring conversations. I sometimes miss my big network of filmmaker friends and colleagues in Berlin, though, that I have built over the last 10 years.
If the project has tickled your fancy please don’t hesistate to click on the crowdfunding link, check out the crowdfunding trailer, and donate! Time is of the essence! CROWDFUNDING CAMPAIGN LINK
Interview by: Eli Lewy
(Full disclosure: the author of the article Eli Lewy is also the social media manager of KAYA’s crowdfunding campaign)