We’re surrounded by people who are torn between. Each day, we see someone lose his/her faith in this city and people, and say “I’m leaving this place.” We want to neither take the responsibility to give them any advice nor lose them. We’re stuck in between! The ones who stay behind always think “What if?” Is it harder to go, or to stay? I’m not sure. But I love, admire and I am proud of the people who believe in this city. I know the more we have people like them, the further we’ll go. At this point, Mu reminds us what we’ve forgotten, but, most importantly, rekindled our belief in this city and its people. Those who are interested in the creative world know Mu from the project “Diary of Mu” while others will hear about him with the movie “Arada,” set in ‘90s Istanbul. We have to start somewhere so here he is!
How did you start directing?
I was introduced to the camera around the age of 14-15. I’d record my brother’s band’s underground punk/hardcore concerts at weekends. It was the late ‘90s and everything just seemed weird. Istanbul was weird. After studying art at college, I took an interest in technology and new media communications, which led me to be one of the youngest creative directors in the advertising world at the age of 23. There was a whole other atmosphere back then. The Internet was so new that people would stare blankly at your face when you talked about the Internet, Facebook, YouTube, or content. I slept very little to see and read more online. This thirst for knowledge and research led me to believe that online streaming and curated content would be much more valuable. Meanwhile, I was doing my master’s degree in cinema and was reading the cinematic narrative of the concept of time. Experimental cinema was the only thing I was interested in. I’d spend a whole day reading Stan Brakhage and Gilles Deleuze, and watching movies by directors such as Cassavetes, Nicholas Ray and Luis Buñuel. All this directed me to do something about my life. I thought this new streaming channels could be used to release series films. Every weekend, I’d go to a different location to film people and to make short movies of the personal worlds of the people I knew, and started to release them under the name “Diary of Mu.” It was a strange feeling. I’d just post them online, and suddenly, tens of thousands of people would watch them the same day. It came to a point where I could film international names I always admired at their homes or hotel rooms. But the focus was always the story, and my aim was to show the lives of these different characters and to ask people to be a little different themselves. I filmed nearly a hundred people but released only about 30 of them. Then I stopped because I believed that, at this rate, the free world of the Internet would expand and we’d become different storytellers. I couldn’t realize that as I was excited by ideas such as a brand new cinematic revolution the Internet was imprisoning us to its isolated and platform-based world. I now understand that we were promoting the Internet, not the other way around.
Will you continue Diary of Mu?
Actually I am but I don’t release them anymore because the Internet has completely changed. Now, all everyone cares about is to keep up with friends and acquaintances and to learn “what they’re up to.” No one is interested in a recorded story or an incident; they’re interested in what their friends are doing.
How did you decide to direct a film with Istanbul at its heart?
Istanbul has always been my focus but after I moved abroad and began to frequently travel, I realized that we were always disparaging our city. Almost everyone who is born and raised in Istanbul say that “Istanbul is a lost case.” I grew up hearing this sentence. There’s this one story. I was very young and listened to hardcore/grindcore. There was a band called Napalm Death, and back then, a record store at Atlas Bazaar called Kod-Müzik – it was the weirdest record store in Istanbul ever. It was spectacular. When I went inside, I felt as if I entered a whole other world. I asked if they had a Napalm Death record or CD. The guy at the store laughed and said “In this city? It’s nearly impossible!” Years later, when I opened my own record store, the first thing I did was to bring their album “SCUM.” I’ve heard similar things in companies or brands I worked for over the years. “People here are not equipped for this, let it go.” I’ve heard it everywhere. “It’s no use. They wouldn’t understand it. You can’t do it here.” I began to think it was true but when I started traveling and living in the places I always dreamed about, I saw that it was the same all across the world. These types of music, stories and innovative works are met with resistance all around the world. The only different between here and there is that people continue to work with determination in those places.
How do you think you’re reacting to this resistance?
With traveling, I began to self-criticize and decided that this way of thinking is like a virus. I thought that no one loved Istanbul. Everyone treated it as a stepping stone where they stayed for a while before moving on to someplace else. Actually, people like us have no place to go. Most of the locals in Istanbul rarely travel and exist as tourists in the countries they visit. You’re nor learning about Paris when you just hang around the Eiffel Tower.I wanted to make a film to tell that we need to make effort and fight to be able to love Istanbul. I wanted it to be a story I’m emotionally attached to because I was born here and I owe it to Istanbul. At heart, we love Istanbul and enjoy living here. We just have to accept its quirks and fight to make it a better place.
Arada is a period movie set in the much beloved Istanbul of the ‘90s. Why did you choose this era?
Yes, that’s exactly why I chose it. I wanted to remind everyone of the much beloved Istanbul of the ‘90s. I experienced the later years of that era thanks to my older brother. It was when I was 11-16 but I remember everything clearly. My brother and his friends had the first punk/ hardcore band in Istanbul so my experience of the city was rather unconventional. I watched some interesting concerts where a lot of punkers and skaters gathered – it’s impossible to organize them now. There were too unusual that today we’d say “Are there people like this in Istanbul?” But, even back then, people who lived here were unhappy and they hated Istanbul. I think hating Istanbul has become a cultural code. I hear people talking about how great the ‘90s were in Istanbul. But in the ‘90s, they hated it. I had an active nightlife in Istanbul in the early 2000s; it was criticized back then but now people talk about it longingly. I don’t mean everything’s perfect now but all this is shaped through one’s perception. I specifically chose this era so I could show people who express their hate that it’s all how we see it. What makes a city beautiful is its locals. If they lose faith in their city, then Istanbul becomes a lost case. Every era has it problems but we need to take another perspective and reembrace Istanbul has a whole. We need to make peace with Istanbul.
What would you like to say when you compare then and now?
Despite limited opportunities, back then people strived to do what they wanted to do. For instance, my older brother and his friends saved their allowances to buy a tattered drums and give punk/hardcore concerts in an apartment garage in Merter. There were dozens of interesting stories taking place in the city. Yes, maybe they were 20-30 people but they never gave up. I believe one should quit being negative all the time and try to something despite everything. I frequently hear people say “no” to everything. There’s a saying in the West: “Your success in life depends on how much you say no.”
The movie evolved around the question many people ask themselves nowadays: “Should I stay or should I go.” Do you ask yourself the same question?
Of course I do. I was born to this question. That’s all I hear about so it’s not something new for me. But when you live in a place dominated by ignorance, it takes some time to understand certain things. A number of metropolises around the world are in the same situation. All of my friends in London live in Zone 5. When I was in London, they could all live in Shoreditch. Now, they cannot even dream of it. Another example – my friends in Paris live in 28 square-meter bathroom and kitchen apartment like bugs. I want to talk about these things as well. There’s a problem of overpopulation in the world and, understandably, everyone wants to live in cities because welfare is in metropolises. That’s why life is hard in big cities all around the world. Your life doesn’t simultaneously get better when you move to New York.
I don’t want people to think that I’m against traveling or believe that people cannot go anywhere besides their hometown. It’s definitely not that. I believe everyone should leave his/her hometown to live somewhere else and may choose to not come back. I’m just upset to see so many talented and lovely people up and leave without a plan based on the hate they see around themselves and a focus on the thought of just leaving everything behind. Because there aren’t many people like that in Istanbul or Turkey. If these talented people continue to move to other countries without a solid plan and to try to survive with new urban concerns, then they’ll lose or blunt their talent. They just can’t see that.
Music is a major element in your film. How did you choose the songs?
Yes, it’s almost a half-musical! The whole movie is based on real stories. My father is a Turkish classical musician and released some records in the ‘70s. My older brother is a member of the first punk/ hardcore band in Turkey. They’re both characteristic people in their own ways. The film tells the story of a punk kid from Istanbul who finds a ship ticket to California. Ozan (Burak Deniz), the protagonist, is a vocalist and musician in a punk bank. His only wish is to leave Istanbul. Throughout the film, we follow Ozan around in the ‘90s Istanbul for a night.
The soundtrack is interesting. We had come special pieces composed, and there are also some in progress. Orkun Tunç, my older brother, is the music supervisor of the musical score. We put Burak Deniz through an intensive studio camp for a few months and turned him into a punk vocalist. He sings a punk song in the movie; even he couldn’t believe it! It was really magical.
The cast is pretty crowded and talented. Can you talk about the casting process?
The cast comprises very special people. I had some interesting ideas about the casting and I wanted to include all of them in my first movie. Burak Deniz and Büşra Develi play the lead, they’re a young couple in love. I already knew Büşra but we hadn’t seen each other in a long time. One day, we met for coffee and I told her about the project. She immediately said yes. She had this amazing soul and an unbelievable faith in the project. I was very impressed by her high spirits. Then she introduced me to Burak Deniz. I wanted to have two people who were a real couple in life, and the fact that Büşra and Burak were was amazing. Directors usually abstain from such choices but it never crossed my mind. The fact that they are a real couple truly transformed the magic of the story.
Burak Deniz interpreted the character in such a way that the audience will really see him as someone completely new. His performance proves that acting is a profession of the soul. With the addition of Ceren Moray, Selim Bayraktar, Seda Akman and Eriş Akman, I had this amazing cast that’s hard to put together. I can easily say that I began directing with a dream-like cast that a first-time director wishes to have.There were many other special people involved in the film. Instead of working with ordinary casting companies, I chose people who live in Istanbul and are from this world. These are young people who get to feel today’s Istanbul. I wanted them because they could relive the ‘90s Istanbul today if they wanted to. They’re already like this in their normal lives. It’s just that people don’t want to get close to others. Some are busy, some are tired and some cannot find a reason to get together. With this movie, I gathered people who cannot come together but are actually the same. My purpose was to create a sense of unity with the casting. People will feel this when they watch it.
The story follows a night. Is there a reason for you to choose this?
I’ve always loved movies that follow a night. I designed it this way because I believe that I can present the beauty and conflicts of Istanbul in the best way possible in one night.
What do you remember about the ‘90s?
The best thing I remember is that it was positive. There were many bad things to but there was also positivity. I’d collect my bayram allowance to buy records of bands such as Hole, Underworld, Dopplereffekt and The Cure. I think that’s insane. It’s not something you can make a foreigner understand. My first record collection was thanks to these bayram allowances. This is what the ‘90s were about for me. This is what I remember. It’s amazing to be both this realistic and sophisticated.
Have you learned a life lesson from your first movie?
To believe in the process. I directed my first movie when I was 31 and there aren’t many people who make their first movie in their early 30s. It’s really a few. I learned to believe in the process and the people around you. Believe in more than yourself. I achieved this by believing in people who are hard to believe. Usually, people from the movie industry didn’t believe in anyone in my team. Some of them didn’t even believe in themselves. You need to believe so much that people around you should think you’re either naive or crazy. I think that’s what it’s about. Having pure belief in people is the biggest life lesson of all.
To take my first movie to the world’s most notable film festivals and to show people around the world the forsaken Istanbul.
“…You need to believe so much that people around you should think you’re either naive or crazy. I think that’s what it’s about. Having pure belief in people is the biggest life lesson of all.”