Having won many awards with his first feature film ‘Beyond the Hill’, Emin Alper’s new film ‘Frenzy’, which is about to come to the theaters this month, won the Jury’s Special Award in Venice Film Festival. “I wish this was an outdated film. Unfortunately recently we have found ourselves within ‘frenzies’ similar to that era,” says Alper about the film based on the political climate of the 90s.
“After receiving the invitation from Venice, we have found ourselves in the world we described in the film,” you have said. How is the world that we live in right now?
It is in fact exactly like the world we described in the film. Considering what we have experienced recently, the stories in the film are even lighter. After the day we received the invitation letter from Venice, the Suruç massacre occurred. Then the ceasefire broke and it got worse everyday. While we were in Venice, the Dağlıca attacks were carried out and then began the street vandalism. Just as we were waiting to premiere in Turkey, the Ankara bombings occurred. While we were shooting the film, we were having relatively calmer days; it was the time when the peace process was in action. We were joking with the producers, saying, “When we’re done shooting, the film will be outdated.”
Now you wish it were outdated, right?
Yes, now we say so; we wish that we had made an outdated film that tells about a time that was past a long time ago. It is painful to experience things that make a filmmaker say such things about their work… Unfortunately. Even though the film has futuristic and dystopian elements to it, our main reference was the 90s. All of a sudden we found ourselves within similar ‘frenzies’ of the era. While we were naming the film, we never thought this would happen. It’s like a terrible prophecy…
You wished for your film to “help underline the problems in Turkey, and contribute to a peaceful and democratic environment.” Do you want every film, or at least your films to be as functional?
Making films is not the only way to contribute to peace and democracy; you can write an essay or join a rally. We do them as well. Making films is primarily an artistic activity, and you cannot functionalize art completely. I don’t work with a sense of mission when I’m making films. But my memory is affected by the clashes in this country, when I’m trying to make a film these memories come to surface automatically. And in such an environment you just feel, “I hope this film serves a function.” Of course, people just don’t change their lives after watching one film, but we hope that if there are more films like these, maybe someday some things will change. Otherwise I don’t find it right to limit artistic creations in any way, people are free to produce according to what they are affected by. Politics may have a very small part in a director’s life. Although it’s getting harder to find stories in this country that politics and violence have not leaked in. Especially for our generation… We were born in war; we are living in war. But people may also choose to make films to deal with their childhood traumas or romantic traumas.
What does the Jury’s Special Award you won at the Venice Film Festival mean to you?
When you win an award, the perception of the film in Turkey changes instantly. People get more curious about it. You get one step further in terms of visibility among other unheard films –however good they are. Unfortunately this industry has brought us here.
When I’m making a film, I don’t work in a sense of mission.
Your previous film, ‘Beyond the Hill’ wasn’t able to find theaters for screening, even though it was very successful. And you had trouble getting funding for ‘Frenzy’. You have to deal with this stuff compared to your colleagues in the West…
Honestly, the situation in the West is not bright either. Setting aside the direct and indirect pressure and the political tension, they also have trouble getting funding. For us, the political censorship in the Ministry funds makes it more complicated. Sometimes you think that this political pressure has been surpassed because some oppositional films get the funds. But then you see that a film get eliminated because of the clear hesitations of the board members. One would wish that the board made decisions according to cinematographic criteria. Even though the Board of Cinema acts more autonomously compared to other public institutions, it doesn’t mean that we can work freely. First of all, we have the pressure of +18. People struggle not to include obscene scenes in their films, because if the film gets a +18 warning, the Ministry withdraws the funds. Our common struggle
with Europe is the extreme competition. We couldn’t easily get the funding for this film in Europe either. Finding money gets harder everyday. The same goes with distribution. Films cannot find distributors. While the number of films increases in a geometric proportion, the number of viewers doesn’t. In Europe it has almost stopped. And it gets tiresome. It creates pressure on you.
They say that the obstacles stimulate creativity. Do all of these at least serve that positive function?
I don’t think they do. I believe that an environment of freedom nourishes art better. But still, pressure whets you. Because it provokes you. They say the same thing about money; “People make more influential films with less money.” I don’t believe in it either. Why should I have to shoot a film in a single room? I have many things I would like to tell. We almost couldn’t shoot the police control scene in this film, because it was very costly. It takes 30-40 seconds but it’s a very important scene. If we couldn’t have shot it, it would have been a pity. I believe that the more comfortable we get, the more interesting works we produce.
How does the number of audience affect you?
We don’t actually have an expectation to earn money from the box office but we still hope that as many people as possible watches the film.
Not in theaters. They watch them online, they buy pirate DVDs… I feel that they somehow find and watch the films. At least a certain group of people does.
While the number of films increases in a geometric proportion, the number of viewers doesn’t.
When we take a look at what we have discussed so for, being a filmmaker in Turkey doesn’t seem very hopeful. Why do you insist on doing such a hard job?
I also sometimes get to a point where I say, “Damn it, I’m quitting.” While we were struggling to find funding for this film, I was swearing to myself, asking, “Is this how our lives going to continue?” When you get rejected by an institution, you cannot get over it for three or four days. But then when you think of it; what other job is easier? I am also an academician. There is also a similar environment of competition. And what makes it worse is the fact that academic freedom receives more interventions compared to artistic freedom. The rate of staffing is crazy. Then what can I do? Considering that it’s a little too late for me to work in a plaza… And of course, there is this passionate side of art. Something, some story, some idea gets you excited and you forget everything and jump off the deep end of the same process once again.
Do you agree that directors and writers are influenced by their hometowns?
Sure. I was born and raised in Konya, Ermenek. The setting of my first film is the place where I grew up in… And this is why I attach importance to speech, the accents. Some people find this strange but it’s the first condition of naturalness for me.
I believe that growing up in a small town has very special contributions to a person’s character. Do you agree with that?
Definitely. Living in the provinces mean having a wide perspective.
You studied in a science high school. This means that you were one of the kids that people had high expectations of, right?
Yes, I was. But I wasn’t really interested in those expectations. I always had a passion for art; literature, theatre, cinema… By the end of high school, cinema started to step forward.
Were you aware back than that this passion was strong enough to keep you from becoming an engineer or a doctor?
Yes. I was feeling that I couldn’t become an engineer or something. You cannot make big decisions at that age but you feel it.
Weren’t there any members of the family that wanted you to build a career in a field other than art?
They thought that I was a very successful student here but I didn’t go to school for two years. When I realized that I wasn’t going to graduate from the faculty of civil engineering, I took the exams once again and started studying economy.
Weren’t you ever scared that you wouldn’t be able to make a living through art?
No, after a while I started to get scared, on the last two years I quitted everything and started studying. After graduation I immediately applied for a master’s degree. I always wanted to stay away from the business world.
Akademisyen olmanın yönetmenliğe nasıl bir katkısı var?
Ufkumu genişletiyor kuşkusuz. Okuduklarım dolaylı olarak fayda sağlıyor. Tarih okuyorsunuz, sosyal bilimler okuyorsunuz, insanların hangi durumlarda nasıl davrandığını görüyorsunuz…
If ‘we’ come to power, will we be doing the same thing?
I don’t know since we have never come to power but it’s possible. It’s human nature… More importantly, it’s the result of a political culture. Unless a radical break occurs within this culture, it is likely that this loop will continue. How does being an academician contribute to filmmaking? There is no doubt that it expands my horizons. What I read contributes to me indirectly. You study history, you study social sciences, and you see how people act in certain situations…
What are you teaching at the moment?
I teach ‘Development of Modernity’ and ‘20th Century World History’ in İstanbul Technical University.
What is your next film going to be like?
I don’t know. I’m a bit nervous about it. I have a few drafts but I’m not sure which one I’m going to keep working on.
How are you?
I guess this is the most common question that we ask, and thus it’s mostly answered ‘casually’. So now Iwant to ask it in its real meaning; how are you today, lately? I am not good. I don’t think I am going to be good for a while. Even if we want, we won’t be good until the elections I suppose… After the elections, we will either get worse or a bit better.
Photography: Tabitha Karp