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Interview with Zeki Demirkubuz**

BAP-Q: You are usually categorized as an indie movie director or contemporary Turkish filmmaker. Do you think these categories describe you or do you describe your movies within a certain category or genre?

Z.D.: I was the first director in Turkey to call my movies independent and directly wrote this in the film credits. Later I had a change of heart. I started thinking that the economic independence of a film is not that important. When I used independent to describe my movies I meant to refer to the interference of monetary issues when making a movie. However, this explanation turned into a political issue. Now I think that a good movie can come from anywhere. What is important is to be able to produce something from one’s core, inner world. That is my approach to an ideal cinema today. I now define myself as someone who is trying to make the kind of movies he wants to do.

Stills from Masumiyet (Innocence) 1997

BAP-Q: In the late 90s, in an interview, you defined yourself as an amateur filmmaker. Do you still believe that? Does ‘amateur’ also refer to the idea of being able to make movies that you want to make?

Z.D.: Precisely. Otherwise it is obvious that my movies today are not really amateur movies. Financially, I believe I am making movies that require a lot of money even though the amount could be really small for other people. When I say amateur filmmaking I refer to my ability to make movies about issues that are important to me, without taking on a filmmaker identity. In that sense we can say that an amateur soul is still alive and well in my movies.

BAP-Q: Elsewhere you said “my thing is to tell my stories, I could have done this through other mediums but I do it with cinema.” Your work has been screened in many countries and festivals and received awards. You were able to communicate your stories to strangers through cinema. What is the advantage of cinema for you compared to literature, music or any other art form that you could have used?

Z.D.: Realism. When compared with other areas of art, I believe cinema stands out because it has the criteria of realism. I don’t mean documentary style. But it has a disadvantage; cinema is an art form that doesn’t have any legroom for excuses when it comes to being believable. This though also gives you the power to put your story out there in a clear manner. It is because of realism that cinema is much more limited compared to resources available to us in literature yet it is more powerful in being real and believable.

Stills from Itiraf (Confession) 2001

BAP-Q: Continuing with the literature comparison, your characters have these long dialogues and monologues that we usually see in novels. Your scripts are powerful. Since you both write and direct, what is your process for making a movie?

Z.D.: It is not a standard process for me. Each movie has its own processes. In the beginning I was trying to write the script by putting the story at the forefront. As time passed I became more interested in making movies about a situation and not minding that the story is pushed to the background. In other words, I have taken a human condition or a situation out of our lives and written a story around it. Confession and Waiting Room are good examples of this. However, I have also had projects where both the story and the situation were simultaneously at the foreground, like my movie Fate. For that film, I was influenced by Albert Camus’ work, the Stranger. The storyline as well as the situation presented in his book were very close to me personally. His storyline wasn’t very detailed so in my script for Fate, I combined Camus’ work with another story of mine. In the interview that you referred to I explained my profession as a result of my need to tell my stories. Now it has progressed to a new level: As much as my stories, perhaps more so than telling my stories, I have come to write scripts about particular aspects of human condition. It is hard to say something that fully explains my situation. Tomorrow I may read a story or live through something that will push me to make a movie about it. Or I can write a script, a story around a situation I experienced or observed. As time passes one naturally changes. Therefore, I think my processes for making movies may also change in due time.

BAP-Q: Somewhere you said that your cinema was more influenced by Dostoevski than any other filmmaker/director. If we count Dostoevski and Camus among existentialists, would you say you are also an existentialist then?

Z.D.: Yes I would. Existentialism is the simplest and clearest way of expression for me. When I look at my ideas, ideologies that I subscribe to or sociological and cultural values of humanity, I find that existentialism can embrace all of those and it will never change.

Stills from Üçüncü Sayfa (The Third Page) 1999

BAP-Q: Let’s go back to Turkish cinema for a moment. If we agree that there is a classic/traditional Turkish cinema represented by Yeşilçam, how would you compare it with your generation’s cinema- contemporary Turkish cinema? Also can you define what traditional or contemporary Turkish cinema is for you personally?

Z.D.: I can understand why there would be such a comparison and separate definitions. Though I understand the reasons I don’t agree with it much. I am not sure that such a comparison between things that had very different conditions, reasons and results would serve a purpose or be useful. I am interested in both of these categories. In addition, I am not a person who thinks of cinema all the time and I am not so sure about the results one can come up with in such a case. I can understand that there are these comparisons out there and that academia as well as film critique are meaningful professions. But I personally don’t find these comparisons meaningful. I never approached cinema as a stand-alone fact. For me cinema comes after life and it is only important as long as it can create a feeling for life. As a result I never attempted to privatize cinema. With my personal approach to cinema nothing healthy can come out of such comparisons even if I attempted to compare traditional and contemporary Turkish cinema.

BAP-Q: Let’s leave Yeşilçam or contemporary Turkish cinema labels aside then. Who do you like within Turkish cinema among directors and screenwriters? For example, Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s name is frequently mentioned among your generation and Ömer Kavur who is from an earlier generation…

Z.D.: There isn't a director that has influenced me, neither in Turkish cinema nor in world cinema. Literature and especially writers like Dostoyevski and Camus are the most important sources that affect my films and create a desire in me to direct. I am not a person who is taken by cinema. I have always had a distant relationship with it. However, from Antonioni to Tarkovsky, from Breson to YŚlmaz Güney I do like many directors whose works have sparked a desire in me to make movies. Having said that, even when occasionally tried to do so, I could never see filmmaking as a profession or as an identity. I did not learn cinema at school. I learned only by making movies. I think I was lucky in this respect. Though I worked as an assistant director for a long time I never formed a relationship with it that shaped my movies later on. I saw directors, whom I liked, or movies that made me want to make my own movies but this has never been limited just to cinema. A face on the street could sometimes spark an enthusiasm. Of course I like many directors and movies produced by Turkish cinema and in that respect I could even say I like Yeşilcam (traditional/classical Turkish films).

Stills from C Blok (Block C) 1994

BAP-Q: Do you follow the Hollywood and American independent film scene? What do you think of American cinema in general?

Z.D.: I couldn’t establish a relationship with European cinema. I do like French cinema in general yet even there I can’t say I have a relationship with it. But I have individual directors that I like. For example, I don’t know Swedish cinema much but I love Ingmar Bergman. Same thing for French cinema... Or Polish cinema; I don’t know much about it, but Kiewslowski is very important to me. American cinema is the only national cinema that I follow, that interests me and that I know quite a bit about. I like American movies made between the 40s and the 80s, especially the 60s and the 70s. In fact, today a big portion of movies I like come out of Hollywood. I don’t know much about the independent cinema scene since I didn’t have many chances to see them. There have been American directors such as John Ford whom I liked a lot. I talked about this in the beginning, I find the way human condition is presented by American cinema as very close to my heart. Not as a whole, but through some of its ideal examples, American cinema portrays the human condition in a dramatic manner, without stylistic affectation. In the last couple of years for example, movies that surprised me the most, movies like Hours, came out of America, not Europe. I am not judgmental in this matter. American cinema produces movies that I hate as much as great movies, movies that I love.

BAP-Q: As you know our non-profit group Bosphorus Art Project organized a retrospective of your works in September. Do you have a message for our readers and for people who have attended the festival? I know it is cliché, but couldn’t help it.

Z.D.: Especially in the last couple of years, thanks to certain individuals, my movies have been—and are being- screened in America. This really excites me. As I have said before I do not feel like a filmmaker, or I don’t dwell on this as my identity. I am just making movies in my own small room, in my own world and it is strange to think that people in far away places will see them. The word excitement doesn’t really explain it, but it awakens a desire in me to make more movies.

BAP-Q: Thank you for your time.

Z.D.: Thank you.

By Aydın Bal
Translated by Zeynep Kılıç

** Zeki Demirkubuz was born in Isparta in 1964, Demirkubuz is a graduate of the İstanbul University Department of Communications. He began his career as an assistant to director Zeki Ökten. He followed his first film, Block C (C Blok), with Peace Express (Barış Ekspresi), a documentary, but his later work has mainly been based on original screenplays conceived and written by Demirkubuz himself.

Demirkubuz first gained the notice of film critics and international audiences with Innocence (Masumiyet), which was screened at numerous festivals in Turkey and Europe. This was followed by the successful reception of Fate (Yazgı) and Confession (İtiraf), which were both screened at Un Certain Regard at Cannes, and are the first two features in Tales About Darkness, a trilogy that concludes with Waiting Room (Bekleme Odası) which won FIPRESCI (International Federation of Film Critics) Award at the 2004 Valencia Film Festival in Spain. Demirkubuz also won a FIPRESCI award and the Best Director prize at the İstanbul Film Festival for Fate and Confession. Fate also won for Best Director, Best 3rd Film, and Jury Special Award at the 38th Golden Orange Film Festival in Antalya, Turkey.