Love Will Change the Earth

in 7th Istanbul Documentarist

by Steffen Moestrup

When the protests against official plans to demolish trees and build a shopping center in Istanbul’s Gezi Park began last year, filmmaker Reyan Tuvi picked up a camera and started documenting the events. At this time she did not know that the protest would turn into the biggest uprising in the history of modern Turkey. The result of her footage can be seen in her documentary Love Will Change the Earth (Yeryyüzü Askin Yüzü Oluncaya Dek) which was screened at the Documentarist festival in June 2014 where it won the prize of the jury in the Turkey Panorama program. We met Reyan Tuvi for a discussion on documenting Gezi.

— How did the film actually get started?
— Well, I am living very near to Gezi Park, 5 minutes away. I was there the first day of the protest, just passing by. I said to myself: “they will cut the trees anyway. Nothing will happen”. And then I came back again and I felt like it was something unlike anything I had ever seen before. So I went home, switched on the television, and there was nothing about it. I felt this was wrong. It was a civic uprising unlike anything I had seen in my 47 years and it was not dealt with in the media. So I felt this urge to do something. I picked up my camera and had to charge my battery because I had not filmed for a long time. I had no exact plan to do a documentary but I just felt the instinct of a documentary filmmaker.

— How was it unlike anything you had ever seen before?
— It was in the middle of the city and with a lot of young people coming together and trusting each other. There was an atmosphere I had not seen before. This collective gathering was little by little increasing in numbers. There was a resistance and stubbornness to it.

— I guess it was not only about trees and a shopping mall?
— It started with a couple of trees but of course it’s about oppression from the government towards the people. The government looking into the bedroom of ordinary people. Insulting the people. And Turkish people are quite patient but that was the boiling point.

— In this political environment and with this uprising, what function can a documentary have?
— I thought for it long and felt that, whatever I did with the film, it could never compete with what took place in Gezi Park because it was so unique and strong. But then I realized that the documentary can make it possible for this resistance not to be forgotten. And I learned that the rest of the country did not know much about the uprising. The mainstream media did not cover it extensively so I feel there is a room for documentary. We learned that the mainstream media is following the government agenda. They were showing a food program when the largest uprising in modern Turkish history took place! I thought media was free. Now I know it is not free.

— So a documentary can be both a historic document for future generations to see but also an active instrument in present day events?
— Yes, that is what I want. It would be a regret if the documentary does not change lives, if it does not have an effect on people.

— How have the reactions been when screening your film so far?
— People have been both crying and laughing. People, who took part in the uprising, have been waiting for a film such as this to come. It has been a year and not many films have been released that actually cover Gezi. I did not want only to cover police violence but to show how we can come together from different parts of Turkish society. I have 10 characters from different walks of life. A Kurdish, an apolitical, a liberal, a nationalist and so on. This shows that Gezi actually brought this country together.

— What is the status of critical documentary in Turkey today?
— It has a place in the festival but it has no place in television or among the official institutions. The difference you make as a documentary filmmaker is not acknowledged by the mainstream media.

— So the impact of critical documentary is not so great?
— It cannot be. That is why you try to get your film into as many forums as possible.

— Do you think the political climate in Turkey today will help the documentary community to grow, that more people will try to make documentaries and thus create a greater impact?
— With Gezi we saw that everybody used a camera. Everybody became the media. But that does not necessarily mean that documentary will grow. The problem is the mentality. The mentality towards documentary needs to change before we will see a serious and diverse growth in Turkish documentary. The Turkish documentary filmmakers are lonely and on their own. They are financing their films by themselves and in charge of distribution, etc. It is not an easy thing to do.

— How about the Gezi Park uprising; are you optimistic regarding the perspectives of the uprising?
— Nothing will ever be the same after Gezi. The government have seen what the Turkish people can do when we come together. There is a success in the fact that the shopping mall has not been built. The great success will of course be to gain our freedom and stop the police violence. We need to spread the word. That the government was responsible for killing a 15-year-old child whose murderer has not faced trial yet.

— How can Erdogan keep his support after this uprising?
— It is because of ignorance. Because of fear of financial instability. The uselessness of the opposition parties amongst other explanations. But what Gezi stands for is very important to us. Turkey will be a better country because of Gezi in the long run.

Edited by Steven Yates