Reflections and Impressions from Lands and Films

in 19th Flying Broom International Women's Film Festival, Ankara

by Seray Genc

Poet Nazim Hikmet begins writing his book of poetry titled “Human Landscapes from My Country” (Memleketimden Insan Manzaralari) in 1939, where he aims to write a century’s history in various parts. After he was released from prison in 1950, the poet passed around to his friends some of the parts he had. After the parts that were mostly lost or intentionally destroyed due to political concerns, this epic narrative partially reached us through a book published during the second half of the 1960s. “Human Landscapes from My Country” starts at Haydarpasa Train Station (Istanbul) and moves toward Ankara Train Station through a journey. Ankara Train Station has been a theme not only in Nazim Hikmet’s poetry; the film The Herd (Sürü, 1979), where Yilmaz Güney and Zeki Ökten tell the story of an era coming to an end and a family breaking apart, also takes a journey toward Ankara Train Station in the aftermath of a military coup. Ankara Train Station is ultimately the place where people from many different places in Turkey gathered to share their peace demand and becomes the space for our mourning of the loss of the hundred people after a suicide bombing.

As part of the 19th Flying Broom International Women’s Film Festival this year, we pass through Ankara Train Station once again as we are headed to see the play, “Love Lessons” (Ask Dersleri), adapted from Dario Fo and Franca Rame by actress Füsun Demirel. Füsun Demirel’s path would continue beyond Ankara and in Iskenderun, the district governorship and the police would attempt to shut out her play.

One of the events of the festival was the Freedom of Artistic Expression Forum that also featured Füsun Demirel as a participant. Füsun Demirel had been expelled from the TV serial she acted in, and had faced heavy attacks and pressure including those from mainstream media after expressing her dream acting role during an interview. The forum titled Freedom of Artistic Expression held at the festival was about how censorship and all other types of repression affected women’s production and representation especially in cinema.

In the program of the Flying Broom International Women’s Film Festival, documentaries had a significant place in representing the cinematic production of women from Turkey. Özlem Sariyildiz’s documentary, Istanbul Notes (Istanbul Makami, 2016), was the outcome of three years’ worth of labor, and told the story of musicians who came to Istanbul from various different countries and depicted their life pursuits as well as their music. As good people and good music enriched the city and the city enriched the people, the mentor relationships between the musicians or the relationship between the musicians and the streets became part of the film. Returning to his own roots in a different era, Canadian musician Nikola’s arrival at his Armenian grandmother’s land seemed to show what inspired these people was not just a city or the music, but it was the past, history, and interpersonal relationships. The Baglar (Baglar, 2016), co-directed by Berke Bas and Melis Birder, was a film sending sounds from the country’s Kurdish geography. The struggle that the Diyarbakir Baglar Municipality’s youth basketball team waged was not only in the fields. As the name “Baglar” transformed into a word that created many meanings in the film, the developments in the region and the country, the basketball team’s competitions, and the relationships between the team coach and the players were being told in a parallel fashion. Baglar is a documentary that makes one feel hope, solidarity, and labor besides all of the disappointments, fear, and anger that are inherent in life. Director Nezahat Gündogan continues to trace the girls of Dersim from the documentary, Two Locks of Hair: The Lost Girls of Dersim (Dersim’in Kayip Kizlari, 2010) to Children of Vank (Vank’in Çocuklari, 2016). The documentarian, who goes in search of geography and a people that remain after 1915, and later 1938, tells the story of Aslihan Kiremitçiyan, who has reached the end of a life, is sometimes able to speak with her daughter and sometimes not, sometimes remembers and sometimes does not, and her sister. Despite everything, she tries to bring together and pile up the small and large stones, the human stories in a village where two cousins from different hometowns meet up, and where no one lives anymore, a village that has been razed to the ground… Eylem Sen’s Sleep of The Oranges (Portakalin Uykusu, 2015) is the story of a return to the ones that stayed or were left behind. To orange whose taste and smell are missed, to Vakifli Village, to the mountain of resistance, Musa Dagh… The remainders of what one generation passes on to the next… What remained in the memories of the Armenians from Musa Dagh, the nineteen-year-old Hasmik’s renewing, refreshing of our memory alongside his own, as he is climbing toward Musa Dagh and creating his own memories…

Ahu Öztürk, one of the filmmakers who have been continuing their cinematic journeys after having had their first feature length films shown at several film festivals abroad and attracted attention, tells, in Dust Cloth (Toz Bezi, 2015), the story of the life struggles of and solidarity between women cleaners living in Istanbul’s Gülsuyu district; in other words, Istanbul’s periphery, one of the country’s distinct geographies. In the film, where the men abandoned or have nearly no contribution to the shared living with the women, the women, in order to sustain themselves in the midst of hardship, go to clean houses of women of a different class, living in a central part of the city, and the resultant contradictions are being conveyed without overemphasis or excluding humor, and with authenticity. The screening of the film was organized in partnership with the Labor Film Festival, and female audiences filled the main festival venue, the Kizilirmak Movie Theater, along with their babies and children. During the talk, Ahu Öztürk was accompanied by women from the Imece Domestic Workers Union as well as the film’s actors, and temporary agency work, which became legal in April 2016 and is known as the newest form of unsecure work, was protested. In Senem Tüzen’s Motherland (Anayurdu, 2015) there was a young female character who had come to her village in Central Anatolia in order to be alone and finish her novel. The social conservatism that the young woman experiences internally upon her mother’s arrival in the village, due to not wanting to leave the young woman alone, was gradually turning into pressure and becoming visible both for the woman and for us audiences. Through a mother-daughter relationship, a different view of the provinces and the country was emerging.

A festival invokes and is remembered alongside many images of a city. The women’s film festival held in Ankara reminds me of a journey like Flying Broom; it extended from Ankara Train Station to the country’s various different points, and with its female directors and characters, it was telling us of “woman landscapes from my country” from the year 2016.

Edited by Steven Yates