Seeking a Home

in 9th Documentarist - Istanbul Documentary Days

by Janet Baris

The 9th Istanbul Documentary Days screened various kinds of documentaries from 28th May to 2nd June in Istanbul. The festival had no featured competition programme but the main jury and the FIPRESSCI jury had their own selections from which to give an award. The FIPRESCI jury watched eleven documentaries from all of the categories. Two of them were Turkish and the others were from different countries around the world.

After the Syrian war, refugee issues have started to be focused on more in documentaries. Young filmmakers especially want to show refugee camp conditions with their cameras. The “Where is Home?” section of Istanbul Documentary Days mostly focused on the refugee crisis or seeking home after the different war crises from different countries. During the festival we saw a lot of examples from which to understand people who have had to live in a civil war. Seeking a home is a very clear issue during wartime, because while war occurs between countries and soldiers it mostly impacts civilians who live there. In these films the protagonists have to live in camps with bad conditions or try to live in other countries.

Ammar Aziz’s film A Walnut Tree, which won the FIPRESCI prize, tells of an old man who stays at a refugee camp in Pakistan and wants to return to his home. After the war between Pakistan’s army and the Taliban most people had to leave their homes. Ammar Aziz focused on a family who lives in a refugee camp in Pakistan. The grandfather always wants to go back to their village, but obviously there is no home there for living in anymore. A walnut tree is only a metaphor to tell the story, because people want to go back their homes even if they don’t exist anymore. The director’s decisions about storytelling also make the film stronger. He focused on only the grandfather’s mourning but at the same time you can feel the desperation of all people who live there. The film has a very strong sense of homesickness and describes the situation very clearly through a family portrait. The family is caught between memories of what life was, an insecure present and a bleak future.

Another film, which was also in the “Where is Home?” section, is Detained by Anna Persson and Shaon Chakraborty. This Swedish documentary tells of individuals interned at a Swedish migrant detention centre who dream of being released or live in fear of deportation. In Detained these stories are juxtaposed with the experience of staff members and their efforts to find a balance between the strict rules of their workplace and their need for empathy. Their daily work becomes fraught with conflict as they try to help detainees in their struggle to maintain dignity.

Though not in the “Where is Home?” section, Stony Paths was another film about finding a home or seeking roots. It is the story of a walk across Anatolia. Director Arnaud Khayadjanian starts a trek in Turkey, on the land of his forefathers who survived the Armenian Genocide. He goes on exploring the little-known issue of the righteous, all these anonymous people who saved lives in 1915.

Istanbul Documentary Days lasted only five days, but it was quite enough time to discover, see, understand and think on different war crises impacting people.

Edited by Carmen Gray