Turkish women filmmakers seek recognition
Esra Saydam and Nisan Dag, U.S.-educated and trained independent Turkish film makers, produce movies in the U.S. and Turkey for international audiences.
By Metin Demirsar
Istanbul (Dunya) -- Esra Saydam and Nisan Dag have just completed the shooting of ‘A Sea Apart,’ a drama-comedy, that takes place in New York City and Ayvalik, a resort town on the northern Aegean coast of Turkey.
The 90-100 minute film, which is expected to premiere within several months after post production and screening at several international film festivals, is about a Turkish migrant estranged from her homeland. Damla, 25, lives in New York City with her husband Kevin, 31, planning their lives for parenthood.
But with the memories of her hometown, Ayvalik, continuing to haunt her, Damla returns back to Turkey, reuniting with her former lover, Burak, 27, who questions the comfortable American existence she has worked so hard to achieve.
‘A Sea Apart’ is a cross cultural love story and a journey of self-discovery, self-healing and redemption, staring award-winning Turkish actress Damla Sonmez (as Damla), and actors Ahmet Rifat Sungar (as Burak), who performed in Nuri Bilge Ceyhan’s film ‘Three Monkeys,’ and Jacob Fishel (as Kevin).
“We want to influence independent filmmaking in Turkey and the U.S., and create cooperative ventures between filmmakers of the two countries” Miss Saydam said in an interview in Istanbul on Sunday.
Miss Saydam, 29, and Ms. Dag, both independent film makers, met at Columbia University’s School of Fine Arts where they were working on MFA degrees in filmmaking.
Born in Istanbul, Miss Saydam, 29, is a short dark-haired woman with a deep tan and infectious smile.
She is the daughter of textile exporter businessmen husband-wife team who are founders and shareholders of a private primary and secondary school in Istanbul.
Miss Saydam studied at the Italian High School and graduated from Robert College in Istanbul. She received a BA in communications and animated arts from Northwestern University and a MFA in filmmaking from Columbia University.
She has collaborated with many of her schoolmates from Columbia University in making motion pictures, including Miss Dag, with whom she wrote and directed ‘A Sea Apart,’ and Gerry Kim, a producer. One of her co-producers is Robert Gadol Lavenstein, an independent filmmaker.
She co-produced the 88-minute film ‘The Happy Sad,’ about the lives of two New York couples, including black gay pair. Rodney Evans and Torry Lenosky were the main producers. She also produced the short film ‘I am John Wayne,’ a drama of a 15-year old black cowboy, ‘Taco’ who avoids attending his best friends funeral by riding his horse through New York City streets to Coney Island.
Miss Saydam splits her time between New York and Istanbul.
Her partner, Miss Dag, is a director and animator from Ankara, and a graduate in communications and design of Bilkent University. A Fulbright scholar, she was working on a Master’s degree at Columbia University while finalizing postproduction of her short films ‘Onion Boy’ and ‘The Marvelous Fish Man.’ The latter is the story of a man with a grotesque fish head who has spent his life confined within the walls of a traveling freak show, but decides one day to escape, only to find desperation outside.
But like most independent film makers, money is always in short supply, Miss Saydam says.
“We are always looking for money to finance our films,” she stressed. Many independent film makers solicit funds from contributors through the Internet, she noted.
In the U.S., independent film makers also resort to financing from private equity funds, whose managers seek quick returns on their investments. While doling out funds to independent film makers, they demand that directors and actors, who have achieved commercial success in Hollywood, be included in the cast and production side.
In Turkey, independent film makers, Miss Saydam explained, get financing from the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, but it often takes months, sometimes years, for the funds to be released.
She says the country needs more risk takers and venture capitalists for independent filmmakers to emerge in Turkey.
Tax incentives introduced in 2010 has led to major international films to be shot in Turkey such as Ben Affleck’s ‘Argo,’ the James Bond thriller ‘Skyfall’ and Liam Neeson’s ‘Taken 2,’ all filmed in Istanbul in 2012. Now, Russell Crowe is planning to shoot his director debut ‘Water Diviner,’ a film about the 1915 Gallipoli campaign.
Ms. Saydam says the films may have promoted Istanbul and the country as tourism centers, but they have failed to contribute to Turkish filmmaking or to introduce local stars to the world.
“Why were there no Turkish women in lead roles in the James Bond film?” she asked.
She stressed that many Turkish actors and actresses in the past decade have been educated and trained in the U.S., Britain and Canada, and now speak English fluently, without Middle Eastern accents, which would make them perfect selections for major roles in Hollywood productions.
“I would have preferred it if Woody Allen had made a film in Turkey with Turkish actors and actresses. His films are character-driven,” she said.