EDN Member of the Month - Didem Ayberkin, Producer, Ankara Movie House
In this monthly interview series EDN focuses on one of its many members to show both members in the spotlight and the diversity of the EDN membership group. Our EDN member of the month for October 2013 is Didem Ayberkin, Producer, Ankara Movie House, Turkey.
Didem Ayberkin is born in Mersin, Turkey and she has studied advertising and public relations at Anadolu University. After university she worked in communications and event management, but a love for the cinema drove her towards film production and she started to write scripts for TV series.
In 2013 Didem joined Ankara Movie House, a production company based in Ankara producing future length movies, documentaries and short films. The company’s latest documentary is The Million Dollar Filmmaker Erik Grun (still in post-production) about the independent filmmaker Erik Grun. Currently the company is also producing a documentary on the iconic “Standing Man” – the famous symbol of the Turkish Uprising aka the Gezi Park Movements.
Didem is also a Board Member of the Screenwriters' Association of Turkey and Supervisory Council Member of Screenplay and Dialogue Writers Motion Picture Copyright Owners Guild of Turkey.
EDN has among other things talked to Didem about her current project and the situation for filmmakers in Turkey.
EDN: Can you start by telling more about your background and your road from university to becoming a film producer?
DA: My major in the university was Advertising and Public Relations, and after my graduation I have worked in several companies and organizations as a PR specialist. However just one experience was unforgettable for me. That was an internship as a production assistant in Blink Pictures, Toronto, ON. When I realised that this memory had stayed in the back of my mind almost to a fault, I decided to make a career change. I begun to work with famous screenwriters and climbed the steps quickly. I have always been a great dreamer and strong in writing. And moreover I think I might be one of a few lucky people on earth to realise my dreams.
EDN: What is the profile of Ankara Movie House and which type of projects is the company involved in?
DA: Ankara Movie House is a fresh company recently founded in 2012. Our main reason was simple: “To Make Movies”. The company is focused on the production of films with content, which we ourselves find exciting, and we are also fully open to global content. Our passion is to develop exciting stories and produce them in every possible form as documentary, short, feature length etc.
EDN: Your company is currently working on a docu-drama about the "Standing Man", who was part of this summer’s nationwide protests against the Turkish government. What is the background of this project and how did you get access to the Standing Man?
DA: We were in the pre-production process of a feature length movie (the first romantic comedy in Kurdish language in Turkey) in May 2013. However the big Gezi Park uprising came up on our way and we had no other way but to participate in this resistance with the best way we know - making a movie about it. We heard about many documentaries on Gezi Park protests, which were focusing on a political point of view, but as Ankara Movie House team, we were trying to find another approach to make the story more personalized and dramatic. On each meeting we were discussing where to start, how to finish it and most importantly how to build the story in a more personal way.
On the night of June 17th, Erdem Gündüz aka Standing Man came to the rescue, and the day after everybody in the office was excited. We came early to the office and all of us had the same saying: “That’s it! Standing Man is our guy!” Right after Erdem’s silent protest, we were trying to find a way to contact him, and it was not that hard. Gezi Park made people connect more with each other and it put in the minds a different understanding of cooperation - that’s what we call Gezi spirit. So we got in touch with him quickly and he was both flattered and excited about the project. He accepted to be a part of it right away.
EDN: How will you tell the story of the Standing Man and the political situation surrounding his unique protest?
DA: We don’t aim to politicize the story but to dramatize it. That is why it was a right move for us to put a person right in the middle of the story. The main reason of our eagerness to make this documentary is the fact that the story itself is providing a ground to integrate Turkey’s current political situation with the journey of an individual person. We have started to look for other personal stories in order to avoid the usual stationary and heavy tone of classical political documentaries.
We were also very touched after encountering Alaz Kuseyri, a 24-year-old journalist, pointed out by Prime Minister Erdoğan himself as a target after an interview in a newspaper. We think a well-composed documentary should have a common tone of language with its story. For that reason, despite the violent and oppressive perception of the Gezi Park movements, we are planning the documentary’s style and format to be in harmony with the general voice of the protesters, which is humorous, innovative, dynamic and clever.
For example to emerge these optimistic aspects, instead of a “cold” narrative voice-over, we have decided to use a small talk of 4 women from different professions and ages who played an active role in the demonstrations. These 4 women (we call them ”witches” of the movements) may be similar to the famous “Chorus” of the Greek tragedies. They will laugh and cry and shout to each other... But tell us the right story with its right emotions. As Turkish citizens, we shouldn’t be seen with pity. Gezi uprising was real, funny, brave, clever, peaceful but violent and has built another degree of consciousness for everybody. Starting from the 27th of May we are having hard but hopeful times in Turkey.
EDN: This month you are participating in both MEDIMED Pitching Forum on 11-14 October and DOKLeipzig Co-Production Meeting on 27-29 October with the Standing Man project. How are you preparing for these events and what are your plans and aims for going there?
DA: To be honest, MEDIMED is my first pitching experience. We have already started to shoot our interviews and some stock footage. We have cut a teaser from what we have and some existing footage that we have bought the rights for. We have prepared an extensive presentation telling our story including our financial plan, and made a special DVD of what we have and early works of Ankara Movie House. We have even created special handbags with Standing Man stamps on them. We are working with a design company called Kraf.Co, and they are doing a great job. As I have mentioned earlier when you mention Gezi Park to achieve a goal, everybody use every means available to help out, which is great.
Each time after watching our teaser, I find myself moved to tears. So I think that might be a convincing sign for me having a really good project and being ready to pitch it. Our first aim by attending these meetings is to spread the word globally. Turkish media has been playing the silent monkey during the uprising. With our sense of responsibility, we are eager to analyse and show what has happened in Turkey beyond what the national and international mainstream media have aired. It would be a sad waste if this spirit, or the space it has opened, were reduced to the realm of parliamentary democracy, not only for Turkey but for all humanity in the entire world.
So we will be looking for co-production opportunities letting us finish the documentary within our sense of quality and providing us to get a wide range of audiences. Standing Man has a day-by-day increasing popularity around the world. He has won the M100 Media Award, which honours personalities who have left their mark on Europe and the world. Even Dutch Member of the European Parliament Marietje Schaake has nominated the ‘Standing Man’ in Turkey for the European Parliament’s annual human rights prize “The Sakharov” prize where Nelson Mandela was one of the past winners in 1988. And us, we want to honor this legendary man with a documentary.
EDN: The Standing Man project is born out of the recent protests in Turkey. Can you tell more about how the situation is now and especially for documentary filmmakers?
DA: On Friday, May 31, Turkish riot police fired tear gas and pepper spray into a peaceful protest held to save Gezi Park, one of the last green areas in central Istanbul. This set off maybe the biggest civil uprising in the history of the Turkish Republic. This is not about a park. It’s about not being heard, the abuse of state power, the media being censored, the minorities not being protected… Overall it’s about democracy. In this direction, the demonstrations may have slowed down yet the attempts to obtain individual rights and freedoms are still on going.
The Gezi Park movement has a special spirit that has developed consciousness, awareness and a social sensitivity. People are now gathering together every week in a park in their neighbourhood to discuss their problems in order to find a solution. We call them “Public Forums”. That is a great start in my opinion. And of course this is opening new project subjects for documentary filmmakers. I think we will be seeing its spectacular results in the coming years.
EDN: What is the situation with censorship?
DA: The censorship has always been a matter for Turkey. We call this current situation in Turkey a “Civil Coup” - you can’t see the censorship. There are no written regulations but there are lots of non-visible sanctions. Journalists, activists, writers are standing trial. There were fired journalists also before Gezi Park movements but the numbers got serious after this. For example we haven’t even considered applying to the Ministry of Culture for funds. Maybe this documentary will be posing a risk on Ankara Movie House’s future business, I don’t know. But it’s worth it. Time will show.
EDN: Your company is based in Ankara. Is the situation there different from in Istanbul, where the protests started?
DA: The start was in Gezi Park, Istanbul, but the unrest has spread like wildfire to more than 80 cities, and we have seen ”Standing Man” protest examples in the entire world. Every city has its own dynamics. Here in Ankara the police intervention time to time was more violent comparing to other cities. I think having the Parliament, the Presidential Palace, embassies, and being the centre of bureaucracy may be some of the reasons. Overall the aim was the same, the crowd was the same. But having a demonstrator, Ethem Sarisülük shot in the head and killed by a police bullet on June is one of the saddest histories of the Ankara protests.
EDN: What are some of the biggest challenges producing documentaries in Turkey and how have the recent events changed the situation for filmmakers?
DA: As I mentioned earlier the censorship and government pressure has always been a matter in Turkey, and the protests have gone this far just because of this reason. So I can’t specify the changes. It’s clear that sensitivity on rights, freedom and especially these events has been raised. I won’t lie or go round the houses, finding money and a medium to show your documentary are the biggest challenges for documentary makers in Turkey. There are two main broadcasters focused just on airing documentaries. One of them is a state channel and the other one is having financial difficulties. So yes, we have touching stories and no, we don’t have enough opportunities.
EDN: What are the possibilities for obtaining funding for documentaries in Turkey?
DA: 90 % of the whole funding cake is coming from the Ministry of Culture. Other than that there are small associations and foundations giving some small grants. Actually if you consider the historical background of Anatolian grounds, the stories in here are global stories with an extreme cultural diversity. I can’t imagine how different Turkey’s global impression would be if we could announce those stories to the world.
EDN: How much are Turkish broadcasters involved in co-producing documentaries?
DA: Some Turkish broadcasters have documentary series produced by in-house production teams, but those are low budget documentaries. Documentaries in real terms requiring major researches can’t find a place in TV channels easily because of financial reasons. As Ankara Movie House we don’t consider documentaries as a form of two people interviews on a subject. However besides this style, documentaries require an intense research, time and budget. Yet, you can’t expect substantial returns as much as from box office movies. We are all in the same boat. We know that it is a hard business to make documentaries, not only in Turkey but all over the world.
EDN: You are currently looking for co-producers for the Standing Man project. Will this be the first time you will work with an international co-production?
DA: Yes. But I am very confident with our project “Standing Man” and very hopeful about this quest.
EDN: Due to the character of the subject of this film – will you then need to finance it completely with support from outside Turkey?
DA: Can’t say no as an answer to this question. So my answer would be a practically yes. However beyond the current situation in Turkey, as I’ve mentioned above, the content of the protests and “Standing Man” himself have a global attraction as a documentary subject. So yes, we will need to finance it completely with support from outside Turkey but not only because of the political situation here, but also because of the universal reputation of the subject itself.
EDN: Last but not least – which projects and plans lie ahead for you in the near future?
DA: Ankara Movie House has a future length documentary about Erik Grun, a nurse in a little town in Germany who has written and shot more than a hundred movies. The documentary is called The Million Dollar Filmmaker: Erik Grun. The documentary focuses on a man’s journey in the little town of Regensburg in Germany. He has achieved to write and direct a total of 118 movies while he is still working as a nurse in a hospital. 28 of them are future length films and he has also received many awards.
Before “Standing Man” we were in pre-production of a romantic comedy movie in Kurdish language. Our desire is to prevent the common use of Kurdish language in cinema as a political concern. We have defined ourselves to be a location between art house and mainstream.
For the future! Yes! We have tons of dreams to realize! To mention one of them, we have a wonderful East Germany story to produce. Following the reunion of East and West Germany, people moved to the west but could not find what they had expected. The movie is one of these unsatisfied man’s journey, returning back to his hometown just for his mother’s funeral and decides to transform the old soda factory of the town into a real competitor against Coca Cola. We love to add fun in every single part of our lives and works. I am personally observing this point of view in Middle Eastern and Eastern works of art. Maybe this is a consequence of learning to live with pain, suffer, problems or lack of freedoms. Who knows!
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