The Association of Documentary Filmmakers in Turkey (BSB) has organized and completed the second part of Pitchin' Istanbul 2015. This is the second time Pitchin' Istanbul has been organized this past year, as the first part of the workshop was held from Aug. 20-24 with support from the Culture and Tourism Ministry in cooperation with the European Documentary Network (EDN) to pave the way for documentary makers in Istanbul and produce a way to bring new financial resource to filmmakers.
This year 12 documentary films were selected from the many applications and filmmakers that had the chance to work with instructors from all over Europe to develop their films and find their strengths and weaknesses. The greatest purpose of these meetings was to get filmmakers to rethink their ideas and plan professionally to address an international audience.
The instructors attending the Pitchin' Istanbul sessions included ExpertDocs Chairman Marijke Rawie, EDN Chairman Mikael Opstrup and director Audrius Stonys. Some of the attending expert guests where Manuela Buono from Slingshot Films, Suleyman Tezgel from TRT Documentary, Dr. Claudia Schreiner from Central German Broadcasting (MDR), Lejla Dedic from Al Jazeera Balkans and Andrea Hock from Autlook Sales.
We got a chance to interview project coordinator Peri Johnson, Dr. Claudia Schreiner, Charlotte Gry Madsen, instructor Marijke Rawie, and project participants Yasin Ali Türkeri, Nesli Özalp and Yunus Tuncer to learn more about Pitchin' Istanbul and documentary films in Istanbul.
Daily Sabah: What do you aim to accomplish with the Pitchin' Istanbul project?
Peri Johnson: There is a great potential for documentary filmmaking in Istanbul, but we are not able to realize this potential to the fullest right now. What we're doing is giving the young talents in Istanbul training about making documentaries and showing them how they can get funding to enter the international market as well as international code productions. Pitchin' Istanbul is supposed to show these filmmakers how to formulate them in terms of content and style. Then in the second round of the project we have these filmmakers meet international commissioning editors. The goal of the project is to give them the knowledge and expertise to be able to present their projects to an international audience.
D.S.: Bringing this project to Istanbul must have been an exciting experience in itself. What was the process like? How did it start?
Johnson: Well, I was frustrated working in the documentary scene myself so I wondered how they were doing it in Europe. So I started going to various training sessions in Europe and I saw that there was a totally different world for documentaries there. Then I started writing reports and then began a very slow process. I took time to convince my colleagues, association and ministry in order to get funding for this project. Slowly but surely we got there and now its growing every day to the point where people can look at the project and see how interesting and fun it can be. I just wanted to share the knowledge and techniques I had seen in Europe with my colleagues and young filmmakers here in Istanbul. Right now we are still at the very beginning of this but I believe we have the potential to become a center. If we have continued support financially, we will continue to grow.
D.S.: We know that you are interested in personal stories when you are looking at documentaries. Which ideas appealed to you the most during the pitching sessions?
Charlotte Gry Madsen: The Kardeş Türküler documentary by Ayşe Çetinbaş and Gökçe İnce. This one to me, from a broadcasting point of view, was something that will tell me a story of a bigger picture but through a personal perspective. I was affected by it because it gave me insight to a historical perspective that I don't know much about and it was told through a personal point of view. Through the arts and culture of the music I will learn the historical and political background of a country I don't really know much about.
D.S.: What do you think about documentary films in Turkey?
Gry Madsen: This is my first time to actually meet Turkish filmmakers. I was curious of the fact that these are very similar stories that I see in most of the pitching forums that I go to. This for me was a great thing to see because it really confirms the fact that the ground stories are the same. We are interested in the same types of stories such as human relations, what it takes to know another culture, how we communicate culture and how we communicate history and politics. The structure of the stories was pretty much the same, which is great because then I think, well, I can tell this story to a Swedish audience from a Turkish point of view and get the same reactions from the Swedish audience.
D.S.: What advice would you give to participants of the event?
Gry Madsen: Meet people and engage in discussions. I think the best is when I meet people who know what kind of film they want to make. The most fruitful discussions are when people don't agree with me on a point of view. They listen to everything but they can decide that "no I want to do it this way." I would advise people to stick to their stories much more and not get intimidated by the big names. You should believe in your idea and fight for your story, listen to all the feedback, but still do it the way you want to do it.
D.S.: How do the documentary ideas in Istanbul differ from those abroad?
Claudia Schreiner: Firstly, they differ in chosen subjects and topics. This is a very specific characteristic of every documentary market all around the world. The task and the obligation of a documentary filmmaker is to document what happens around him or her. So of course you find in this region of the world topics that are relevant to the people who live here. I'm here for the first time and I've realized that it's always a dip into another culture because I learn very quickly the problems and topics the society is talking about. I learned from this short stay in Istanbul that there are two main topics and subjects talked about here. The first one is a quest for identity between two cultures and the other big subject is what is happening right now in Turkey in reference to the treatment of human rights and the Syrian and Kurdish situations. These are topics that are of international relevance and are in focus. I believe it's a task for documentary filmmakers to bring up these issues and to turn them into a visual document. This is the reason I'm here, because it's a chance for me to get to know what is really at stake in Turkey right now that might be of relevance also in my country, Germany.
D.S.: What do you look for in the projects you are supporting in Pitching Istanbul?
Schreiner: Like I said, the main issue for me is relevance, especially for a German audience. Another thing is what is happening to Europe right now and what the role of Turkey is in this game. I'm also looking for films that focus on the treatment of human rights. These are issues that one cannot say are national issues, they are international issues that are happening everywhere.
D.S.: What was the progress of planting the seeds of Pitching Istanbul?
Marijke Rawie: I have been in the process of bringing Pitchin' to Istanbul from the very beginning. It has come a long way, but once EDN decided to be a part, the project got immediate attention. Two years ago was the first attempt at the project and this year is the second and it is much more professional now. Because EDN is involved we were able to get really important guests for the final pitching. We got Dr. Claudia Schreiner who is a very crucial person in the international documentary world, Charlotte Gry Madsen from Swedish TV, Lejla Dedic from Al-Jazeera Balkans because it's very important to have someone from the region, and many more. We really had an international panel and great success. Every project has made a fantastic development in the two months from our first meeting in August. Our last pitching was very intensive and tonight they had to do it for real and I'm very proud of each and every one of them. Even the projects that might not have so much international potential have gone through massive development, and this is most important of all.
D.S.: Which project grabbed your attention the most?
Rawie: From the 11 projects that where pitched today, I think that six of them have international potential. To name a few, the historical story of Antoine Kope ("Antoine Kope'nin Anilari" by Nefin Dinç and Elsa Ginoux) is a great one with a lot of unique archive footage, I think "Mr. Gay Suriye" (by Ayşe Toprak and Cem Doruk) can have international potential in a certain way because it's a very specific subject on LGBT, "Yannis" (by Bingöl Elmas and Hakan Paşali), a story of a man who was a nationalist soldier and turned 180 degrees and is now a pacifist trying to make peace with the people he had bombed himself. But I have to say that all of the projects made enormous progress and I'm very proud of all of them.
D.S.: We know that you are experienced in filming documentaries, but this time you are attending Pitchin' Istanbul as a participant for funds. How do you think a project like Pitchin' Istanbul will encourage talents waiting to be found?
Yasin Ali Türkeri: Pitchin' Istanbul is not only an important project for Istanbul, but also for documentary film enthusiasts all around Turkey. The things we learn from the trainers from the EDN are so precious and they help us to turn ideas into a documentary ready to be filmed. If you're new in the field of documentaries or have had previous experience it is still very important to have an expert look at your work and give feedback. I think anyone who is interested in documentary films or filmmaking should attend workshops like these.
D.S.: Can you talk a little bit about your documentary "Tutku" (Passion)?
Türkeri: My documentary tells the story of a single song. I heard a song based in Istanbul and it told a story of passion. People in Turkey, Greece, Iran, Iraq, Malaysia and Arab countries all sang this song. The music is the same but the lyrics and the stories this song tells differ from each region and country. While telling a story of love and separation in Turkey the same tells a humorous story in Malaysia. It's an anonymous song, but all the countries claim that it is their own and sing along to it as it is. My film tells this story and my personal journey through the path of this one song.
D.S.: How did you get to this point? Can you tell us a little bit about the process?
Nesli Özalp: The workshop we did back in August was our first documentary film workshop. The instructors who came were very helpful for us. We got to see how the documentary business works in Europe and, of course, it was a major first step in the development of our documentary. Our second workshop that we did in October was a great experience in terms of presenting our project. Meeting these people and making connections is very important in this industry regardless of being chosen or not.
D.S.: Can you tell us about the documentary you are planning to shoot?
Yunus Tuncer: Our documentary is about the Tepecik neighborhood in İzmir, also called the Tenekli neighborhood. It centers on the Gadjos, or the non-Roma who live within the Roma community, in the neighborhood and their celebration traditions for the coming of spring, which happens once a year. It emphasized the treatment of these Gadjos by people who are not Roma, and how for 364 days of the year these people are seen as second-class citizens, but on the day of the celebrations they become the heroes of the day. The main idea is to show how Romas and Gadjos communicate with one another in terms of acceptance.
D.S.: What's the next step for you guys if your documentary is chosen to receive the funding it needs?
Özalp: If the supporters like our idea and we are able to receive the funding we need, the next step would be to start shooting the documentary in 2016. This way we will be able to wrap it up by 2017 and get it ready for viewing.