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CANNES ’07 ATELIER INTERVIEW | Semih Kaplanoglu: “Time is the raw material of cinema.”

CANNES '07 ATELIER INTERVIEW | Semih Kaplanoglu: "Time is the raw material of cinema."

In Semih Kaplanoglu‘s Atelier project “Milk“, a young man who sells milk with his mother watches his world change dramatically as their Turkish town faces globalization and his mother falls in love. Kaplanoglu already has a distinguished record in film. His first feature “Herkes Kendi Evinde” won the Best Director award at the 2001 Singapore Asia Film Festival, while his second, “Angel’s Fall”, premiered at the 55th Berlinale.

About the program: The Atelier de la Cinefondation was created by the Cannes Film Festival to nurture specific projects from emerging filmmakers. In its third year, the program has selected fifteen projects looking for development or completion funding. Meetings and events between filmmakers and film professionals will be arranged during the Festival, May 18-25. Click here for more information on the program and projects.

Where you were born and how did you become a filmmaker?

I was born in Izmir on February 22, 1963. My most unforgettable memories of childhood involve the time I spent at the movies in the summer. There were at least ten summer open-air movie theaters, this being before television… My family and I would go every night and watch at least two movies. My father, who lived in Paris during the first part of the French New Wave, was very interested in movies. With his encouragement, I zealously followed the cinema program of the movies at the French Cultural Foundation.

After a while, the German Goethe Institute also began bringing movies and showing them in the same theater. By the age of 15, I had seen numerous works from Godard, Bresson, Claire, Rohmer, Fassbinder, Herzog, Bunuel, A. R. Grillet, and other important directors of European cinema. In addition, I had an 8mm camera that I used to make documentary-style movies which I would then watch with my family. Naturally enough, I attended the Cinema School of the Fine Arts Faculty at the University in Izmir. When I graduated I was 21 and had a 16mm black-and-white short film in my repertoire.

Talk about your previous work, including your recent films and other creative projects.

On the second day after graduating from the university I packed up and moved to Istanbul, the center of Turkish filmmaking, with the sole purpose of making movies. I worked in various jobs: camera assistant on documentaries, set photographer, advertising writer, scriptwriter for TV shows, directing, etc. This continued for 16 years until I was able to film my first feature length movie in 2000, called “Herkes Kendi Evinde” (“Away From Home“). After that came “Angel’s Fall“, which had its world premiere at the 55th Berlinale and won awards for Best Film at festivals such as Nantes, Kerala, Barcelona, and Istanbul. I also directed “Yumurta” (“Egg“), to be shown at the 2007 “Quinzaine des Realisateurs” section of the Cannes Film Festival.

What is your process in making these films?

What I’m looking at here is a longish cinematographic flash-back. Call it an internal journey, if you will, towards the authentic and away from the globalizing face and appearance of the world’s provinces. For it is in our provinces that the feeling of time, so eroded by civilization, still clings. This will also be something of an archaeological dig, extending from the last days of the mother-son relationship (with the death of the mother in “Egg”) to the beginning (the birth of the son in “Honey”). I hope in this way to narrate the burden and pain of passing time so that I may be able to invite everyone to remember and think about his own time. We all have mothers we love and it is highly possible that much is hidden in the time we spent with our mothers, and the time we are no longer able to spend with them. I wish to note that my films are not only bound to the story, that is, the screenplay. I am of the view that time is the raw material of cinema. My expression is plain, spare in dialogue, shaped by visual and audio details and focused on conveying the sense of time passing with every breath.

“Milk” director Semih Kaplanoglu.

What is “Milk” about and what inspired you to pursue it?

Turkey’s rural areas, especially that of Central Anatolia, have been undergoing huge social, economic, and cultural changes during the past several years. A new way of life has awakened in those towns and villages that used to rely solely on agricultural pursuits and animal husbandry, due to the factories and the dams being built in the areas, and the mines being opened. The new employment opportunities and the dynamics brought about by widespread migration have deeply affected family structure, a structure that was traditionally the unassailable fortress of the entire region.

These new ways of living have not only changed the area economically speaking, but have also forced a change to traditional mores. While some view this transformation from soil to industry, from field to factory, as a ray of hope, god-sent vehicle towards a ‘bright future,’ for others these major changes have brought about ‘chaos and strife.’

What do you hope to accomplish for the project while you are in Cannes?

I’m looking particularly for international co-producers here. I need laboratories and the best technical experts to attain the production levels necessary to bring my films to the whole world. I am therefore seeking producers who can help me accomplish that. In addition, it’s important for us to sell to television channels like Arte and international distribution companies. We have to work with a smaller budget in comparison to most others and yet it gets harder and harder every day.

What are some of your favorite movies and influences?

The directors that influenced me the most are no longer living: Ozu, Bresson, Satyajit Ray, and Tarkovsky. I’m trying to find my own path based on the cinematographic and ethical rules they laid down. I am primarily interested in the metaphysical aspects of cinema and I also happen to think that the only way to do philosophy these days is through cinema.

The latest from the 2007 Festival de Cannes is available anytime in indieWIRE’s special section.

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