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Tribeca ’10 | Actor Turned Director Feo Aladag Takes an Actorly Approach in “When We Leave”

Tribeca '10 | Actor Turned Director Feo Aladag Takes an Actorly Approach in "When We Leave"

Tribeca director Feo Aladag’s Narrative Feature Competition film, “When We Leave” focuses on one family’s quest to live abroad, escaping abuse at home.

No longer able to stand her husband’s ill-treatment, Umay flees from Istanbul with her five-year-old son Cem to seek shelter in the arms of her family living in Berlin. But as the reality of Umay’s defiant actions sets in, the family’s reputation within the Turkish community at home and abroad is threatened – resulting in her sister’s engagement being rescinded and ultimately leaving little Cem’s future in question. Love, affection, and loyalty soon become irrelevant as a once caring and close-knit family painstakingly struggle to reconcile Umay’s willful self-determination with the patriarchal social system that governs their lives.

Standout performances led by award-winning actress Sibel Kekilli (lead in Fatih Akin’s acclaimed “Head-On”) deliver nuance and almost foolhardy earnestness to an irresolvable situation that teeters between hope and heartbreak. An award-winner at the Berlinale, Austrian actress Feo Aladag’s compelling directorial debut wrestles with the question: What sacrifice is independence truly worth? [Synopsis courtesy of the Tribeca Film Festival]

“When We Leave”
World Narrative Feature Competition
Director: Feo Aladag
Primary Cast: Sibel Kekilli, Florian Lukas, Derya Alabora, Settar Tanriogen, Alware Hofels, Nursel Köse
Screenwriter: Feo Aladag
Producer: Feo Aladag
Editor: Andrea Mertens
Director of Photography: Judith Kaufmann
Music: Max Richter & Stephane Moucha
Make Up Artist: Monika Munnich
Costume Design: Gioia Raspe
Production Design: Silke Buhr
119 min., Germany

[Editor’s Note: This is one interview in a series profiling directors whose films are screening at the 2010 Tribeca Film Festival.]

Director Feo Aladag on what lead her to filmmaking and what inspired “When We Leave”…

My background is in acting in films and on stage. “When We Leave” is my debut as a writer, director and producer. To me acting, writing and directing are forms of expression arising from the same need – to communicate with an audience. The exciting thing about directing for me is that directing is where everything flows together. As a director I can make my overall vision real. Producing “When We Leave” myself, with my own production company Independent Artists, was the logical consequence for me, considering my need to have full artistic control over my film as well as creative independence in all decisions made.

My principle interest is in human relationships, as a metaphor for everything else in life. Seven years ago my attention was drawn to a series of honor killings being committed in Germany, women who had simply tried to free themselves from family and social restrictions and who wanted to lead a self-determined life without losing their families love and loyalty. In connection with Amnesty International’s “Violence against Women” campaign, for whom I had directed several social interest spots at the time, I had spent a long time researching related subjects.

When my work there was finished, there was something still within me that I couldn’t let go of. I tried to figure out what it was and one key image in particular kept popping into my head: the image of an extended hand, a hand that enables us to bridge every gap that separates us. In a way that was my central abstract idea. I wanted to raise questions, more than give answers and tell a story about the incredible tragedy of missed opportunities in reaching out to one another. What is it that often makes us define our relationships by our differences and makes us chain our love to some sort of condition instead of letting our similarities be stronger than what forces us apart? Basically, “When We Leave” is a drama about the universal wish to be loved by our family for who we are – rather than for the way we choose to live.

Director Feo Aladag. Photo courtesy of Tribeca Film Festival.

Aladag on the attention she paid to her cast…

Apart from the great satisfaction that I draw from filmmaking as a syntax, as a vocabulary, as a language – given my acting background, for me everything is in directing actors. And in order to direct an ensemble that is so heterogeneous in the sense of bringing all those very different levels of acting experience to the table – from people who´ve done a great deal of films to very young actors who have had no prior acting experience whatsoever – it seemed essential to me to create an atmosphere of trust by going through an intense rehearsal process to get the performances I was looking for.

Aladag on the challenges she faced with her small budget and number of production duties…

A very limited budget was as much a challenge for me as it was a challenge to write, direct and produce my debut “When We Leave” myself since it meant I had to run on full speed for a very long period of time on very little sleep. Besides the fact that it was my directorial debut, one of the challenges was to be precise in a different culture and a different language, and also never to compromise the integrity of my vision of the final film while dealing with the natural limitations of filmmaking: time and money.

And on what she hopes a Tribeca audience will experience from watching her film…

I hope the experience of this film offers viewers a possibility to empathize with all the characters portrayed in the film and that the universality of the themes and conflicts enables also an NY audience to find moments of truth, no matter which cultural background they come from.

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