If you weren’t political in the 80’s in Turkey, you were alone. But I preferred being alone. | Leonidas Liambeys
If you weren’t political in the 80’s in Turkey, you were alone. But I preferred being alone.
Leonidas Liambeys   
  If you weren’t political in the 80’s in Turkey, you were alone. But I preferred being alone. | Leonidas Liambeys Born in 1959, he studied Electrical Engineering before going on to study film at the Mimar Sinan University in Istanbul. Before making film he was actively involved with photography. Ceylan belongs to the new generation of Turkish film makers, who spearheaded the revitalization of Turkish cinema from the mid-90’s winning both international recognition and domestic success. His films have won over 82 awards at film festivals, including the Grand Jury Prize and Best Leading actor award at Cannes in 2003 for Distant/Uzak and the FIPRESCI award for his latest film Climates/Iklimler, yet he has only made four feature films and one short, his first Cocoon/Koza, at the age of 36.
LL: What were you searching for in Climates/Iklimler?
NBC: The truth of course, reality. But not only reality. My only compass is my own soul and when I try to understand reality, or the truthfulness of any scene I’m shooting, I only ask my soul if it’s correct or not.

LL: You said in the press conference that every time you start a movie you want to make something different but they always end up similar…What were you thinking when you started to make this movie?

NBC: I made a film about a man and a woman. It was the first time for me and I thought that it would be completely different. I think it was.

LL: You explore some very uncomfortable sides of male psychology, why?

NBC: Because I’m a man and it’s complicated. There are certain situations in life that we never know how we will react. Sometimes I find myself in certain situations that surprise me, and I cannot know myself. I mean that, I believe that in certain situations, everyone can kill a man, and that everybody can rape a girl.

LL: You dedicate this film to your son, and your films explore the distance from the country to the city. Is there a distance between yourself and those who grew up in the city, who are, in a sense, fully urbanised?

NBC: It’s a difficult LLuestion actually. I don’t know. I can easily locate people who don’t have a countryside experience. I think that people who have grown up in the countryside are different and that I can be better friends with them. They have that kind of background, and I feel closer without knowing the reason. We don’t talk about the countryside, but there is a certain type of similarity and of course, it worries me also, that there will be a distance between my son and me…
I think there is always a distance between people and this is painful in life, most of the time we realize this: I mean, between man and woman, between your lover and yourself. There are moments when you kill this distance and for some people this creates more melancholy than for others. I think, I am one of them. I am the kind of person who is melancholic in that sense and I think its reflected in my films as well. Of course, I try to accept this as the destiny of man: there is no one to blame here, but still, it creates a melancholy.

LL: Has making films, or the success of your films reduced melancholy in some way?

NBC: I feel more melancholy because you make films, in a sense to find some kindred spirits in the world, but after a certain experience you realize it’s hopeless. I mean you understand that in the end, it is not what you are looking for. I mean festivals, prizes – all the light side of cinema – are like fireworks, when they end, you feel even more darkness than before.
So, when I think about my life, I would like a very simple life with my child and my wife and I don’t like to see the fireworks very much. I try to live as simply as possible.

LL: In two of the films the hero is a photographer, you are a photographer yourself and there is an exhibition of your work as part of the 47th Thessaloniki Film Festival. This subject seems to create interests you, the photographers look at world. Can you talk about this?

NBC: It is not very important for me that the character to be a photographer, I selected for practical reasons above all: I feel that I know the details of photography, so I could put more details in the film. More importantly for me, the character had to be an intellectual. He could have been a writer or an academic, for example, but for Distant/Uzak it was important that, like most of us, the gap between his ideals and the reality of his life should be visible. In this case [Climates] I made the character take photos for practical reasons, though he’s not a photographer, because he had to go to some ancient places as a history teacher and take pictures for his classes.

LL: What do you enjoy more, taking live photos or still ones?

NBC: I think photography is a more pure art for me, like painting and writing, because in cinema there are so many things around you. In photography nobody cares, and that’s good [laughs]. So, I started art as a photographer and in those days, I used to go to the library of the university and spend days and days there, looking at the painters, photographers and reading. That feeling was very strong for me.
I feel the relationship between art as an ideal and myself was more innocent in those days, but in cinema, you have to deal with too many characters. You spend a lot of energy protecting your innocence in cinema: the critics, your relatives – all your relatives have an idea about your film – everybody says, ‘Why don’t you make this kind of movie?’, ‘What did you mean?’ Your people expect all these things, even if they don’t say anything to you, you can feel it, and you have to live under all these clouds of expectations and that’s a great weight on your shoulders. There is no weight on your shoulders when you are a photographer. So I am a photographer now as therapy.

LL: Roland Barthes said ‘every film is a political film as well’, do you view or write your films with political thoughts at all?

NBC: Not at all

LL: Can you imagine an intellectual who is not alienated, perhaps through political acts or engagement with social issues?

NBC: I think political activity most of the time is a veil to get far away from yourself. When I studied in university, political action was very strong in Turkey, everyone was killing each other… and I used to see the situation. A new guy would come from the countryside to the university and for the first several months he is very alone, and needs a community, but the only type of community he can find or get into is political groups. I mean I don’t say that nobody should do it, of course, but I’m not that kind of person. Even in those days, if you weren’t political in the 80’s in Turkey, you were alone. But I preferred being alone.

LL: What is the situation in Turkey today?

NBC: I think things are getting better. Turkey, I believe, has nothing else to do but to turn towards the EU. It is the most difficult country in Europe, [particularly] if you think about the countries around it, it becomes a very complicated place. What else can we expect? The EU is the only route and I think that most of the people also want it. But I don’t know when it will happen… maybe never. Still it’s good to work for that.
LL: Are there still some subjects that can’t be made into films in Turkey?
NBC: Censors? I think the censor is not strong in Turkey. Some political film makers, may try and show it like that, but I believe, it is not strong. All kinds of films are made and shown in Turkey. For instance you can’t show some sexual scenes in Japan, but in Turkey you can show it. Now there was a very hard film about 11 September, and it was shown in the cinemas: with hard torture scenes and everything was shown… but of course we have some missing points in the law. Some small changes may be needed in the law but its not easy though they will change it. Because of that law some lawyer can prosecute. And because of the law all the foreign press write about it and it seems that there is a big problem, but finally, no one goes to prison as in the past. Turkey is quite a free country. In France, they are trying to pass a law against freedom of expression, even there. They have the same law in Switzerland, if you say something against genocide, you are guilty. In Turkey, if you say ‘there was genocide’, at least they don’t put you in prison. There are some writers in newspapers who write that ‘the Armenians are right’ or some such but finally, nothing happens. Of course we have problems, like any country, but it’s getting better.
The intentions are better. Intentions are more important things, also in human relations: with my friends, I mean, what he said is not important to me, his intentions are more important.

LL: You make movies in a special way, many would say in a great European tradition. When you see movies from another nation do you see directors who think like you?

NBC: Of course, I like many film-makers but specifically, I think there is great and intelligent cinema coming from Romania and especially Cristi Puiu whom I really like.

LL: What Turkish filmmaker do you respect from the past?

NBC: I respect Yilmaz Guney very much, he is the best Turkish director.

Leonidas Liambeys
(29/11/2006)