This documentary film project which will serve as an archival reference to the story of novelist Aslı Erdoğan, partly as a filmed biography, has proceeded for a long time with the film maker’s personal means.
It really needs financial support for its finalization. You are probably some of Aslı’s readers. Would you like to lend a hand? Even a small contribution, even a drop will help…
We have never stinted in our support for Aslı Erdoğan and, with the interview that follows, we confirm our involvement by her side. If we were able to serve as a modest resource for the many solidarity initiatives that sprang up on all continents, so much the better. Each and every one of us added a stone to the effort.
Here are the essential words shared with Adar Bozbay, the film maker responsible for the documentary currently in the works, “Incomplete sentences”…
• Dear Adar, did you have a precise synopsis in mind when you started on this project? Or did you rather let yourself follow the flow where Aslı led?
I started this project when Aslı Erdoğan was in prison. I had discovered her literature in the 90s, particularly through her texts on the Kurds. The texts in which she spoke of the cruel practices carried out in the Kurdish villages… The fact that a ‘white’ Turk sided with Kurds, especially in a dangerous period such as the 90s had greatly moved me, as a Kurd. Then, she started writing in the newspapers and her novels began to appear.
In other words, I was one of those who followed and loved Aslı Erdoğan’s writing and I admire her. When she was imprisoned, I felt it was my duty to render her justice… How can I say this. I felt beholden. She stood in solidarity with us, she wrote about the Kurds even in the riskiest of times. I thought then I had to stand by her, the same way she had stood by us. At that time, I was the manager of a women’s bar, Bigudi. We organized two events for Aslı in this venue. A collective writing workshop for letters to be sent to prisons, and a special day of reading and talks, with the participation of two deputies from Germany also.
After this, I started preparing a video. Through Aslı’s case, I wanted to speak of violation of rights in Turkey. Aslı’s writing brought me to this point, I could see that she was also writing for those who were discriminated against: Kurds, Armenians, Jews, those affected by sexist policies… Not only in Turkey, she wrote for all the ones discriminated against in the world. As a Kurd and also as a Queer, I had my own wounds. I had been subjected to all kinds of discrimination. I tried to prepare the project I saw in my head. When Aslı was liberated, I suggested this film to her. Honestly, I thought she would refuse, I knew through Mehmet Atak, her best friend who then became a common friend, that Aslı was an author who was mostly directed inward toward her inner world, and I thought having her accept such a proposal would not be easy. But she accepted, I don’t know, I think she trusted me…
I explained that I had imagined the project in seven chapters: we would film in seven corners of Istanbul, talk about her seven books. In fact, we were unable to make the documentary this way. Following her liberation, Aslı was forbidden to leave the territory and was denied the return of her passport. During the spring and summer months, we saw each other regularly and talked. End of August, early September, we started filming in Istanbul.
Following these sessions, Aslı Erdoğan had to go to Germany to receive the Erich-Maria Remarque Peace prize. So I went with her. But she was unable to return. The newspapers said very different things, the trial with a request was ongoing, requesting a sentence in perpetuity. Clearly, returning was very risky. She could have been arrested at any moment, sent back to prison, and her health was not the greatest. All this was very worrisome. She said: “I cannot return from this trip to Germany I took for a few days without even closing the windows in my apartment.” It was something very painful. A very difficult decision. She could express this much better herself, but there you have it, I was one of the people with her when she took this difficult decision.
And so, Aslı did not return and stayed in Germany. She obtained a literary grant, she wanted to continue writing over there. I returned to Turkey. But since Aslı had stayed in Germany there began a period of European trips for me. I followed Aslı, through all the prize receptions that followed. The Simone-de-Beauvoir prize for women’s freedom in France, the Swedish PEN Club’s Tucholsky prize… We managed to film during some of the ceremonies and not during others for reasons connected with Aslı’s health. But I witnessed all these events, and I was discovering Aslı more and more, from up close. So, of course, the documentary took a different turn…
In a way, Aslı was living through the life of the characters she had built in her books. As with The Stone Building. She wrote The Stone Building, after which she was arrested and experienced prison… Yes, at first, there was a synopsis for the film but it changed four, five times… With each change, we filmed anew. The “violation of rights in Turkey” angle of the beginning of the project was transformed. The documentary veered toward Aslı’s health problems, her life in exile and the difficulties of writing in these difficult conditions. Because I saw Aslı every day, and every day, her physical as well as her psychological health were declining. On one side, illness, stress and on the other side life in exile affected her deeply. Moreover, her trial was ongoing in which she was at risk of a sentence in perpetuity. Aslı was struggling with all that… So I worked on these aspects in my film.
In looking closely at Aslı’s experience, I started thinking about all the people who are in the same situation and living with the same problems. The lives of many journalists, academics, activists are filled with these same difficulties… Among all of these people, Aslı appears as a symbol. Since she is known, she is more visible, but a number of other people have the same experiences as she does. And that in itself is a torture. In its final form, the documentary tells about the difficulties Aslı must bear, the health problems, exile, writing.
• You started filming three years ago. I think you felt the need to reconstitute the preceding period. The times of the newspaper Özgür Gündem, the trial, imprisonment, the international solidarity… What archives did you consult for your research?
Work on the documentary lasted more than three years, in fact… We began filming in 2017 to mark a significant date, September 1st, “the World Peace Day”… But of course there was preparatory work before that. From March to September, particularly in July and August, we met with Aslı. When she was with her mother in Altınoluk, we had long phone conversations. I spoke very often with her best friend, her mother and her prison friends. I started to know Aslı’s universe better.
During this period, I also conducted research. We delved in the archives, of course. Those at Kedistan are a part of it. I worked with a number of journalists in Turkey, I had the support of press organizations. Aslı’s childhood, her days in Rio… We constituted the photographic archives of these periods. This was an entire archival effort in and of itself…I re-read her books again and again. I re-opened the press archives, her articles in Özgür Gündem, in Radikal… I looked at initiatives carried out in the four corners of the world in the solidarity campaign…
Seeing all this, my admiration for Aslı Erdoğan kept on growing (she laughs). This was relatively difficult for me; you are an admirer and you are making a documentary. I had to find my place as film maker but a woman stood before me and the more I knew her, the more I admired her. She was one of the first Turkish physics specialists to work on the Higgs Boson at the European Nuclear Research Organization (CERN). She has written on Africans, on Kurds. She was threatened for all that… She’s a woman with a classical dance background. She has a profoundly musical soul. Her books, her pen are magnificent. There is so much, in this way… She learned to read at age four or five. She is considered as exceptionally gifted. Her life is interwoven with her books…
I learned these things from her mother, from her friends, and I was filled with enthusiasm without really knowing by what end I should begin. A woman with so many sides and who succeeds in so many areas, there were moments when I thought I would lose my footing for the documentary. Everything was important. But I could not deal with everything in a single documentary. I had to find an angle and stick to it. If I started talking about everything this multiple-facetted women does, I would have to do a series of documentaries (she laughs). I had to approach the topic from a precise angle and I had a lot of trouble choosing it. Then, as I said earlier, with the back and forth with Aslı, the accompaniments, the visits, the documentary took shape spontaneously.
• You moved forward a project requiring a lot of commitment, and you did so with your own means. I suppose the appearance of the pandemic created additional problems. Can you talk about the difficulties you encountered, and the support you received?
Yes, I moved forward with my own means. In any event, I had started the project on my own. But cinema is an artistic field that requires collective work and (she laughs) it is the most expensive artistic field in the world… At the same time, it is the most powerful of the arts, the one that resonates the most. Of course, you can change things with a book, a painting or a drawing, these are very powerful artistic branches. A book is not read by millions of people, except for best-sellers, but millions can see a film. Several people can share a film in a house at the same time.
Cinema is an artistic field that is both powerful and difficult. It requires huge budgets. It cannot be done by one person alone, off in her corner, like a writer who picks up his pencil and starts to write. You are talking about a team. Photography director, camera, sound, assistants, if it’s a documentary, archivists, if its fiction, actors, actresses, if there’s animation, the artists, followed by the editing, sound, colors… There are so many stages and dimensions that I can’t name them all. So it’s a difficult process that requires important means. Of course, all those who work on it earn their living this way and naturally, must be paid for their work, so the project calls for a large budget.
For three years I handled all this on my own because I didn’t have a producer. During that time, I had other activities. I managed the bar Bigudi, I made clips…I financed this film with the revenues from these activities. In fact, it was a relatively expensive documentary because the simple fact of going with Aslı on her trips in Europe required a budget all its own. After the beginning of the documentary, my companion Melek Bal took on the job of assistant director and helped me a lot. Beyond assisting, she acted as a producer and was a great help, for the financial aspects as well as the organization and the reflection. I was able to carry the film this far thanks to her but, of course, we have a number of other friends who contributed in different areas.
Things were very difficult during the pandemic. Like all the other bars, Bigudi shut down in March. Re-opening has not been authorized yet. Thus, my main source of revenue dried up. But the final stages of the project are close, we are at the post-production phase.
Support? I did not receive much financial aid. At the very beginning the Göteborg Book Fair gave us a bit of a hand, a few people offered their personal support. But of course, these aids were not sufficient to cover a project running over three years. In this final phase we finally came to an agreement with Jorgen Lorentzen, a Norwegian documentary film producer We decided that the color and music would be handled in Norway. And our production relay in France is assured by our friend Tahin Demiral. But we still need an important budget, particularly for the animation sequences that must be incorporated in the film.
This film is meant to travel in festivals. We want to do everything so that it can reach the greatest number of viewers. This film will be powerful because the writer it features has a very powerful pen. I would also like for people to see, understand and be sensitized to the destruction exile produces on human beings. Somewhere, you are entering a note in History and the more you can make it visible, the happier you will be. You want to send your film to television stations, this requires a budget. You want to enter it in festivals, for sure this is also a budgetary question… In fact, once a film is finished, the financial need continues…
The film would appear to be ready for completion in early February or late March 2021. And for this final surge, we need to find emergency funds. This is why we have opened a funding drive. We hope people will support us to help us through the final phase, so that our documentary may reach a wide audience.
• Aslı Erdoğan’s talent and writing are precious. She is a woman of letters with an international reputation, very appreciated. But also, she is a singular and unique person. Would you have anything to say on this topic?
Aslı Erdoğan has a powerful and exceptional pen. Already in 2005, she was included on the list of “Tomorrow’s 50 world writers”. She is like no other in the literary world. As a human being, she is also very different. For this reason, I had a lot of trouble for this documentary… I can say it like this: even if Aslı Erdoğan had not been a writer, a special writer, I would have wanted to make a documentary of the woman she is… Talented, exceptionally gifted, full of success but, at the same time, she carries kindness and heart to the point of endangering herself for others, for the oppressed. A woman who is not afraid to slide her hand under the stone. Yet, even if as a novelist she is turned toward her inner world, she can also sit there and converse with you for hours… When I am asked: “What would you like to say about Aslı?” I can answer so many things that time and pages would not suffice. I would get lost in the answer…
Some people are born in the world for the world, too rarely. In my eyes, Aslı is one of these rare people. It is as if she does not belong to this lowly existence, a sage. As if she bears on her shoulders the weight of knowing the secret of things. She always sides with the victims, in the ranks of the “others”. Yet she knows that defending victims can mean becoming a prey… She does not use polished words, does not put on airs. She walks like a cat, with a silent and delicate step. She speaks in writing. Without yelling, without vulgarizing, she makes the words dance. You can see in her writing that she is a ballerina. And she is a physicist of her literary equations. Even if someone attempts to cut her tongue, to rip off her wings, she resists with her words as the only weapon she knows, for which she would give up everything else: writing. She is always alone, always silent, flees from those who want to undo her silence. In public moments, prize ceremonies, seminars, round tables, when she is expected to speak, she steps back. Her modesty makes her be quiet about her success. When someone sings her praise, she smiles, like a timid child, she changes the subject with “oh well…” Her words are in her writing, always. As if she feared to make them lose their magic by saying them out loud. She loves them, protects them like her children. She loves words, she finds pleasure in touching them. She likes pouring them on paper feeling them, breathing them. She blows soul onto a white page, she is a goddess of words. She is wounded to the point of saying “papa, papa, why did you leave me?” She is generous to the point of saying at her last meal “take this body, it is yours.” She is brave, to the point of saying to her mother, when she was taken to prison “don’t ever cry, don’t ever lower your head”…
We could have continued this interview for hours still. But the film awaits your support.
TO SUPPORT THIS PROJECT FOLLOW THIS LINK
Call to solidarity for the documentary on Aslı Erdoğan directed by Adar Bozbay
Three years ago, Adar Bozbay started a documentary on Aslı Erdoğan, a novelist now in exile who was once imprisoned and threatened with a sentence in perpetuity for her writing, prior to going into exile. Today, this documentary is done for 80%. But supplementary funds are needed for post-production (music, colorization and animation), reason for this participatory financing drive, during these complicated times and in a situation closing the door to subsidies. We need you! Thank you in advance…
A Call to solidarity!
We have finished the documentary on Aslı Erdoğan, the novelist in exile which we began filming in 2017. Currently, 80% of the documentary is finished; but we still need money for post-production (music, colorization and animation). We are queer artists and have a lot of trouble obtaining subsidies and support in Turkey. We need you!
Stay with peace, love from Istanbul,
Adar Bozbay (film director)