For Paradise: "My rebellion is my documentary."
"The search for
my Paradise Garden was liberating. The search in itself was satisfying."
"If I am a tree, then I can replant myself anywhere, can't
"If we go back seven generations, what do we find?
A culture that oppressed their women and made their
women live in fear."
"My film explores the basic questions of "who
we are" and "where we come from".
"Our souls travel through dimensions that
separate the material and spiritual worlds."
An interview with Binnur KARAEVLI
|Binnur Karaevli's "Searching For
Paradise" shown at Turkish Film Festival in New
York, October 2002, and Won Best Documentary Award
at WINFEMME Film Festival, Los Angeles:
"Searching for Paradise" screened at the
Winfemme Film Festival in September, and the audience
responded in such a positive way, I was elated.
After seeing the film, many people send me emails
telling me of their stories, of their ethnic roots
and their families. And on September 9th, WinFemme
Film Festival held their award ceremony attended by
celebrities and professionals, including Lily Tomlin,
Sally Kirkland, Kathy Najimy, Arthur Hiller, David
O. Russell and many others. Lily Tomlin received
a lifetime Achievement Award and gave a wonderful
speech about the importance of following one's dreams.
When the time came for the feature film, short film
and documentary categories, I was nervous. "Searching
for Paradise" was shown in England, Germany,
Turkey and the US and it had already received the
Best Documentary Award at the Moondance International
Film Festival in Colorado this year, yet, I was at
the edge of my seat. And finally, for the best
documentary, they announced my film, and at that moment
I thought of my childhood dreams and gave thanks for
all the blessings that came with my film."
Karaevli, director and producer of the "Searching
for Paradise" documentary
- Could you talk to us about your family, education and
- I went to a private high school named Robert College in Istanbul. It was an American school. I started at
age 12 and graduated when I was 18.
My cultural and intellectual identity was shaped
by my years at Robert College.
I am very grateful for the education I have received
because Robert College was one of the few schools that
encouraged asking questions and self-initiative in Turkey
at that time. All these values are very Anglo and American
my other friends in French schools were learning to memorize
their homework, I was publishing a newspaper and running
a theatre club at Robert College. My high school allowed its students outlets
The idea of self-expression for a teenager was
very alien in Turkey at that time and to a certain degree,
it still is. I
took all of this very seriously.
I was the Editor-in-Chief of our newspaper, the
head of the Drama club and a member of the student council.
And above all, the school was located on top of
a hill, surrounded by a small forest and overlooked the
Bosphorus. It was the most fantastic, ideal and privileged upbringing
that one could ask for.
However, from a very young age, I was always aware
of the fact that with privilege comes responsibility.
The responsibility was to be the best you could
be and truly contribute something to society.
- What about your family?
- My father is from Tekirdag, a small town near Istanbul, his family
has lived there for many generations, there is a village
with my last name.
I am very grateful for that sign that points to
the Karaevli village.
One day if I lose my sense of direction, I can
always find where my ancestors came from.
My mother's family comes from two small towns near
Sofia and Thessolonika.
I grew up listening to the stories of the Balkans.
My maternal grandfather used to sing a Greek nursery
rhyme to me and my grandmother always had a heavy Bulgarian
accent. They immigrated to Turkey after the nationalists forced all
the Turks to leave, around 1912.
My grandparents were children at that time. But for the rest of their lives, they always talked about the
Balkans and the losses they suffered with such warmth
and kindness. I cherish the Balkan (Rumeli) heritage
that I have.
- When did you first come to the US?
- I left Istanbul in late 1984 to attend college in the US. I went to Carnegie-Mellon University in
Pittsburg and studied theatre.
My mother was very supportive of my decision to
study theatre. I wanted to be a theatre director. But one time as I was flying from Pittsburgh
to Istanbul, I sat next to a Turkish gentleman and he
asked me what I was studying, when I answered, "theatre
directing", he was appalled and disgusted.
After that incident, if I met a Turkish person
I didn't know, I told them that I was studying "economy".
- How different is your life in LA than your life in Istanbul?
- At the beginning, my life in the US and my life in Istanbul were
When I was studying to become a theatre director
and then getting my Masters in Film and working in theatre
and film, I had a very exciting life in the US. I felt completely free to be "me". My friends in the US, have become my friends
because we shared similar interests. In Turkey, I felt like my heritage and family defined me more
than my own accomplishments as an individual. Even though, I respect and cherish my family, I really wanted
to be my own person.
This was a rather shocking thought in Istanbul,
in the 80s and early 90s. But, I must say that, even though I sound
like I was a rebel, I really wasn't a rebel, not at all. I was a very good girl, all my life.
My rebellion came much later in life; I think my
rebellion is my documentary.
So, it is a no-brainer that I liked my exciting life in the US
now my life in LA and my life in Istanbul are not that
different. Because I have finally established myself as an individual. Now I have many friends in Istanbul who
had gone through similar self-discovery journeys. I feel as excited by my friends in Turkey as I do by my friends
in LA. But
all this change happened in the last 4 years.
- Did you
go to Istanbul before you made your documentary?
- I have been visiting Istanbul very frequently. I was there before filming the documentary.
The trip I made to Istanbul during the filming of "Searching
For Paradise" was very different than any other trip
I made there before.
For the film, I really had to have fresh eyes. I forced myself to be a true visitor and
tourist in Istanbul.
I allowed myself to get lost in the city.
To take in the intoxicating smells and enchanting
sights like I had never done before.
I went to a hookah café for the first time
in my life. Making this film was a liberating experience. It was the beginning
of my love affair with Istanbul. I love Istanbul much more now because I truly understand the
city and I have compassion for the city.
The search for my Paradise Garden was liberating. The search in itself was satisfying.
- What can you say to the young people who are educated
with Western languages and values, what insights can you
give them about the East/West dilemma, tradition/individuality
-I have to say that the East/West dilemma is incredibly cultural,
political but also intensely personal.
Thanks to my three beautiful nieces, ages 12 to
19, I am very familiar with the well-educated youth.
I must say that the young generation in Turkey is very different
than my generation.
And this is not a "woe is me, we are old" type of a comment.
The circumstances in the late 80s and the circumstances
of today are vastly different in Turkey.
When I came to the US in 1984, the number of movie
theatres floored me. There were so many concert halls,
nightclubs, restaurants, bookstores, music stores, libraries,
was like being in heaven.
Now, in Istanbul, there is so much to do and to
see. So the
youth has much more going for them in Turkey today.
However, there is a very knee-jerk reaction to the West amongst
some of the young people.
The young people in Turkey do not know anything
about their incredible heritage and also they do not know
much about the great Western civilization. Their knowledge is very superficial. I sound very snobbish and I hate sounding
like this but the culture of Turkey has become a very
populist and low-brow culture.
I say populist not popular.
In my mind, there is a difference.
Andy Warhol is an incredible pop artist who has
brought a very fresh way of looking at art and popular
is popular culture. The endless photos of semi-naked models
in serious Turkish newspapers is populist and low-brow.
I would be much happier to see the Turkish kids
reading Red Kid, Phantom, Asterix or any other cartoons
than watching mind-numbing TV in Turkey. At least they would be reading! I would really encourage the young Turks
to read the great Western philosophers, poets and politicians
and truly grasp some of the amazing contributions the
Western cultures have made to the world civilization.
And I would also encourage the young people to
read more about the history of the Ottoman Empire and
be familiar with the great Sufi poets and philosophers. The key is to have knowledge. This knowledge doesn't come with formal
education, it only comes with personal education.
"All about my mother"
- Do you
agree with your mom when she says, "If a tree is
separated from its roots, it is destined to dry out and
- I am still grappling with this incredibly powerful statement
of my mother's.
It is heavy, very heavy.
I think I made, "Searching for Paradise"
to answer this question. And I honestly don't know if I have answered
it yet. Basically
, in the film, my mother says that I should move back
to Turkey, otherwise, I would just wither and die.
This predicament has created a tremendous amount
of anxiety for me. But I have to ask myself, am I a tree? Let me assume that I am a tree. We used to have an apple orchard that
my father had planted with his own hands.
Maybe there were about 100 apple trees. It was his vanity project. So when he died, we sold the trees. They were all uprooted and taken to some
other place and planted there.
As a teenager, I was amazed to see uprooted trees. I never knew that you could replant trees. So, if I am a tree, then I can replant
myself anywhere, can't I?
"We have to understand our past so we can evaluate
- In the documentary, I also say that, "my mother wanted me
to get a Western education but she didn't realize that
this would steal me away from her".
This would be true even if I lived in Turkey.
I think it is part of growing up.
And the more of an individual identity one has,
the less traditional one becomes.
In Turkey and other Middle-Eastern cultures, parents
exert a tremendous amount of influence and control on
their children. I
have compassion for that because I'm sure every parent
wants the best for their children.
But ultimately, the control becomes very crippling.
There comes a point where everyone needs to make
his/her own mistakes and own decisions.
This is how one becomes an adult.
But in Turkey, I sense a tremendous amount of fear
around the issue of becoming an adult. Everyone is afraid of making mistakes,
everyone wants to interfere with each other's choices. I have really thought a lot about this
and wondered "why this is so". I do believe that it is cultural. When you look at the Ottoman Harem, you see that the slightest
mistake was punished by death.
Mothers had to overly-protect their children. They
were so afraid that their rivals might poison their children.
The Harem was a place controlled by fear. And this is the environment that has bred the rulers of the
This was pretty much the case until 1923.
A lot of psychologists believe that it takes seven
generations to break a pattern. So in Turkey, if we go back seven generations,
what do we find?
A culture that oppressed their women and made their
women live in fear. My comment is not a criticism of our culture.
We have to understand our past so we can evaluate
our present. As
Turkish women, we are dealing with a very heavy legacy. We need to look at our legacy with an
open heart, understand it, accept it and then move on. That's why I have tremendous love and
compassion for my grandmothers and my mother because these
women lived through tremendous oppression in their lives.
Just to sum it up, my mother has been my best teacher because she
has challenged me a lot.
What about your father?
- My Father - As I was looking for the Paradise Garden, I was also
looking for the memory of my father. I don't know my father. He died in 1980 when I was still young. So I never got to know him as a person,
as a man. He
will be, forever, my tall, handsome, well-dressed dad.
I have only dreamt about my father once. Maybe this is the only dream I remember.
When I started USC Film School, I was really stressed
out by the overwhelming amount of new things I had to
learn. And at that stressful time I had this dream. In my dream, my father and I were climbing
up a hill together.
I asked him to come and visit me in Los Angeles,
he said that he couldn't but he would always be there
for me. At
that moment, when I looked at his face, I realized that
he was actually dead.
But he was smiling.
He looked very serene and peaceful.
I said to him, "oh my god, dad, you are
and he just smiled.
I woke up sobbing.
Later on, I realized a very strange coincidence.
The night I had this dream was a Muslim holy night
called "Kandil". This is the night when the souls are supposed to visit us and
we are supposed to offer them our prayers. I don't know how to interpret this coincidence. But the dream itself was incredibly important
This dream has influenced my short narrative film, "Dance
of the Whirling Dervish" and also "Searching
- What would
your parents wish for you?
- I don't know what my father would have wished for me. I know that my mother wishes for me to
be happy and successful.
My ideas of happiness and success are evolving
everyday. I always knew that my father was a very well regarded man,
he was an educated, successful, very respectable man. He was also in politics. Everyone in his town (Tekirdag) knew him and respected him.
But last year, I was talking to my older brother
and he told me that after my father died, a lot of people
came up to him as is the tradition in our culture. They said, "your father was a very good man and he had
a good heart."
This struck such a chord with me.
I don't know what my parents would wish for me,
but for myself, I wish to have a good heart.
SEARCHING FOR PARADISE
- What were
some of the surprises and difficulties you encountered
in the making of "Searching for Paradise"?
- I had very pleasant surprises while I was planning the pre-production
of "Searching for Paradise". A lot of people were extremely helpful.
I did a lot of research in Los Angeles and contacted
many people in Istanbul. I was amazed how many people wrote back to me. Bedri Baykam was wonderful and very cooperative.
Stephen Kinzer, the NY Times correspondent and
the author of "Crescent and Star" was great
Pamuk was extremely difficult to get in touch with.
He never returned faxes or phone calls. I have admired his books ever since I was a child, I desperately
wanted to interview him. Especially in his novel, The
Black Book, Mr. Pamuk deals with the East/West dichotomy
and the themes of identity. But Mr. Pamuk just wouldn't respond to
my pleas, not even with a plain, "no". Finally some people I knew interfered
and then to my total surprise, he was extremely friendly
and easy to talk to.
But the biggest surprise was interviewing Mr. Sakip
have always admired his interest in culture. A friend from Robert College was the head of PR for the Sabanci
Corporation, so the interview just fell into my lap. Everyone, all my friends in Istanbul,
my mother and sister helped and contributed to the production. The biggest challenge in Istanbul was
the weather. It
was cold and rainy in the middle of June.
However, the editing phase of the documentary was very difficult.
I had to construct the structure and make sense
of my footage. For
documentaries, editing is the most challenging phase because
this is where the film becomes a film.
- How long did it take for you
to make your film?
- From the inception of the idea to its first screening of the
documentary took about 2 years.
It sounds like a long time but in the independent
film world, it is actually very fast.
People work on projects for 3 to 5 years.
My initial idea was to make a very intellectual documentary, not
a personal one.
But when I finished shooting in Istanbul and reviewed
my footage, I realized that I was dealing with a "feeling"
more than an intellectual subject matter. How do you make a documentary about "feelings"? I wanted the film to reveal what it feels
like to live with one foot in Turkey and another in the
US. I wanted the film to show what it feels
like to thrive in an individualistic Western society and
yet to yearn for the warmth and closeness of family and
tradition. After a lot of hesitation, I decided that the audience, especially
the international audience, needed a character to identify
with, a character to root for, and a character to care
about. So I decided to make the documentary a personal one.
I also wanted to do an unconventional documentary. I wanted to use poetry and dreams to express
the emotions in the film.
The documentary portion of the film is shot in
video and the dream sequences are shot in film.
I wanted to differentiate these two aspects visually.
"Our souls travel through dimensions that separate the material
and spiritual worlds."
- What do you think about the power of dreams?
- I have to use a quote from one of my favorite writers to explain
my interest in dreams:
"If a man could pass through Paradise in a dream, and have
a flower presented to him as a pledge that his soul had
really been there, and if he found that flower in his
hand when he awoke "Ay! And what then?" -
Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Anima Poetae
I think dreams are extremely powerful tools to understand our core
are so many different interpretations of dreams.
Some ancient cultures believe that in our dreams,
our souls travel through dimensions that separate the
material and spiritual worlds. It is amazing that man can go to the moon
but can not really comprehend the world of dreams.
I used dreams in "Searching for Paradise" to connect
the different themes together.
Dreams also lend themselves to poetry. They are great structural devices too. And the inspiration of the documentary
was my dream with my father.
After having seen the film so many times at festivals
and screenings, only now, I realize that the film is a
love letter to my family.
After making this film, my dreams have become more fantastical. Filmmaking is very similar to dreaming. All great dreams have emotion, great scenery,
a sense of urgency, rhythm, suspense, and a hero. Those are all the same elements that make a great film too.
My film explores the basic questions of "who
we are" and "where we come from".
"Personal/Cultural Identity", "Paradise
Garden", "Magic Carpet" are three key symbols
and themes, what are other key symbols and themes in the
- I use dreams as symbols.
The dream sequences reveal the emotions and inner
conflicts. Another symbol/theme is the circle or
the wheel. There
are many shots of turning wheels in the film. I wanted to depict the life/death/life cycle. In the film, there is the death of the
old Paradise Garden and emergence of the new Paradise
garden. There is also the death of my childhood
self and the emergence of my adult self.
Ever since I have become familiar with Rumi, I've
been influenced by his brilliant poetry and philosophy. When I grew up in Turkey, I knew that Rumi was a great poet
and I knew a couple of verses from his writings. But I never read a good Turkish translation. About 9 years ago, I read Coleman Barks'
translation of Rumi.
The beauty, simplicity and humanity of his poems
overwhelmed me. Therefore, as the conclusion of "Searching
for Paradise", I use a Rumi poem as a homage to my
"Keep walking, though there's no place to get to ./ Don't
try to see through the distances / Move within but don't
move the way fear makes you move ./ Turn as the earth
and the moon turn, circling what they love ./ Whatever
circles comes from the center."
My film explores the basic questions of "who we are"
and "where we come from".
There are no clear-cut answers to these questions. Self and cultural identities are about
process and evolution.
The key is to let go of our fears and be true to
ourselves and act from our cores.
Some of the visual symbols are reminiscent of Tarkovsky,
are you influenced by Russian cinema?
- I am so honored to hear that the dream sequences and the images
of burning candles remind people of Tarkovsky. I've seen Tarkovsky's films when I was a teenager and remember
being amazed by them. But I can't say that Russian cinema has had a major affect
Do you have difficulty with Turkish when you visit Turkey?
- Even though I dream in English and think in English, when I go
to Istanbul it takes me about three days to get into Turkish
again. Then I start thinking in Turkish. I have no difficulty with my mother tongue.
But I must admit that, the Turkish spoken on Turkish
TV is horrendous. Lots of TV anchors speak with such strange accents, with English
is unbelievable that appealing to the lowest common denominator
has become so cool and popular in Turkey.
American TV also appeals to the lowest common denominator
but at least, even the talk-show hosts speak correct English.
Maybe it is because every model in Turkey has their
own TV show and they really don't know how to talk properly.
Because I have teenage nieces, I keep up with the
hip new Turkish words.
After making this film, do you feel like you have answered
your questions about "identity"?
What has been different and what has become deeper?
- One thing I learned after making this documentary was that “identity”
is ever-evolving and ever-changing. I also realized that I would always have
an East/West dilemma. For a long time, this dilemma has
caused anxiety and confusion in me.
Finally I have accepted it.
So now, I get along very well with my own dilemma.
I feel stronger because of my dilemma.
I feel that I have the advantage of seeing issues
from different perspectives.
I have also become much more honest with myself.
I know the things I adore about our eastern traditions
and the things I want to have nothing to do with.
I also feel the same way about Western culture
too. I feel like I have become my own person more. After I completed "Searching for
Paradise", I realized for the first time, that I
had differentiated myself from my family and even from
the dogmas of my own traditions. Making this film was liberating in many
struggle for me was to identify myself as my own person,
then as a woman, then as an educated Turk, then as a filmmaker,
then as someone who lives in the US, then as Turkish-American.
As Professor Ali Behdad says in "Searching for Paradise",
"identities are like onions, there are layers upon
layers of identities". Therefore, we should all be much more
tolerant of each other because we, as human beings, embody
so many identities.
And in the center of it lies the heart.
And on that heart level, we are all connected.
- Did your documentary answer your inner
questions and dreams?
- Yes, I believe it did.
And I didn't realize it when I was making and editing
the film. I
have realized this only very recently, in the last six
months. I realized that the film was really about my own
growth as a person.
Even when I was making the film, I was always very
concerned about other people's thoughts about me.
I was fearful that if the film were not successful
my friends and family wouldn't love me.
The film has been successful. But during the journey of making the film,
I had to let go of other people's judgements and expectations. And on a personal level, this experience
has made me stronger.
Also, after making this film, I have become very clear on the themes
that I'm interested in.
I am fascinated by "identity", especially
how society influences, effects and restricts identity.
Coming from Turkey, where society has tremendous
influence on the development of an individual's identity,
I'm drawn to themes like that.
And taking this one step further, I'm very drawn
to themes about responsibility. I'm drawn to heroes who are forced to
choose between their inner truth and what society deems
to be the responsible behavior for them.
And by "responsibility", I don't mean
paying your bills on time or meeting your deadlines.
I mean, for example, a young man who wants to become
a musician and seek his destiny but is forced to become
a banker and marry the "right" girl.
- What is the difference between someone who has resolved
their identity issues and someone who has not?
- I don't believe that there is anyone who has resolved all his/her
Although, one older Turkish-American gentleman
I met in New York, told me that he wasn't interested in
my film because he had resolved his identity issues. God bless him, we should all be taking
lessons from this gentleman!
It is a life long process because at every step
of the way, we have different identities.
For example, as a young female teenager, one has the virgin identity,
as a woman, the mother identity, as an older woman, the
And these are just the basic female archetypes.
On top of all this, we also have cultural identities.
The people who honestly deal with these issues
are more open, more tolerant and less fearful.
The ones that haven't dealt with these issues are
closed off and full of fear.
I see this in LA and in Istanbul.
A very funny observation – in Istanbul, people
who have never had peace and acceptance of themselves,
boast a lot. Boasting
is a very Middle-Eastern cultural trait.
I used to get a lot of slack in Turkey for not
boasting. Many people could not understand why I
couldn’t list all the schools, all the degrees,
all the achievements I had.
This made me feel awful. I felt like something was wrong with me.
At some point, I even considered walking around
with a list and handing it to the people I met. I’m very proud of my achievements
but I want to be regarded for the person that I am. Our obsession of one-upping each other and boasting in Turkey
is very upsetting to me.
Because in Turkey, we are more interested in the
façade of things.
People can not be themselves, therefore, they have
to show off their possessions, diplomas, husbands/wives.
This happens all over the world but it happens
more in Turkey.
'unsuccessful marriage' part always gets me."
Do you think that there is a connection between identity
search/or definition of it with oneself who has an inner
peace within self?
If it is so, how do you evaluate it?
There is a direct correlation between exploring one’s
identity and being at peace with oneself.
As you search for your own inner truth, you become
more accepting and loving of yourself. To accept and love oneself is extremely
Eastern and Western cultures have the same problem when
it comes to this point of love and acceptance of the self.
Only after loving and accepting ourselves, we can
truly love and accept others. Buddhism, Sufism and many other higher
spiritual teachings emphasize this point.
We have so much judgement in the world and most
of that is directed towards ourselves. Turkish society
is especially judgmental. When I go to Istanbul, I read the Turkish tabloids for fun. And in these tabloids, there is always
a story about a divorced man or a woman and the headline
always reads, "After an unsuccessful marriage".” The "unsuccessful marriage" part always gets me.
Why that judgment? Why should divorce be viewed as unsuccessful?
Why brand a period in one's life as unsuccessful?
I don't know why I react to this; I've never been
divorced, so I don't have a personal problem with this. I believe if we stop being so judgmental, we would all have
a much nicer life.
CONDITIONAL LOVE: "Accepting oneself and being at
peace with oneself is the ultimate happiness."
about "Conditional/unconditional love" doesn't
have much to do with my film, "Searching for Paradise"
but this was a very interesting topic of discussion.
I think we were talking about peace, tolerance and understanding
which are themes in my film.
I think in this highly charged and tense times,
with all the cultural clashes in the world, my film does
offer a glimpse of peace. "Searching for Paradise" explores the main theme
of being at peace with oneself.
And as I was talking about this I said, “people don’t
love themselves unconditionally, how can they love others…”
I recently realized how hard it is to accept oneself and
how much self-criticism and self-loathing we carry around
with us. I’ve never heard of a school that
teaches its students how to love themselves. Wouldn’t that be a great idea to have a school like that?
We learn conditional love from our parents because
they learnt it from their parents, we learn from our schools
and our society.
And in some ways, there is much more self-loathing
in the Middle-Eastern cultures.
Maybe it is because our cultures are more family
and tribal-oriented, maybe it is because women are much
more repressed, and maybe it is because we have many more
taboos than the Western cultures.
There is a definite correlation between happiness
and unconditional love. Accepting oneself and being at peace with
oneself is the ultimate happiness.
"People who deny their own truths and lie to themselves
are liars too..."
- Can you love someone else unconditionally if you don't
love yourself in the same way?
- If you can't love yourself unconditionally, you can't love your
husband/wife or child unconditionally. Our friends, families and spouses mirror
Usually if we hate a trait in our mother, best friend or wife,
it is very likely that we possess the exact trait we hate
so much. For example, if I hate the fact that my
mother doesn't know how to listen to me, it is very likely
that I don’t listen to others and I hate that about
myself too. First we have to accept our fears and
our bad traits, then we have to love them and change these
bad habits into love.
So if you hate liars, you probably are a liar too.
And there are many types of liars.
People who deny their own truths and lie to themselves
are liars too. So first accept the fact, then love this
bad trait and consciously work on letting it go. After that, if someone lies to you, it
wouldn’t bother you as much because it wouldn’t
trigger anything in you.
Of course, this is all easier said than done.
To accept oneself is a life-long process.
And by the way, I learned all this positive thinking
from an incredible teacher in Turkey.
I know that a lot of people in Istanbul are very aware of this
cultural-self loathing and are really trying to change
that. I’ll give another example about
this conditional love issue but more from a more cultural
and Turkish perspective.
In the very recent years, I have seen many educated
families trying to prevent their daughters from getting
a divorce. These
young women were simply trying to make a positive change
in their lives by letting go off unsatisfactory marriages.
And their families were mortified and told their
daughters to be logical, to stop complaining and to not
rock the status quo and continue their unhappy marriages.
What kind of unconditional love is that?
By the way, I’m not judging the parents because
they are full fear; they fear social stigma, they fear
that their daughters would be ruined and they fear that
their neighbors might think they were bad parents. But this is a great example of conditional
love. A lot
of parents love their children as long as they do what
they tell them to do. And it is not their fault either because
that is how they grew up too.
But there comes a point, when we have to consciously
break these cycles that entrap us.
- What kind of an audience response did you get for your
- "Searching for Paradise" has received such a positive
and phenomenal response from so many people. People are writing to me from all over the world. Someone who saw the film in England wrote
a two-page email to me.
I’ve received emails from Russians, Israelis,
Iranians, Americans, French, etc.
The outpouring of love I got from audience members
has been overwhelming. I feel really blessed. The only Turkish audience I had was the
Turkish Film Festival in New York.
I'm still receiving incredible feedback from that
I really thing that college and highschool students should see
this film. So
I'm targeting educational institutions and festivals and
PBS independent channels.
At the end of the film you say you discovered a whole
new world, what is this new world?
- Paradise Garden was a quaint family tea garden (aile cay bahcesi)
in the Gumussuyu neighborhood of Istanbul. The idea of "family" tea garden cracks me up!
I guess lovers were not welcome!
I used to go there with my family when I was a
had a spectacular view of the Bosphorus and lots of greenery.
When I went back to search for it in my documentary, I ended up
finding a cement block.
They were building a fancy restaurant/café.
At the end of the documentary, I say, "I couldn't
find the paradise garden of my dreams but I discovered
a whole new world instead."
What is this 'New World'? I think it is my very own world that I created as an adult.
In this new world, I have a life in Los Angeles
and a life in Istanbul. I have my heritage, my traditions and my family that I love.
I also have my Western education and life.
And I have my own values and ethics that are an
infusion of my eastern roots and Western choices.
I have questioned every tradition I have inherited
and kept the ones I liked and let go of the ones that
I don’t want.
I have also questioned my Western education and
life; kept the things I like and let go of the things
I don’t like.
I feel like I have found a nice balance. As I was making the documentary, I learned a lot about the
history of the Turkic tribes, the history of the Byzantine
Empire and the history of the Ottoman Empire.
And with that tremendous knowledge came acceptance
of I am and where I came from.
do you think about the new American documentaries?
- American documentaries are becoming more and more fascinating
because the American public is more interested in seeing
documentaries. September 11th has affected
all the networks so right now, the amount of documentaries
that are being produced are less.
But the interest is growing.
There is a new Documentary Channel.
Sundance Channel also has a documentary section.
Finding the "paradise garden" was your dream,
you made the film to fulfill this
dream, what are your other dreams?
I have so many dreams.
I am sure it is clear from the interview that I
interested in history.
One of my dreams is
to trace back the childhood of my maternal grandmothers. I want to go to Thessalonika
and Sofia and find the small towns they came from. I've been dreaming
about the Balkans ever since I was a little girl. I've heard so many
stories of the Balkans from my grandfather.
And I've always dreamt about
a lush forest with a waterfall.
Does it exist, or did I make it up?
have no idea. But
I really want to make a film and/or write a novel about
second dream is to make a film about the Harem.
visited the Royal harem in Topkapi and Dolmabahce palaces, I always got
shivers and felt like I was in a nightmare.
Nightmares are great materials
to work with so definitely I want to explore that nightmarish
I get when I visit a Harem.
These projects are very personal too.
deal with the themes of "where I come from"
and "what it means to be a woman".
my very immediate dream is a cross-cultural romance that
takes place in Los
been thinking about this film for a year now.
So it's time
to raise the funds and make it.
What are your other upcoming projects?
- I have two more documentaries I want to make. But other than that all my projects are
feature films. I
am very happy to see the success of "My Big Fat Greek
Wedding". I also have an ethnic cross-cultural romance.
I can talk about it more when I start fundraising.
I am also interested in adapting a novel and making
it into a movie. I am being vague on purpose because I
am trying to see which project will happen first. I think New York has a very vibrant Turkish-American community.
I was very impressed by the Turkish Film Festival.
I've attended many film festivals. This was one of my favorites. Nur Emirgil and Mevlut Akkaya of the Moon and Stars Project
did a first rate job.
I really hope to tap into the New York Turkish-American
community for my next project. I might be in New York fundraising for
my feature film very soon.
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of Binnur Karaevli
E-mail to Binnur Karaevli: