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Searching 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 I?"
"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

by Bircan ÜNVER

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:

When "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."

Binnur Karaevli, director and producer of the "Searching for Paradise" documentary


- Could you talk to us about your family, education and background?

- 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 values.  While 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 for self-expression.  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 vastly different.  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 better.  But 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 dilemma?

-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, museums.  It 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 culture.  That 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 die"? 

- 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 our present

- 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 Ottoman Empire.  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 dead", 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 to me.    

This dream has influenced my short narrative film, "Dance of the Whirling Dervish" and also "Searching for Paradise". 

- 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.  


- 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 too.  Orhan 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 Sabanci.  I 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.


DREAMS: "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 desires.  There 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 film?

- 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 favorite poet:

"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 on me. 

- 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 words.  It 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 ways.  The 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 identity issues.  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 crone identity.  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.    


"The '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 hard.  Both 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."

This section 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 us. 

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 film?

- "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 screening.

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 child.  It 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. 

What 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 am very 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? I have no idea.  But I really want to make a film and/or write a novel about the Balkans.  My second dream is to make a film about the Harem.  Whenever I 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 feeling I get when I visit a Harem.  These projects are very personal too. They deal with the themes of "where I come from" and "what it means to be a woman".

But my very immediate dream is a cross-cultural romance that takes place in Los Angeles.  I've 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.  

- . -

Profile of Binnur Karaevli

E-mail to Binnur Karaevli: 

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