Journey To The Sun
A film by Yesim USTAOGLU

Interviewed by
Bircan ÜNVER

Nazmi Oirix as Berzan

Yesim USTAOGLU' "Journey To The Sun" has received "The Best European Film" in the 49th Berlin Film Festival in May 2000, and has been showing numerous international film festivals and movie-theaters since then.

In David Walsh' review about the film, "There are still some courageous people, even in the film industry" Mr. Walsh underlines his impression about the director as: "Turkish filmmaker Yesim USTAOGLU is a calm and soft-spoken but obviously determined woman." For the interview:

Despite USTAOGLU' "a calm and soft-spoken" appearance, her courage and challenge are admirable. She has brought the "Kurdish" or "Kurdish Question" issue to our attention from the humanitarian point of view with her latest film "Journey To the Sun". The film subject is one of the most sensitive issue in Turkey more than 15 years.

"Journey To The Sun" story's that takes you from Istanbul to the East, with its three leading characters:
"Mehmet, a young man from western Turkey who works for the water department, rescues Berzan, a Kurd who sells music cassettes on the street, from a nationalist crowd in Istanbul. The two become friends. Mehmet has a darker skin and could be mistaken for a Kurd. His girlfriend, Arzu, works in a laundromat. Berzan has a fiancée in Zorduc, a village near the Iraqi border."

Yesim USTAOGLU is one of the very few filmmakers from Turkey, as a young and successful director. Seldomly we have seen a young and successful Turkish woman enter the international realm of film; one who has also contributed to the term "Women Director's," and one who has helped women exceed their goals. 

In particular via her last two films; "The Trace" and "Journey To The Sun", USTAOGLU' international recognition has expanded enormously. Her courage and accomplishments are far beyond than just a "woman" film! Via her film, USTAOGLU' courage making "Journey To The Sun" has a similar quality with Rosa Luxemburg' character.

She has given 15 years to this profession where through hardship, was able to capture themes of real life, subtle social conscious and symbolic transformations into the scenarios of her movies.

Her film, "Journey to the Sun" (1999) has been showing at the Cinema Village Theater in New York since February 9th, 2001.

USTAOGLU answers to the following question, "What sort of needs led you to make this film?" as: "Journey to the Sun has been like a voice to those that were unable to speak out before.  It is odd that this subject has not been dealt with thoroughly in the past."

In regard to the "Journey To The Sun's New York screening, director of the film has given the opportunity to an interview about her film.  Here is what she had to say:

Yesim USTAOGLU, Director of the "Journey To The Sun" (photo: Sarkis Baharoglu)

Although you were an architect major, you made your first two short stories at a very young age in 1984. What made you incline towards film?  In both your short films, did they contain your desired social and political themes?

The Karadeniz region, where I grew up, is still a mysterious place, containing a very rich and cultural geography.  I become tongue-tied when I speak of its visual beauty, which gave me a passion to go into film.  In one way or another, my scenarios contain stories about people that I met and have come across.  For example, my first movie, "To Catch a Moment," was based on a personal level.

When you went into film, what approach did you take?

In film, expression and speculation is important.  My characters must be psychologically enriched; they must be able to interact with society and the environment.  Their relationship with nature is also of great importance.  This has always been important to me and it has, in some way, become a part of my own style.

Ilhan Mimaroglu (electronic music composer and author) mentioned that your film, "The Trace," was one of the best movies he'd seen.  Do you think that you have contributed to Turkish Film?  Or to what degree have you contributed to Turkish Cinema with this film?

In my film, "The Trace" the above mentioned style can be seen.  I can speculate that I gave richness to the movie industry.

"Journey to the Sun" has taken a social and political form, which in Turkey has for sometime been under supervision.  You have successfully brought these topics to light.  What was needed to direct this movie?

Journey to the Sun has been like a voice to those that were unable to speak out before.  It is odd that this subject has not been dealt with thoroughly in the past.

Who influenced you in Film Cinematography?
(Example:  After the first part of the movie, there is a series of snapshots of Istanbul, I felt like I was watching Ara Gulers' photographed version as the film or 'the Journey To The Sun' which related in my mind with Yilmaz Guneys "The Road".)

The styles of my films have remained the same for years.  "Trace" is a bit more abstract whereas, "Journey to the Sun," is more concrete.  This gave it a documentary taste to it.  The entire production, such as place and people have derived out of my own style.  Actually, it is probably simpler yet more developed.  This documentary type movie will remind you of Ara Guler and Yilmaz Guney.

There is a fighting scene that takes place after a soccer game.  Do you compare what happened to the Jews in the Second World War by the Germans, to the Kurdish people?  This appears to be one of the starting flames in terms of content of your film.  Thus, do you think that his kind of hatred can be seen extensively in Turkey? And does it still continue today?

The entire scenario leans toward real life stories. Local events and human characteristics have been given a global dimension in this film.  I feel that this film explains everything that is needed to know about a person or place. I cannot comment that Turkey's democratic has improved.  The Kurdish issue is still being dealt with.  It seems that although we want to go into the European Union, we are far from reaching our reformation goals.

X-marks a death sign, it symbolizes hate and condemns a "dark skinned" identity.  This one somewhat refers as the racism that blacks had to face.  It makes me think about the population in Turkey that is dark skinned.  This is a major message and criticism. Do you think that referring strongly to skin color in terms of the Turkish population can be overly generated?

Of course it has.  Actually, it doesn't mean that color is the only problem.  An authoritarian mentality can only be given as an explanation to this. 

A short while before your New York debut, Turkish prisons were on a hunger strike and among them 11 were declared dead.  In your film, you refer to the Bayrampasa hunger strike.  Do you think that the Kurdish issue is solved? 

I mentioned that before.  Just recently, a Kurdish play by Murathan Mungan was prohibited.  In order for democracy to take place, a step must be taken to solve the problem.

"Journey to the Sun" is a film leaning towards friendship.  There are three different stories mentioned in the film.  Unfortunately, the closeness among them was destroyed.  The social and political uneasiness left them weak and unable to respond.  Do you feel the same?

Newroz Baz as Mehmet

No.  I do not agree.  This movie is straight forwardly about friendship and love and this friendship overpowers love.  A distant and helpless youth takes responsibility of a friend's problems and grows from it.

You don't agree that although this friendship is a good one, that it ruined by the political system.  The political system is extremely overwhelming; it ruined Berzan' life and although Mehmet matured from his experience, but Berzan's coffin slides as the sun sets. At the time of the journey, it is questioned whether Mehmet will be able to return.  If he isn't able return alive, then this will caused that the love will be ruined as well.  How do you see this?

This is an innocent friendship.  No matter what, the two youths care for each other without wanting anything in return.  They are attached to each other and protect the friendship.  Berzan' affection for Mehmet is unconditional.  He even tries to keep Mehmet away from his problems.

Mehmet slowly begins to understand and explores Berzan' world.  Mehmet keeps him in his heart and death seems to lose its importance.  He has matured and is someone who can stand on his own two feet and live with hope.  It appears to me that although it may not be easy, he is leaning towards a positive future.  At this point, Mehmet can take a hold of his love Arzu, as he will his life.

At the end of the film, you show a dead and a live person taking the Journey to the sun, however it appears that they are going to a place with no hope and a dead end street.  What message are you trying to convey here?  At the end of your movie, what is the symbolism?

At the end of the movie, Berzan' wish was to return to his village, even if it meant in a coffin.  His village had been underwater for some time and we see Berzan’ coffin slide as the sunsets.  During this journey, as the coffin follows the path of the birds, we see Mehmet waiting on his two feet.  I feel that at this moment, there is great hope.  Even if it is among sadness. 

Your actors and actresses were either brought up in Yesilcam or just ordinary people; in order for an outcome, can you compare the advantages and disadvantages of such a group?  What were the difficulties you came across, or what enjoyment did you get out of it?

I was very pleased with the actors.  Before anything, they believed in the film and showed it in their acting.  They were the right people for the job.  After a long and strenuous rehearsal, it was a pleasurable adventure.  There is no replacement for them.  Belief and sincerity is important.

While introducing "Journey to the Sun" to Turkey, what type of response did you receive from society and within the political realm, and the media?

Your films received many awards, both in Turkey and abroad.  The Cultural Ministry gave you permission right away.  However, the press did not accept it completely.

During the making of your movie, even though you received support from abroad (Euro-lmage, Germany, and etc.), what kinds of difficulty did you come across?

When the scenario is good, there is a better chance of being financed.  I feel that with an excellent scenario and sincerity, you will always receive financial help.  This project encompassed all.

"Journey to the Sun" entered the international realm and received several awards.  After this, where else do you want your film to be seen?

It is important for the movie to be seen and criticized.  It is also important that to become an unforgettable film.  I can assume that this film will stay in the minds of people and will be talked about as the years pass.

The world of the Internet is growing and people will begin to connect Online to watch movies.  How will this affect the film industry and what will its gains and losses be?

There was a fear for TV and Video industry as well.  Just like with the Internet.  Film is another thing.  It is the same to watch a movie as well as make one.  At least for me it's that way.  I am sure that many will agree with me on this aspect.

We are aware that you are currently working on a film.  Can you tell us a little bit about it?  Do you feel that it will be internationally recognized?

It is a little too early to discuss the film.  However, I am very happy with the script.

Do you have a film project that you have not yet worked on and would like to?

Whenever I begin a film, I become very anxious and excited, ever since my first short film.  I completed "Journey to the Sun" with the same happiness.  Whenever I begin a new film, I hope to have the same feelings.

Is there anything else that you like to comment or add to this interview?

I think that this will suffice.  At this moment, I cannot think of anything else.

Translated by Yesim OZEL
- . -

Journey To The Sun
Directed by Yesim Ustaoglu. Starring Newroz Baz, Nazmi Oirix and Mizgin Kapazan · Shown at
Cinema Village Theater, New York starting from February 9th. 2001, on Friday.

About Yesim Ustaoglu:
Born Sarikamis, Turkey, 1960

At the 49th Berlin Film Festival
"Journey to the Sun", 1999 Turkey/Netherlands/German

Selected Filmography
The Trace (1994), Hotel (short; 1992), Duet (short; 1990), Magnafantagna (short; 1987), Bir Ani Yakalamak (short; 1984)

Film Credits
Producers:  Phil van der Linden, Pit Reithmüller
Director  Yesim Ustaoglu
Screenplay Yesim Ustaoglu
Editor    Nicolas Gaster
Photo Jacek Petrycki
Music Vlatko Stefanovski
Cast Nazmi Oirix, Newroz Baz, Mizgin Kapazan
Running time   105 min

This issue is dedicated to contemporary Turkish artist Erol AKYAVA┼×.
ISIKBINYILI.ORG The Light Millennium
Winter 2001
Winter 2001
Winter 2001
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