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Sundance Film Festival 2021

Aylin Gökmen
Spirits and Rocks: an Azorean Myth

On a volcanic island, inhabitants are caught in an unending cycle: The threat of impending eruptions and the burden of past traumas loom over them. Some draw upon myth and religious beliefs to interpret their precarious situation; others demonstrate resilience.

Hi Aylin thank you for talking to TNC, how have you been holding up during these very strange times?

Hello! The first months of the pandemic were admittedly difficult (my mother works at a hospital here in Switzerland, and most of my family and friends are abroad), but I am doing better now. I have been immersing myself in my professional and artistic projects, which is really helping.

Has this time offered you any new creative inspiration?

Definitely! I just finished a creative documentary, inspired by my personal experience, about couples that were separated following the travel restrictions due to the pandemic. It will be available on a Swiss streaming platform at the end of the year. I am also working on several audiovisual projects. Since I am mostly collaborating with artists who live abroad, this situation has been quite challenging, but it also taught me how much we can help each others, even remotely. I think that now, more than ever, is the time to connect, maintain bridges and work in solidarity with filmmakers from other countries.

Congratulations on having Spirits and Rocks: an Azorean Myth elected in the Documentary Shorts Section at Sundance 2021, what does it mean to be part of such an amazing line up fo short films?

It’s an honour to be part of such a quality line-up. I had the chance to watch the short docs in our program; they are so creative and though-provoking, and I am looking forward to watching all the other films next month!

Spirits and Rocks: an Azorean Myth was nominated for the Golden Pardino - Leopards of Tomorrow at the 2020 Locarno International Film Festival, what has is meant to you to get such recognition for your film?


It was unexpected, because at the time we weren’t even sure the festival could take place. 

It was a special moment for me on a personal level, because Locarno has always been one of my favourite festivals in terms of programming; during my studies, I used to watch all their documentaries and experimental films, to learn and get inspired by them. So having my graduation film in their selection was of course an achievement I was very proud of. I also felt privileged, because I live in Switzerland and could attend the premiere of the film, which is something many filmmakers couldn’t do this year. I am thankful to the programmers and the festival team, who organised an amazing festival despite all the difficulties and restrictions they were confronted to.


"I hope that they will feel how much care and passion was put into this film."

What was the inspiration behind Spirits and Rocks: an Azorean Myth?

The stories I heard there: the Azores are full of fascinating legends and myths, it was heartbreaking not to be able to include them all in the film. I was also interested in the strong connection between people and their lands, and I was amazed by their strength and resilience. They live on unstable lands that often threaten their lives (natural disasters are common there); but they use the same volcanic rocks that destroyed their villages, as materials to build new houses and vineyards.

How flexible do you allow yourself when working on a film, do you prefer to try to stick to what you have planned to shoot?

I like to script my documentaries and plan every details; but I also allow reality to surprise me. The most beautiful shots I got were all accidental.

Looking back, is there anything you would have done differently on Spirits and Rocks: an Azorean Myth? And what would you say was the most valuable lesson you have taken away from making the film?

I would have trusted myself, my abilities and my intuition more! Honestly, being a Turkish woman in this industry (and in general) has not always been easy, I deal with a lot of sexism and racism and it made me doubt myself for years. That’s why it took me such a long time (a year) to finish this film; I was constantly questioning my artistic choices. Now I’m more confident, and I try to support female filmmakers and people experiencing systemic oppression as much as I can.

What was the biggest challenge you faced making this film?

The limited time we had for the shooting and the language barrier (I don’t speak Portuguese) were the biggest challenges I faced. Fortunately, I made some friends there who went above and beyond to help me. I could also count on the support of my teachers. Finally, the film wouldn’t exist without the help and talent of my crew; especially Marianna Vas, my cinematographer who was very involved in the project.

Should filmmakers continue to push the boundaries of the films/stories they want to tell?

Yes, but never at the expense of the people they are representing.

Where did your passion for filmmaking come from?

I’ve always loved storytelling; I actually have a background in literature and philosophy, which I think is often reflected in my films. I developed a passion for documentaries a few years ago, when I started the Master Program DocNomads. I see documentaries as a tool to understand others. They’re a great way to open ourselves to the different ways people perceive, experience and interpret the world.


You are a co-founder of A Vol d'Oiseau can you tell me a little bit about this project?

A Vol d’Oiseau (in English: as the crow flies), is the continuation of my experience at DocNomads, a moving school that takes place in three European countries and gathers students and teachers from all around the world. A Vol d’Oiseau is a Swiss- based production structure dedicated to the development of audiovisual projects. Our goal is to connect international talents. So far, we have been working with a range of professionals from different fields (sound designers, musicians, cinematographers...) and different countries (Turkey, Germany, Portugal...).

Do you have any advice you would offer someone about to undertake their debut short?

Choose a subject that you deeply care about and search for creative, original ways to convey why others should care as well.

And finally, what do you hope audiences will take away from Spirits and Rocks: an Azorean Myth?

I hope that they will feel how much care and passion was put into this film. And I hope that they will experience it not necessarily as a traditional documentary; but rather as a poem about people and lands, imagination and beliefs, time and absence.

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