77th Biennale Cinema 2020
Azra Deniz Okyay
Hayaletler / Ghosts
In Istanbul, a day on the verge of a country-wide power surge unfolds with four characters – a mother whose son is in prison, a young woman committed to dancing, a female activist-artist and a cunning middle man – all in a neighbourhood undergoing a process of gentrification for the “New Turkey”. Their stories intertwine along the day up until a drug deal incident, offering a roaring tale of the contemporary generation.
Hello Azra thank you for talking to The New Current, have these very difficult times offered you some additional creative inspiration?
You are usually more creative if you have limited sources and support. This was the case in our film. So I think that everyone has learned that as well especially in the recent pandemic. People had to change their minds and ideologies in order to continue living. We have also learned to create collectively, and to help each other.
Ahead of a festival like Venice do you ever get nervous about screening one of your films?
Yes sure. Our whole process was a crazy ride before coming here. But I really enjoyed this journey.
Congratulations on having Hayaletler (Ghosts) selected for the 77th Venice Film Festival, are you looking forward to being at the festival?
Thank you and yes sure. Being featured with other acclaimed filmmakers will be so lovely. I think it is one of the best places to start a film’s journey. It is also very important for me because I had first written the English draft of my script while I was here in Venice Film Festival in 2015.
Hayaletler (Ghosts) is nominated for Lion of the Future, what does it mean to get this type of recognition for your debut feature?
It is really cool. We worked a lot. It was so hard to finish the film so It is really precious to get recognition for that.
How much did your previous short films prepare you for making your debut feature?
I made video arts, music videos, a short-fiction and a documentary. It was like playing with colours. I have learned that a filmmaker should work a lot on different materials, learn more about technology which changes a lot in our field, and develop one’s unique cinematic language. In that sense, my previous works, all collectively, worked a lot for me to shape Ghosts.
"They were afraid of this chaos. At the end they didn’t let me take as many takes that I wanted."
Can you tell me a little bit about Hayaletler (Ghosts), what was the inspiration behind your latest film?
I wanted to show my friends, my generation with all the colours. I began to work on the project 5 years ago. So the script needed so many changes cause my country has been changing a lot. I tried to describe the roller-coaster life that I got. Working and writing this project was trying to breath in a chaotic country for me.
What challenges did you face making Hayaletler (Ghosts)?
I had to improvise many times, especially during the shooting. We faced certain situations where I had to decide spontaneously. Once, although we had the permit, a special unit of police men with shielded vehicles and guns came to the set, since we put on fire on the street in a neighbourhood which used to be a very politically active one. They were afraid of this chaos. At the end they didn’t let me take as many takes that I wanted.
Looking back at Hayaletler (Ghosts), do you think there is anything you would have done differently?
I don't regret any of my shooting days. We shot almost 30 different locations in 17 days. We made the best of this marathon.
Where did your passion for filmmaking come from?
It is my childhood passion. I was such a shy little girl. I was watching Betacams of my family non stop. Since I was not talking a lot, my parents used to take me to movies when I was 3 years old. I watched many films growing up, and I think that helped me to observe people.
Has your approach and style to your film projects changed much since you started?
For sure. For developing your technique, you should test many different materials. Making different kinds of films and trying out hybrid techniques helped me mature my cinematic style.
Is there any advice you would offer any emerging filmmaker?
I find watching films in movie theatres is very important. Taking notes…And writing a lot… Reading biographies or techniques of different directors or writers is also inspiring. You should stay by yourself as if you’re preparing for a big marathon.
And finally, what do you hope audiences will take away from Hayaletler (Ghosts)?
Courage and Hope. I think this new generation really has it. You need these to survive and fight with the nonsense politics of our times. Like Greta Thunberg said "Hope is contagious."