Sundance Film Festival 2021
The Criminals / Les Criminels
In a town in Turkey, a young couple looks for some privacy. They are rejected from the hotels because they do not have a marriage certificate. When they think they have found a way, the situation gets out of hand.
Hi Serhat thank you for talking to The New Current, how have you been holding up during these very strange times?
Like everyone in the world. Maybe for the first the time the whole world is in the same situation and we all feel the same. But I'm one of the lucky people who can stay home and have a home to stay. So, I’m not complaining. I’m watching films, series and I’m reading. Stories help me to protect my mind from this craziness and deal with the uncertainty.
Has this time offered you any new creative inspiration?
Not yet. But during this time I focus on my ideas, focus on what I want to do and how I can continue both in life and in the cinema.
Congratulations on having The Criminals selected in the Shorts International Fiction section at Sundance 2021, what does it mean to be part of such an amazing line up fo short films?
Sundance is one of the festivals I have been following since long time and I have discovered many great features, documentaries, shorts and filmmakers thanks to Sundance. It’s great to be part of this festival now.
This is going to be your World Premiere, does that add any additional pressure on you?
No, it doesn’t add any pressure on me. At least for now. I’m excited about the premiere and curious about the audiences’ reaction to it.
Your debut feature film Passed by Censor won multiple awards during its festival run, did you imagine you would get such a great response to your film?
You only imagine if you can make the film and can finish it when you are working on a project. You don’t think about festivals and awards during this stage. When it happens, the awards and prestigious festivals help you to make your next films and motivate you of course. As well as the crew and actors.
How much has your previous short films help to prepare you for directing your debut feature?
I didn’t go to a film school and short films were like a film school for me. I have participated in a writing workshop and a short film making workshop and then I started to make my own short films almost without knowing anything.
I learned the basics of filmmaking while making short films. I learned a lot from my own mistakes, still it’s like that. The experience of making short films gave me courage to continue making films and trying different things. Short films also helped me to find finance, producers, actors and crew as well. Otherwise it would be much more difficult to convince people that you are capable of making a feature film.
"I hope that audiences will have a good cinematographic experience and leave the film with questions."
As a writer/director what inspires your screenplays?
It’s not easy to know precisely where inspiration comes from exactly. I think mostly from my personal experiences, my own stories, observations and stories I have been told. Literature, photographs, life and of course cinema itself.
How did The Criminals come about, what inspired your screenplay?
It’s based on a true story. But the real story is quite simple. I didn’t want to just tell the story as it was. The idea stuck in my mind for a long time, matured over time, and when the mix of genres was involved, I became more excited to tell this story. Making a movie in a hotel also excited me. I always found hotel rooms very cinematographic. Hotel rooms provoke curiosity as well as the imagination.
What was the biggest challenge you faced making this film?
The story takes place in Turkey and the film is in Turkish. But It’s a French production. Because of the context, we couldn’t get any support from Turkey. Turkish state fund refused our submission. Film financed by French film centre and Arte television.
When we were looking for locations in Istanbul and other cities, some hotels owner refused directly our request because of they were thinking that we were going to shoot an erotic or porn film. So, after a few experiences with some hotels, we hide that there is a make love scene. Another difficulty was finding actors. Some actors were very interested to the project but when they read the script they found some excuses and refused the project. Some of them said that they don’t have any problem to act in make love scenes but for their carrier it will be complicated and if they act in a make love scene probably they will not find job in the TV world anymore.
Some actors negotiated with me how much we were going to show their bodies or how I’m going to shoot make love scenes. I had to explained to too many actors how I’m going to shoot lovemaking scenes which was first time for me and to be honest I didn’t know how to shoot that scene as well. The actors wanted to be convinced by me but I didn’t want to push anyone to accept these roles. I wanted that it will be their own decision freely. After a lot of auditions and negotiations with many actors we found two great young and brave actors.
Some actors negotiated with me how much we were going to show their bodies or how I’m going to shoot make love scenes. I had to explained to too many actors how I was going to shoot the lovemaking scenes which was first time for me and to be honest I didn’t know how to shoot that scene as well. The actors wanted to be convinced by me but I didn’t want to push anyone to accept these roles. I wanted that it will be their own decision freely. After a lot of auditions and negotiations with many actors we found two great young and brave actors.
Should filmmakers push the boundaries of the films and stories they want to tell?
Personally, I don’t like this kind of manifesto things. If someone wants to do they should do it but it shouldn’t be like a challenge I think. Each of us have our own way to deal with problems and our way to make films.
Have you always had a passion for filmmaking?
Since I was kid, I ‘m interested in storytelling. At high school, the years we were preparing for university exam which were very depressing for us, I didn’t know what to do in this life or if there is something I wanted to do. I liked reading and watching films. Then I started to think seriously if I could be in cinema world. I was thinking of scriptwriting. I couldn’t dare to tell this idea to anyone but somehow this passion grew up inside me.
I discovered cinema a bit late. Until university I only watched the films were broadcasting on Turkish TVs which were always same films, cheap comedies and melodramas mostly. When I was at the university, I watched a lot films, not only mainstreams. I discovered different cinemas. Classics films, European auteur cinema, American independent cinema and different countries cinema’s like Iranian cinema, Korean Cinema etc. At the same time, I was looking for a way to learn make films. After university, I participated a few workshops; like script writing, short filmmaking workshops and then I made my first short film.
Has your approach to your films changed much since your debut short?
Yes, and plus my approach to films change with each film. Each time I’m trying different things and trying to find another way to tell a story. It changed both the form and the stories.
Do you have any advice to offer a fellow filmmaker?
I don’t like to give advices. I think, we shouldn’t take yourself too serious as artist.
And finally, what do you hope audiences will take away from The Criminals?
I hope that audiences will have a good cinematographic experience and leave the film with questions. Instead of feeling pity for this characters or people who are living in Turkey, question how easily ordinary people (each of us) can be fascist as states. Of course, this oppression is coming from states, societies but when there is a ‘’police state’’ most of the people are ready to be soldier of this system voluntary. The reason can be marriage certificate as how it’s in Turkey or it can be racism or homophobic etc somewhere else in the world.