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Short To Feature: Mehmet Can Mertoğlu

Blog
Short To Feature: Mehmet Can Mertoğlu

04.03.2019

Interview: Tuba Altuntaş
Illustration: Saydan Akşit
Translation: Yetkin Nural

Talented young writer-director Mehmet Can Mertoğlu is the guest of 15th Akbank Short Film Festival’s ‘Short to Feature’ section. His first feature film Albüm and his two shorts, Yokuş and Fer will be screened at the festival. A young director who has attracted attention in national and international festivals with his unique style, Mertoğlu answered our questions regarding his cinematic journey.

You have been interested in cinema from a very young age on. While studying at Boğaziçi University’s Turkish Language and Literature Department, you worked as an editor in Sinefil magazine, published by Mithat Alam Film Center. With your first short film Yokuş, you got involved with cinema on a professional level for the first time. Would you like to tell us about your journey from film lover to filmmaker?

Since high school, I always wanted to make films. I chose to study at Boğaziçi University precisely because directors like Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Reha Erdem, and Derviş Zaim had previously studied there. This was a school that did not have a film department, but had a cinema tradition of its own. Thanks to the wide-ranging archive of Mithat Alam Film Center, I had the chance to watch a lot of films and get to know directors I never even knew existed, from various parts of the world. The joy of discovering all sorts of films reinforced my desire to make films myself. Though I only had a vague idea of how to make a short film, I assumed I could pull it off if I shot it in my hometown with a small crew. So I wrote the script for Yokuş and applied to the Ministry of Culture for financial support. When they decided to support the film, even though the amount was only symbolical, it was encouraging. It paved the way for other institution to provide equipment, film stock or support in kind. Thus, with a humble but experienced crew, we managed to complete the film.

Surely there is no rule that says every director should start out by making shorts, but short film production certainly provides you with valuable experience. How would you say making short films contributed to your cinema?

I definitely agree, it provides you with experience. I was not part of the film industry prior to Yokuş –the only film set I ever saw in my life was that of a TV series, Evdeki Yabancı, back when I was a kid. I came across that set by chance and only saw it from some 50 meters distance. In fact, some of my friends were making films just as I was starting out but I had no idea how to contribute and was a little shy, so I did not go to their film sets. During this period, I watched the ‘behind the scenes’ footage of films like Fate (2001) by Zeki Demirkubuz, Clouds of May (1999) and Distant (2002) by Nuri Bilge Ceylan over and over again. This gave me an idea about how a film set works, but of course, it’s only theoretical knowledge until you have real experience. In that sense, making Yokuş was certainly instructive.

With Albüm, your first feature film, you’ve attended many festivals and won numerous awards. What was the most unforgettable moment for you? What were the memorable interview questions or audience responses in Q&A sessions?

The first thing that comes to my mind is what happened in Bucarest, Romania, at Les Filmes de Cannes à Bucarest. This is a relatively humble festival where films from Cannes Film Festival are screened in Bucarest and other cities in Romania. It is somewhat an equivalent of the Festival on Wheels in Turkey. What sets it apart from other such festivals, though, is the fact that the organizer and the head of the festival is director Cristian Mungiu. Thanks to his respectability and hospitality, the festival can host various important guests. Following Albüm’s screening in Bucarest, I went to a damp and dirty pub with prominent directors like Corneliu Porumboiu, Radu Muntean, Alain Guiraudie, and of course, Cristian Mungiu. While watching the Champions League game between Barcelona and Manchester City, we conversed about cinema for hours, and this was an unforgettable memory on my part. Olivier Assayas joined the crew the next day, and I had the chance to listen to his experiences first-hand. For someone like me, who considers himself a cinephile rather than a filmmaker, all this was a source of immense pleasure.

During that same festival, the Q&A I attended in Timişoara was an interesting experience. In a relatively small town, at 10 pm, a time that could be considered late, in a makeshift film theater which was originally a cultural center, despite the rainy weather, more than a thousand spectators attended the screening. The Q&A after the film lasted one and a half hours. The interest they showed to a small film from Turkey left me in awe. One question included the experiences of a family that have undergone such difficulties as the family in the film was also rather interesting.

Albüm is a film that portrays the “dreadfulness of normality” through the story of a “fake” family. Your follow-up to this one-of-a-kind dark comedy is eagerly awaited. Are you currently working on a new project?

Yes, I’m working on my new script right now. It looks like it is going to have a bigger budget than Albüm. I don’t want to rush it, and I hope to go into production in 2021.

You shot Albüm with limited amount of film stock, overcoming a task that was difficult for both you and the actors. In a digital world where film reel is almost ancient history, why did you insist on 35mm? How did you manage to find raw stock? Do you intend to use 35mm in your next film as well?

There is more than one reason behind my preference. First of all, I believe that in terms of aesthetic quality, digital is nowhere near unexposed film yet, especially concerning the kind of cinema I love and want to make. There are certainly films that digital is suitable for, but for the most part, films shot with digital cameras lack depth of field and they all look pretty much alike. I think digital does damage to the feeling of uniqueness. On the other hand, I like the restrictions that using unexposed film forces on you. That way, from actors to lighting crew, from set workers to director, everyone works with greater commitment and devotion.

Since Kodak does not have a cinema affairs office in our part of the world anymore, we had to bring raw stock from Germany. Similarly, film development had to be made in Romania. There were a lot of bureaucratic and physical obstacles, I must say, but I am content with the result. I intend to shoot my next film with unexposed film as well –that is, of course, unless all active laboratories in Europe go out of business by then.

Of all the short film festivals around the world, which ones do you like the most?

Each year, I try to find a way to watch the award-winners of prestigious short film festivals like Clermont-Ferrand and Oberhausen. Among the bigger festivals, Locarno and Rotterdam’s short film selections are interesting.

In this year’s Akbank Film Festival, you will be the guest of the “Short to Feature” series. What issues will you talk about? What kind of a course do you have in mind?

In “Short to Feature”, my intention is to talk about the pre-production, production and post phases of my short films. I hope to sincerely share with the audience my positive, and more importantly negative experiences during the making of those two films. I have no doubt that there are other young filmmakers that go through similar difficulties. I hope they will ask me all sorts of questions regarding these issues, and together we will search for answers.

What are your thoughts about Akbank Short Film Festival?

Akbank Short Film Festival is an important festival that has managed to create its own film culture through the years. It is valuable in the sense that it provides a program that combines outstanding current examples of short films from Turkey and films from prestigious festivals from around the world, most of which we would not find the chance to see elsewhere in Turkey. I am particularly happy that I will be a part of this year’s festival.

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