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What matters is to tell a story: Erdem Tepegöz

Blog
What matters is to tell a story: Erdem Tepegöz

15.03.2021

Interview: Biçem Kaya

Illustration: Saydan Akşit

“Short to Feature” program of 17th Akbank Short Film Festival features Erdem Tepegöz, whose latest film Gölgeler İçinde premiered at Moscow International Film Festival. Besides his first feature Zerre, Tepegöz’s short films will also be screened during the festival.

We spoke with Erdem Tepegöz before the festival kicked off.

Let’s start with how this past year affected you. There has been many ruptures and you work in a field that is deeply affected by the crisis. Can you walk us through the psychology of being a director in a pandemic world? 

While all the projects and work being suspended cause a stressful and tiresome period economically, I believe that social matters and crisis increase awareness and shape the questionings in the art world. A comfortable person who normally does everything for preoccupation, suddenly, in order to sustain their existence, starts using brain mechanisms more. And although this may not end up in physical production, makes a person more productive creationally and conceptually. In this regard, while uncertainity and hardship is on one hand, new ways to create and narrate where we think about awareness and where we try to understand how everything is more attached to one another than we think emerge on the other.

With plays on WhatsApp and online screenings, we started following films and performances through small screens. Hence there has been a rise in concern and attempts by both directors and cinemagoers on movies coming back to their home, the movie theatres. What is your take in this matter? 

Although I am a person who loves movie theatres and I get fascinated every time I walk into the theatre, I believe what really matters is to tell a story. The mediums being such a big topic is actually a natural selection of the process we are going through. There were similar arguments when the first digital cameras were out. I am pretty sure that similar debates were going on when the first sound, first color film or first TV emerged. The act of storytelling never ends no matter the shape or the medium. One day dreams will get to be edited or AI will start to shoot the films and write stories, and same debates will continue. But in the end, it’s all about one person trying to understand another, and a search for the self. However, I believe that in the coming days cinemas will continue in a more boutique set-up with less halls, film festivals will gain importance as a medium for a more nishe, experimental, different and innovative work, and that the digital platforms will get more aggressive as the mainstream. I think these three mediums will be separated with ever definite lines.

You work with documentary, short feature, music videos and long feature. What motivates you in passing from one medium to the other? You are also a director who is concerned with themes of social realities. Can you talk about your take on the matter of inspiration? 

Since I believe what actually matters is to tell a story, the genres and mediums come later to me. Because each genre and medium has its own power to narrate, advantages and disadvantages, I value experiencing them all. I believe being long into documentary and documentary photography has shaped my social realistic perspective. It is not a theme I specially picked. Your work after some time become a part of you. Your thoughts and visions come from inside of you.

The matter of inspiration is a very personal one. It’s like a service provider that works differently for everyone. What inspires me more are work in various fields. I am doing my masters in anthropology and this adds a new perspective in terms of thinking about society and the individual. Also, I’ve been doing a lot of reading on machine learning in the last years. That provides me with new ideas for stories I want to tell.

Kıyıdakiler is a collaborative work, which brings together Barış Pirhasan’s, Alphan Eşeli’s, Melisa Önel’s, Ramin Matin’s and your work. The sound design was very crucial for this work where you tell us about paranoia. You shoot using different lenses and it matters to you to be on every step of a movie’s production. How does the project’s technical side and content correlate for you in your process?  

Working with other directors, different crews and gear; while teaching you new styles and manners; lets you melt them in the same pot and do new experiments. I am interested in technology and new gear. I always do technical tests for a long period of time before each new work. Before Gölgeler İçinde, with my cinematographer, we made intense visual tests on the film through selection of lenses and equipment. I believe the skill of the shape bring the content more into the open. To me they are definitely intertwined; they are visible and invisible aspects like matter and meaning. 

After Zerre, which will be screened at the festival’s “Short to Feature” section, you focus on a different production space, life of a different labourer. Taking your history in documentary cinema into account, your work aims at documenting and making real life stories visible. At this point, we have to point out that your selections of space are striking. The environment in Dolapdere that adds a whole new layer to realism in Zerre and the wreckage aesthetics of Georgia’s mining town in Gölgeler İçinde are what realize both films. Did you plan these features as a series? How do you look for spaces to shoot? 

Producing in actually working spaces in both films always gives me the feeling of studying in a field of experimentation. It’s like digging with a needle in an archeological site and researching pre-historical humans. Ultimately, we look for something in cinema and stories. What is human? Why do they act the way they do? Cinema and the language of its places provide us a base that help us in what we go through, destiny, acts, events and feelings. Those settings cannot be taken into account separately from the stories in the sense that they box the people and the stories up. Therefore it’s very important to me. The setting of Gölgeler İçinde breathes, thinks and reacts just like a character in the film.

When I found the place after long research, I was surprised to realize that I had visioned many details independent to the place in the script. After I found the place, I invited some realistic details to the story by changing the script.

How you portray reality in Gölgeler İçinde is different than your previous work in the sense that it blends what is real with what is surreal. As your followers, we know your interest in science fiction. Do you have future projects in this genre? Would you be willing to do an adaptation in the field? 

Science fiction lets us experience reality from a different aspect. It is usually associated with the future but it also gives the feeling of an area where you can test many disciplines to understand time and place as well as different lifestyles in order to understand the past. People first got introduced to space travels, time travel and robots through science fiction novels; not through scientific data or articles. Imagination and mental power works very differently from reality or time. And science fiction is a great genre to encarnalise and observe this mental power. There are many science fiction stories I would like to tell. There are many works I would like to adapt. I hope I can.

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