- INTERVIEW -
Paula Padulla: How did you end up making a film about Istanbul?
9: It was fate. One afternoon in NYC, my friend Ilhan told me that he was going to record a song with Jane Birkin in Istanbul. He has always been a go-getter and put himself in extraordinary musical collaborations. Anyway, the idea came to me in a flash, I said ‘I should come along and make a short film based on the song rather than making a documentary of the recording session.’
During the writing process, I was listening to the instrumental version of the song walking around in the East Village. It’s a lush piece of music with strings and all. It really does give you a picture of Istanbul. So, when I went there in November to find some locations I was specifically looking to capture this initial impression, pushing aside all preconceptions of the place. I wanted to make a film about Istanbul rather than a film in Istanbul — I reckoned, it would have been uncreative on my part to set scenes in screen-worthy corners of the city. Therefore, I went into full poetic detail to conjure up the place from every scale that landed under my magnifier at that time. I knew I was gonna make a film out of thin air.
The song was the backbone of the whole thing which I felt was almost like a gift from Ilhan to Jane. This was the seed of the idea. There was no script per se, except a book with a cover that read Film Istanbul with brief descriptions for scenes and loads of photographs. It is impossible to write with words the sequences I produce visually. For me, the creative writing occurs in the camera and later during montage. I am very much so in the order of the camera-stylo, but must have a strong idea to foot. So, as far as the film text goes, Istanbul had to be assembled bit by bit to be handed to Jane as a sincere gesture of love.
Paula Padulla: Tarkovsky said something like ‘It’s harder to make a short film’ in comparison to a feature film, what do you think of this?
9: He must have arrived at this assumption after making feature films. I haven’t yet made one and everything I’ve made so far are all shorts. I am certain that this is a different medium altogether — with a different conception of time and space to construct for. Of all the short films I have seen, most make the same error; fail to let scenes and sequences breathe its own time and energy. This awareness informs the writing and the general aesthetic style of what is possible with your footage. Grasping time management, in terms of composition — kinetically and psychologically, is totally a different story for the short format. You just don’t have the luxury to let things hang to manifest their own nature on the screen. Film Istanbul is 20 minutes long, so much happens in it, it’s a bit of a concerto but goes by like a flash. That must be because I am a poet, I could orchestrate a lot of things in this concise language.
Paula Padulla: How was the filming process?
9: It was truly magical. I was running up and down with a clan of mates and their mates filming scenes; mostly improvising on preconceived ideas that I had about profiling the psychology and history of the place… At the same time it was very difficult, much like boxing with a giant. Chaotic. You had to move mountains to make things happen. But, when I was eye to eye with Istanbul without actors, it was pure automatism, that’s where I could really fly.
Paula Padulla: What does Jane Birkin signify for you?
9: I think of her as a liberator. She is one of the few who played a significant role for the youth, especially for women. She broke so many grounds. Her singing is unique and most infectious. She is really a stupendous artist who could extend herself beyond everything she has done from music to cinema, fashion to philanthropy using every bit of her being, I felt that. She is so transparent and eternally young, sincere. What more? Oh, and then, she transformed Serge (Gainsbourg). This quality is almost a mythical one for me. I wrote a song about their union: Oneiric Emptiness, a year prior to making Film Istanbul. Mainly because, I myself long for this sort of love, the one that creates… There are couples who became immortal in collaboration; Jean Luc (Godard) and Anna (Karina), Michelangelo (Antonioni) and Monica (Vitti)… Serge and Jane. I always seem to identify with both of them.. Not like I fancy the women for their beauty. It feels like all those couples have brought me up, at least on an emotional, self-expressive way. There you go, I don’t have an alter ego. I have altar couples!
Paula Padulla: How was meeting her in person?
9: Oh, God! It was a dream. Quite literally. A few months before Ilhan revealed his project to me, in a dream, I was on a train with Jane Birkin riding along a strait. I was enjoying the scenery when suddenly Litanie en Lituanie started blaring out of the sound system of the train. I got startled and was elated to hear the music. So, sitting right behind me Jane saw my reaction. We greeted each other with a knowing smile. I sat by her. Not a word spoken. A friend of mine was also present and wanted to pop a bottle of champagne but that sort of ostentatious thing diminished very quickly from the narrative of the dream. She was smiling and her radiance accreted over me. I distinctly remember not having a speck of anxiety about preserving that moment, you know, introducing myself properly, trying to make an impression on her with my chatter, etc. The dream’s theme was utter contentment of the moment, of this encounter. It was certainly a lucid dream because I was observing myself not freaking out, knowing that my station was approaching and I had to get off. In reality, my personality would never ever comply with a limitation in the way of prolonging a coveted experience like this one. My real life self would have never gotten off that bloody train, you know.
Paula Padulla: You just knew that you were gonna meet her, then?
9:I suppose so. My theory is that you get close to whatever, whoever you love in this life. I had the dream in the spring, by November it was understood that I was gonna get to see her in Istanbul, out of all places. The city on the strait of Bosphorus.
At the end, in January, I met her first when she ran into this hotel lobby like a little girl, where I was stationed, to check if the parrot she remembered from her previous visit was still there… and it was!
Paula Padulla: What do you retain in your memory from the making of this project?
9: Oh, reciting Jane Birkin the lyrics of Oneiric Emptiness at the very last moment. I was nervous as a baby in a full diper and I did not tell her a word about the song’s origin, it was truly the realisation of my dream that way, you know. And the origin of the song is about that mutually shy moment when two lovers play the game of ping pong with at each other’s gaze, totally melting and witnessing the birth of their bond… I wrote it after seeing the film Slogan that introduced Serge and Jane to each other. There is this joyride scene in a convertable with the theme song of the film playing out. At the end, they stop at the traffic lights and the camera pans from her face to his, back and forth, and just when you think there should be a cut it goes on and on to the point where reality of the situation overpowers the film itself, making what came before and after seem artificial, opening the flood gates of a dream; a vacuum of this reality, Oneiric Emptiness. !
I also remember distinctly, Ilhan’s blissful and humble expression while listening to the playback of Jane’s vocals with her in the studio. It was his dream realised also… How open and cooperative Sebnem was to experiment and the connection I had with her while shooting her scenes… Filming the last moments of shooting at dawn on my birthday that ended up as the central piece of Istanbul imagery… There were a lot of romance. The guy who was singing at the top of his voice for 25-30 minutes in the middle of the night in Taksim… Mustafa quite frankly supplying us not only with his acting but also equipment as well, total gem. Uluc, too, most actors helped with something one way or another. A team effort, indeed. Listening to Amours des feintes on loop to fall asleep and wake up to everyday in Galata. How strange it all felt when I returned to New York.
Paula Padulla: Can you name a few of your most favourite movies?
9: In order to answer this question I must clarify something. I don’t watch movies, I see films. The difference is not obvious, but it’s in the way I phrased it. Watching implies no participation. Nobody says I watched a friend today. I don’t want to sound obnoxious but it is my mission to clarify certain cultural misconceptions. Firstly, films and movies are not the same thing, not at all. In my opinion, there are three different species that are commonly confused: Films, movies and then the dangerous one; movies disguised as films.
I love explaining this. A film is a work of art with a life outside the screen, it goes to work after you see the whole thing, opening doors that you didn’t know existed inside you. It could be about anything and everything. A film should haunt you while you are doing the dishes, it’s a part of your dormant self suddenly reintroduced to your consciousness. Films can only be created by a complete or near complete artist, who has to be a visionary: the auteur, period. Films make up the corpus of what we so far know of cinema, something which we will continue exploring as long as we are in this form. Good and well, right?
Then you have movies as the produce of Hollywood and its regional colonies; a well defined, unambiguous system that specialises in making disposable copies of its most lucrative productions… while contaminating the world with its rotten ideology and fetishism. I call it a fascist organisation, something I will destroy one day!
And finally, you got the third category; movies that are disguised as films with artistic aspirations made by non-artists who are spawned of a mindset that belongs to advertisement industry flirting both with Hollywood and the Art House. These movies have decent art direction but lack style, presence of a true artist. They are basically extended artsy commercials.
My view of cinema would abolish favouring one film from another, it would be like saying ‘I was most alive on the 29th of March for 45 minutes in 2009 during a swim’. Cinema is life. This dictum exists not because of its photographic likeness to life but because of its dynamism.
Paula Padulla: You have previously made another short film in Istanbul, haven’t you?
9: No, actually, Cast a Pall of Win happened right after Film Istanbul when I went back there to make more films with the lead actress Sebnem, but ended up working alone. I was editing Film Istanbul in the interim. So, these two are sister films. Two sides of the same medallion that is Istanbul and my brief time there. Cast a Pall of Win is more personal and darker. There I took the film-based-on-a-song concept a step further. I made the song the main narrative and coined the term film-song.
Paula Padulla: Where do you go from here?
9:Film Istanbul goes out to festivals. Cast a Pall of Win is out there already. Me, I am writing my first feature film to be shot here in Roma and LA, demoing its music as well which is gonna be my next record. Now is the time to find a film producer who has a fine set of balls. Wish Hakim Brothers were still alive.