"Many people thought I could only shoot 'kid films', just because I’m a woman"
Hande Türkel is a talented filmmaker from Turkey, who has already directed over 50 commercials. Recently, Hande's debut film, Akide, won Best Picture award at LAFA.
In the following interview, Hande takes us behind the scenes of Akide, shares her thoughts about the film industry as a female filmmaker ("things have changed"), and admits she doesn't like the positive discrimination toward women.
Congratulations on winning Best Picture with Akide! Let's start from the beginning. Tell us about your early childhood... You were born in Erzurum, went to elementary school in Çanakkale, then Ahmet Yesevi Highschool in Eskişehir. Was this a creative environment? When did you become interested in films and what sparked that interest?
First of all, I would like to say thank you very much for this award. Because of my dad’s job my whole childhood we moved around from one place to another. From most Northern parts of Turkey to the South, all the way from most Eastern point to the West, I lived everywhere, sometimes we even moved more than once a year. In my childhood years this seemed tough, but now I think back and realize it was perfect for a child; I lived in so many different geographical areas, got to learn about different cultures and met a lot of people. And this was a big influence in my creativity. Ever since I was 13 years old I wanted to shoot a movie, the reason why, how, what for, I had no idea, the only thing is that I feel like I was born with this idea. Just imagine, where we lived, cameras were brought out only on special occasions, in fact I don’t even have more than 15 pictures from my childhood. If we were lucky enough, we were able to go to theatres to watch a movie not more than twice a year. I honestly don’t know what sparked an interest in films.
What were some of your early inspirations?
My dad and all the fairy tales he told me.
You continued your studied at Eskişehir Anadolu University, studying communication. Why did you choose this route, and what was the best thing about attending this institution?
Anadolu University is the best school for film and TV industry in Turkey. This school knows how to bring your creative side out, and this gives you a huge boost in self-confidence. And also, all the technical possibilities give you another boost in taking the next step.
Later, in 2006 you worked at Creavidi Film, with Levent Semerci. Tell us about your experience working as an AD, Casting director and Camera Op on the feature film, Nefes: Vatan Sagolsun (2009). What do you feel you learned from working there?
It was a huge experience on its own to work in the movie Nefes for me; it took 3 years to complete shooting the movie. The crew was 12 people in total - lighting, director, set, makeup, hair, camera, grip – it was a job where everyone worked with great passion. 3 years spent on the top of a mountain. Not only I gained amazing experience in my field, I also gained experience in life.
You have extensive experience as a commercial director at Interfilm Istanbul and at Vana Film, you directed over 50 commercials for clients both locally and around the world. What is the best advice you can give to a director who is looking to get into this industry?
If you direct a commercial film, you have to realize that you sign your name on water. Even though your name is on the copyright, that film never actually belongs to you. There are different parameters. You just have to remind yourself that it’s a product of collective minds.
Do you feel the education and training your received prepared you well for the challenges of the professional world?
Doesn’t matter what school you graduate from, in this business you have to talk about an endless growth, the more you move up in professional life, every step up, you run in to more difficulties and bigger problems. You have to push yourself a little bit harder and strain yourself a little bit more.
You mentioned you have read Hakan Günday's novel, "AZ", and it had a stimulus in your life. Can you elaborate on this?
There would be no need to proclaim the bombing of children in a world which actually reeks blood. There would be no need to proclaim the starvation of children in a world filled with foul breath. And the children who inhale that bad smell would later exhale it as teen anger. Right until their noses would be blocked off by the mansuetude brought by adulthood.
After all, one day we start to see, to feel, to smell again thanks to an impulse. “The Few” by Hakan Günday has been such an impulse in my life. I was looking forward to knowing whether evilness is innate or learned.
There are some facts I know. Communities build high walls in order to protect their existence. Those walls don’t have doors, and this causes a closed society with self-induced viruses. Derda was born in a cell like this and builds herself a shield to protect her from evil. But as this shield covers her all over and gets more powerful, it keeps her away from goodness by not letting the good in. After all, living actually becomes the cost of her survival.
This is a movie about a little girl who ends up vicious only by having the will to survive. You could call Derda a heroine, just as I do. Being the most defenseless soul in human life, if a little girl achieves to survive despite all the evil she faces, then she’s simply a heroine.
I decided to make this book a movie as I was reading the first pages of it. We’ve been working on the script with Hakan and Emine since September 2012. The biggest problem we had was finding a sponsor since the readers reacted in an anxious way about the story. At the end of the day we saw that having an international financial support was necessary.
Sometimes a fact is to be revealed, it is to be fully exposed despite its luridness. Someone must stand, ignore all the reaction and keep going on his way. And I’m on my way. With all I believe and all I know. Ignoring everything my big brothers tell me.
Akide - Teaser
How did you and Hakan Günday, who wrote the screenplay, communicate in order to bring the Akide's vision to life? What were some of the elements you discussed before starting production?
Akide’s story is from the opening of the book ‘Az’. When you start reading the book, you think you’re going to read the story of Akide, but actually it’s Derda’s story – the real heroine – her first kill, so Akide’s part. When we decided to shoot Akide’s story, the big question was how we reflect that she is Derda’s first kill to the audience. We had very little time to tell the tale, and we wanted the audience to grasp it in a short time. This is actually the main reason why I wanted to make this movie. And in the end, I believe we succeeded.
How did you recruit your cast and crew?
The movie’s budget was way below than what it should’ve been, but I really wanted to shoot this film, so we built a crew consisting of friends who believed in the film as much as I did. For casting, we started searching for Akide in local schools in the area. I don’t know if you’ve ever been there, but Eastern Turkey is a whole different world; roads just end, there are villages with no water or electricity. There are certain parts you cannot go to for weeks in the winter, people get stranded because of the snow. We went to Kars in the winter. We came across lives we’ve never seen before and we will never see again. There were two different lives; ours and the total opposite of our lives; their lives purely designed by survival instincts. We found Eylül at the last school we visited. One look and we knew she was the one. What’s interesting is that it was the first time she saw a camera. She was a gift to me from the film gods. Rest of the actors were picked among the locals in that area. There was only one professional actor, İlker Kızmaz, played the school principal, a very close friend of mine.
Akide - behind the scenes
On Akide's website, there's a super cool behind-the-scenes video, which we loved! It looks like a fun experience, overall, but we're sure there were some difficulties and problems along the way. Tell us more about the challenges you encountered during filming and how you dealt with them... and what was it like to shoot in the snow?
It was very tough to shoot in Kars’s cold weather and snow. We filmed from dusk till dawn. It went all the way down to -30 Celsius but the crew were doing something they loved the most, all the difficulties made it more fun and even though we froze ourselves we have a lot of stories to tell.
Tell us the process of working with Rahman Altin, the composer of the film, who also won Best Score for his work. How did you meet, and what was the scoring process like?
When I first got in to the business 14 years ago as a director’s assistant, Rahman Altin was a Rockstar in the world of commercials in Turkey. That’s when our friendship began. A while later he became a world-renowned famous composer and I started shooting my own movies. We’re in perfect harmony when we work together, not to mention the arguments we had while composing the soundtrack for Akide. He composed an amazing tune for the scene where the girl sees a bug and gets scared, I just wanted something simple for that scene. But the melody was so beautiful, it was a tough decision; in the end I believe we made the right choice for the movie. Besides, Rahman fought a lot harder than I did for this movie to be in festivals. I’d like to thank him for his endless persistence.
We're always very excited to acknowledge and support the work of strong, visionary female filmmakers like yourself! How do you feel about finding your path in an industry which is mainly dominated by men? What do you think can be done to achieve gender equality, and are you optimistic about changing the industry?
It’s a challenge on its own to be a woman wherever you are in the world. Doesn’t matter how developed or underdeveloped the culture is. If a woman is born in to this challenging environment they’re strong, because they have to be. 10 years ago, to be a woman in our industry, especially commercial film world, for reasons I never understood it was baffling for people to see a woman director. I even had an agency producer telling me how excited they were to be working with a female director and I always thought this was very amusing. There were so many people, more than I could remember, thought I could only shoot kid films, just because I’m a woman. Later, things have changed, they started to advertise women in the industry, if the clients were shooting 10 movies a year, they began to ask for a woman director to shoot at least 3 of them. It became prestigious for clients to work with a female director. To be honest I can’t say that I like this positive discrimination. Like it or not, the world is evolving towards a gender free society. I can go on forever about this topic, but I think it’s strange that we still have to talk about race and gender discrimination.
What are you working on right now, and what's lined up for 2018-2019?
Currently I’m working on a theatre play that will be staged in 2018. Besides this, I want to shoot a feature length movie that we’re working on, in the first half of 2019. And along with all that, I will continue my search for money and partnership to film Derda’s story, which has begun with Akide.