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Story of Turkish tightrope walkers comes to screen

ANKARA - Anatolia News Agency | 6/28/2010 12:00:00 AM |

A new documentary by director Serdar Güven focuses on the traditional ritual of tightrope walking and is told by the last remaining representatives of the art. 'The biggest reason why I wanted to make this documentary is my longing for the fairs that took place in İzmir in my childhood and the tightrope walkers’ exciting performances," says Güven

The story of tightrope walkers, who walk and dance – and have sometimes even sacrificed animals to gods – on a rope, is now the subject of a Turkish documentary directed by Sedar Güven.

The film, titled “Canıyla Oynayanlar” (Those Gambling with Their Lives), is supported by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism and shows the history of the performing art, one of the rituals of Central Asian Shamanist Turkic culture.

The 52-minute documentary will screen in national and international festivals and on television.

Speaking about the film, Güven said circuses were the most popular forms of entertainment for all ages before the advent of television in the 1940s, while tightrope walkers were heroes to many.

“As time passed, the number of tightrope walkers fell and circuses were closed down,” he said.

Güven said his film examining tightrope walkers would be the first one in Turkey. “The biggest reason I wanted to make this documentary is my longing for the fairs that took place in İzmir in my childhood and the exciting performances by the acrobats in these fairs.”

Güven said while making the documentary it was very important to listen to the stories of the characters that witnessed certain periods described in their own words and to archive these stories.

“This is why we tried to find tightrope walkers who witnessed the heyday of the circus. Since very few of them are still alive it was very difficult but it was also very significant for us to show this culture through the eyes of its last witnesses in our documentary. The primary mission of a documentary is to archive and document. In this way, social memory will remain alive,” Güven said.

For the documentary the film crew pursued the trails of tightrope walkers in provinces such as Istanbul, Ankara, Adapazarı, Karaman, Denizli, İzmir and Antalya. Shooting started in May 2009 and will be completed this month.

[HH] An entertainment culture

Güven said tightrope walkers were the leading actors of an entertainment culture that consisted entirely of real heroes.

“These leading actors had a hard mission: to entertain people and make them happy. Actually, they are the hidden and nameless heroes of our lives. What we want for people to see is an issue through a different perspective,” he said. “They should not underrate tightrope walkers. They should understand that it is a cultural heritage dating from 1,000 years ago.”

[HH] Only one name alive

The traditional tightrope walking show, which holds a very significant place in Turkish entertainment culture, is a nostalgic form of fun that is being kept alive by its last performer. “All the processes of this show are featured in this documentary through the eyes of its witnesses,” Güven said.

He said the only remaining representative of this tradition from the early republican period was 92-year-old Osman Obüs.

“Also, the last traditional tightrope walker Özdemir Turan speaks in the documentary,” he said. “Turan is the last representative of this tradition in Turkey. He was trained by tightrope-walking masters. He is also a dentist. The 62-year-old man tries to keep this tradition alive.”

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