Film looks at population exchange from ‘other side’

Film looks at population exchange from ‘other side’

ISTANBUL - Hürriyet Daily News
Film looks at population exchange from ‘other side’

Ulaş Güneş Kacargil (L) has collaborated with the director Dilek Keser in his debut film ‘Strangers in the House.’

“Strangers in the House,” which made its Turkey premier yesterday as part of the national competition category at the 49th Golden Orange Film Festival in the southern province of Antalya, is an attempt to look at the 1923 population exchange between Turkey in Greece through the eyes of “the other.”

Written and co-directed by Ulaş Güneş Kacargil, who was collaborating in his debut film with director Dilek Keser, said the film was determined to maintain a critical distance. “We are not interested in raising questions about righteousness in the state of affairs between the two nations at the time. Our sole focus is to explore into how the grass gets trampled in the elephants’ fight,” he said.

“Strangers in the House” focuses on issues related to the sense of belonging provoked by the population exchange through the perspective of a Greek character. The film’s original script was actually Kacargil’s master’s project, but it went through a number of slight modifications with the collaboration of Keser. The project is entirely Turkish-made, realized with support from the Culture Ministry and the Karaburun Municipality in the western province of İzmir, which is the film’s setting.

Renowned Greek actress Melpo Zarakosta plays the female lead, Agapi, an 80-year-old woman returning to Turkey in search of the house she was born in but forced out of as a result of the population exchange. 40 percent of the film’s total dialogue is in Greek.

Directors benefited from oral history

The directing duo said they had benefited greatly from oral history in their background research for the film. “We first contacted the Turkish-Greek foundations in Istanbul. They didn’t have a direct role in the script, but they did help us a great deal by offering resources,” Keser said. Among the foreign sources the duo benefited from were Bruce Clark’s “Twice a Stranger: The Mass Expulsions that Forged Modern Greece and Turkey,” and Renee Hirschon’s “Crossing the Aegean: An Appraisal of the 1923 Compulsory Population Exchange between Greece and Turkey.” However, although the making of the film necessitated serious historical research, Kacargil warned that it was “not at all a historical film.”

“It is unfair to say the film is only a story about the population exchange. It is also enriched by the theme of coming to terms with one’s own past, and is also the story of a town, Karaburun,” Kacargil said. “Having been born in İzmir myself, I am very much influenced by the fact that small Anatolian towns have their own time-scale and flow of life, which is not at all the case in big cities.” The filmmakers’ research into oral histories acquainted them with similar stories to their own, although they underline that Agapi’s story is by no means biographical. “Our research showed that many of those exchanged suffered from some form of post-traumatic stress disorder,” Kacargil said. “This can be identified by an obsession to associate with the period before the trauma took place, which may manifest itself in a desire to go back and find a lost toy or necklace. In our character, this tendency shows itself as a homecoming.”

The film is set to go on general release in March 2013 at the earliest, as the filmmakers are prioritizing festival participations. “We are planning to have a special Greek premier, hopefully as part of a prestigious film festival there,” said Keser said.