Nest of the buffalo
WILCO VAN HERPENOn the evening of Feb. 16, I was a guest at the premiere of a new Turkish comedy film called “Manda Yuvası.” It tells the story of some “poor” villagers who lose their village Çaykaşı near Kastamonu due to a HES project. Then, the “hero,” played by İlyas İlbey, comes to the village and suddenly things change. İlbey has, together with his wife Yasemin Yalçın, produced many comedies about Anatolian people during the late 90’s and early 2000’s.
It is his early 2000’s feeling that he puts in his comedy; something people from Anatolia still like to watch. It is part of their romantic view on their village, combined with the hard reality of today and comedy. Mr. İlyas’ film is a protest against an HES project in the valley. This big dam will flood the whole village and its environment.
Last summer İlbey’s assistant phoned me and asked if I would be interested to play a role in a Turkish film. She told me roughly about the script and we agreed on a date. The thing is that I had always wondered about how films are shot and with this film offer, I would get the chance to experience it from the inside.
In September I flew to Kastamonu and from there we went on in a luxury minivan. It was cold, dark weather, but the rest of the scenes were filmed in nice sunlight. When I arrived in the village, all of the villagers stood up to greet me. They insisted on me drinking some tea with them. They were proud of their village and told me all about what was happening there. But at the same time, they were proudly talking about the film. They, all the villagers, were the main characters in the film. But none of them ever left the village, let alone those people being actors.
Whenever the director said something, the villagers were right on top of it. The way they greeted me was exactly the same as the way they were “acting” in the film. But as soon as the words “CUT” were shouted, one of the villagers would take his saz and started playing. Sometimes some of the men even started dancing. At the same time, in spite of the relaxed atmosphere with the people of the village, the film crew was running around. Lights had to be replaced; camera’s to be changed. New actors appeared and in the meanwhile someone from make-up was coming to me to check if I needed any powder. I tell you, it was like an ants nest. When you look at it from the outside, you don’t see any order, but when you are part of the system a lot of things are not as chaotic as they might have seemed.
Everybody has her/his own task; make up, hairdresser, clothing, changing camera’s, changing lenses, measuring the distance between the main character and the camera, lights for filming etc. Mazlum Çimen, Cahit Berkay and I arrived at the set too early and so gave me a nice opportunity to learn a bit about filmmaking. In spite of all of the scripts and storyboard drawings, the people on the set are constantly improvising. Suddenly it was raining when they had planned a shooting in the sunlight, or in the worst case, when a scene takes longer than it was supposed to, all of the day’s plans have to be changed.
Do not expect an intellectual film; this is a typical Turkish film, but I think this film will have some kind of impact on the Anatolian people. They might get an idea from the film that even in the darkest hours there is always some hope.
Watching the film I suddenly realized something very important. Big parts of the film were very hard for me to understand. While I was in the village, I spoke with all of the local actors and I did not have any problems understanding them. But watching the film, I was completely lost. So if you, as a foreigner, really do want to go to this film, then your Turkish should be darn good, otherwise you go there just to see some colorful pictures.
As a final scene, İlbey thought of getting all the villagers (men) to Antalya and have a nice holiday. Some of the people had never seen the Mediterranean Sea or traveled to another province. So it was not strange to see some men aged 60 and above to enjoy themselves as if they are little children. The luxury of the hotel was mind-blowing for them. The rooms they stayed in and all the facilities of the hotel. Of course, one of the most important things was the food. They loved it and plate-by-plate I saw them going through the complete repertoire of food in this hotel in Antalya.
As a last word I only want to write this: I am used to see my face on television but to see your face on a giant film screen is scary.