New film reflects metamorphosis of Turkish storytelling

New film reflects metamorphosis of Turkish storytelling

At a time of so many narratives of divisiveness, a break for a true tale of unity is a sure tonic for the soul. Such is the new film by Turkish director Çağın Irmak, “Dedemin İnsanları” (My Grandfather’s People).

In books and on celluloid, many have explored the great population exchange of 1923 between Greece and Turkey that uprooted 2 million people and wrenched “Turks” largely from Salonika and the island of Crete to new lives in Eastern Thrace and Anatolia. In turn, with identities solely determined by religion, “Greeks” were forced to leave Anatolia, with the greatest numbers coming from near today’s Kayseri and along the Aegean coast, to move to the Greek mainland.

But Irmak goes beyond this well-told tale of tragedy to blend the Greek-Turkish story with other trauma, examining by inference Turkey’s many internal migrations including those of many Kurds, the cruelty and complicity of the 1980 military coup and even gender politics.
But beyond the compelling plot, based on Irmak’s own childhood near the Aegean city of İzmir, which centers on his grandfather’s forced migration and adaptation to Turkey’s new national experiment, there are broader reasons to see this new film.

For one, as Turkey’s news media struggles with its own internal problems as well as those imposed externally, a vacuum in the social exploration once the province of journalists is being filled by cinematographers. Films of late, including 2008’s “Güz Sancısı” (Pain of Autumn) by director Tomris Giritlioğlu, is one I would put into this category. Director Mahsun Kırmızıgül’s “Güneşi Gördüm” (I Saw the Sun) released a year later, is another. There are other examples. Even the current television series “Behzat Ç.,” named after the lead character, a courageous if flawed detective battling the forces of evil in the murky “Deep State,” speak of this phenomenon.

A common link in all is a challenge to the shallow narratives that define Turkey, probing into the great complexities and ironies in Turkey’s identity politics, civil-state relationships and civic values.
A problem, of course, is that little of this work reaches a non-Turkish audience. I will be surprised if “Behzat Ç.” finds a place in translated syndication similar to the saccharine soap operas captivating TV audiences around the Middle East and Balkans. Turkish films may get a moment of subtitled fame at an international festival or find a few foreign viewers in an art house cinema in Berlin or Lisbon. But that’s the limit of their reach.

Which really only leaves the option of the DVD realm, where movies are almost always translated.
So when “My Grandfather’s People” shows up in the video rack, please grab a copy. I won’t spoil the plot except to say it reveals a face of Turkey you won’t see in the daily headlines. It reveals bonds between Turkey and her neighbors and solidarity among the many who became “Turks” as part of hyper-dense mass identity wrought by the collapsed star of empire.

For those seeking to understand the true rhythms of Turkish history, life and politics, this new movie is just one example of journalism by other means. Don’t miss it or the metamorphosis of Turkish storytelling.