Young Kurdish director Kazim Oz tells of his new film shot in Dersim


Kazim Oz, who has directed films like Ax, Fotograf, Dur and Bahoz, has been invited to and participated to important festivals with his recently shot documentary film Demsala Dawi: Sewaxan (Last season: People of Savak). In this documentary, he said, he wanted to bring attention to the alienation, to people experience.

Now Kazim Oz is ready to face the challenge to show his documentary to the usual cinema audience. We had a conversation about Sewaxan and his films.

Q: What kind of necessity was it for you to trace a small group of people on a geography which is forced to be “other”? In other words, what made you shoot this film?.

A : There are many reasons. One of them is personal. Because I come from the same geography, and I lived there until I was 17 – 18. Later on I left to go to university. Now we live in very big metropolis. The difference, the gap between the life in this metropolis and in that region is huge. And this big difference made me think and look back to the same place.

When I got the camera for the first time and started shooting films, I went back to my birthplace. I realised I had changed. It was a kind of alienation. I thought about how I could tell about my life and the life past and present, in there. How could I express these things in one story? Life style we had in there has been changing slowly and gradually. So, old life style and values of it started to disappear altogether. In this kind of life, there were lots of historical and cultural values embedded and hidden in our daily lives. In fact, these values caused alienation in every one of us.

The other reason, in general, is that Mesopotamia is a difficult region. Because of its history and its present situation, everything, even a single stone, has got a story to tell. My village is isolated and far from the effects of the outside world. The generation who have got these kinds of values disappear slowly. Especially old people and women who carry on the tradition are far away from us. I wanted to meet them again. The humanity goes in a direction which is not always right. So it is important to understand where we come from. Then, we can understand our future better. I had to understand not just the political events and situation, but also the culture, which might have been the cause for the political fight. In order to do that, I had to be inside of it. I started working in a mood, consciously knowing that artists and intellectuals are far from that kind of live and values. Now we have to look at that more closely.

Q: What kind of feeling did you have when you came back to your birthplace, after going around the world and living in different places? What did you leave and what did you find when you came back? What did the things you saw mean to you?

A: It seemed to me that what I had been living through was quite a lot. When I arrived to my village, everything, even the stones on the bottom of the hills seemed different. You could sense that everything has changed. You could also see the changes in human relations. It was bit sad. I was expecting more fun and joy in that film. I wanted it livelier than their daily lives. But instead, maybe as a result of fighting for twenty years, current political situation and loss of the population, I found more sorrow and sadness. It was a lot. If only I could have made a funnier film. There are elements for that. This life style is suitable for that kind film also but the effects of outside world made their life more difficult and sad. In the end it is impossible not to show this sadness in a documentary.

Q: It is going around four seasons. How did you overcome the difficulty of communicating with them? We can see that sometimes you had some difficulties.

A: It was necessary to live through and have an understanding of this life. To be there in every season means that being with them even in their most private moments and to living through the same things again. For my self and for my team, it was a crucial experience. As I worked there with my camera for years, I had overcome the barriers between me and them. We were not strangers to each other. Their attitude towards me was not much different if I had worked with my camera or just talked to them without it. It was a very nice thing. They liked the result of the production and took positive attitude towards it. They also respected us so they opened their doors to us. It was a huge advantage. At the same time these things caused some difficulties as well. However we were far away, it still disturbed them if touched some subjects. For example, women question. In fact, these sort of things might have helped to reflect the image of life there. When people see the camera, they talk sometimes different, in a way, like, self censorship takes place. I tried to overcome this problem.

Q: The plot of the film underlines so many points. It touches the women’s problems. Then, inevitably, it questions the male dominance. It was not something you planned before but it came spontaneously into the film. What was your experience in this sense.

A: In fact it was a project with a screenplay. I almost wrote the screenplay. Like an ordinary film. But there were lots of things which occurred spontaneously. If you are making a film in Kurdistan, inevitably, you face the women question, for example. Of course it has historical background. Today, even the villages are influenced by modern lifestyle. If we look at the more primitive peoples lives, we might understand this subject much better. These societies are more distant to us. So we have to study them more carefully. There is an often used expression, which is “hidden in history”. So if we study the prehistoric societies and take a closer look at their lives, we can find some clues about the human behaviours in modern societies. If we understand the women’s positions and their problems in historic societies, we might be able to understand the modern women’s problems much better. So I also think that this project could provide some useful data in this field. We have to study the relations between women and the nature, and the shepherd and the animal more carefully. We can only do this by getting closer to them.

Kurdish people, especially within the political movement, are very much interested in that matter. So I think this film could help to open up more positive discussions. Kurds, generally, do not use politics as a tool for sorting out their political problems. It is not their method. And to me, it is a correct attitude. I think that they are in the right path. Going back to historical roots and could be more effective way for understanding and sorting out the social problems than just using only politics. Traveling back to Neolithic age and unraveling the mysteries of the nature and life then, would give us much more clues and ideas for human nature. In that field there is a big need for artists and intellectuals. The field is like an ocean, big and empty. We have to work in that. But for some reasons we can not do much. We have old people, we have villages, we have historical heritage. When we dig up the soil, we find remnants of many civilizations. We have to bring them up. When we see old people, we have to listen to them. They could tell us lots of stories which could give us some historical insights. This film, of course, is not enough in that sense, maybe too little. But there are lots of things to be done.

Q; Yes, it is an important point. What you have done is much more than a documentary format. It is a mixture of documentary and fictional cinema. This technique is not much used in Turkish cinema, isn’t it?

A: Yes. In Turkey, the structure of a documentary film has become a cliché, narrow and strict. It has been separated from art and poetry and there is a tendency to use it as a tool. I tried to break the rule. That is why it participated in Paris and Manheim film festivals along with fictional films. I do not think it is sensible to say that a documentary is completely different than the fictional film. Where ever you use a camera, you always have to arrange its position and angle. In that sense it is similar to fiction. The point is not only to film whatever is seen but also to do it aesthetically. We wanted to show the reality, without adding any ideology and distorting it. Meanwhile, at some points, for some degree, we did it.

Q: This argument is quite new for the documentaries. It is also, somehow, related to the fictional cinema. In Turkish cinema, there are some fictional films which resemble the documentary films. I think this is because of the region in which the film is shot. For example, the film Iki dil, bir bavul at some points turn to a documentary. Especially the films about Kurdish people are not exactly in their categories. What is the reason for this, do you think?. And what is the positive side of it?.

A; It has many advantages. To me it seems this is related to Kurdish peoples’ culture. In countries, where capitalism has progressed more, and also in cities, it is more difficult to enter some one’s life. But Kurdish people are much more generous and hospitable. It is more natural society. This is because their lives are much more extraordinary than the fictional writings. So when we get in touch with one of them, it is much easier to create something artistically.

Q: In your films, fiction and documentary go together. There is a migration story in your documentary DUR as well. It is more about changing places in outside world. In this documentary there is another migration story but this time it is more emotional change than the other one. It is about small place. Why did it happen?

A: This was not what I had chosen consciously. It happened naturally.

Q: In this film, there is a sense of helplessness because of the changes in our times, and trying to find a solution for this. Is your film about the ultimate solution? How do we have to read this?

A: Yes, it is true that people are bit helpless. We take the sense of sorrow out of what they have lost form the old lives. Other wise they are not complaining from their lives. There is no one who does not love that part of the region. When someone says “I do not like this job” it does not mean that he does not like it, but the reason he says this, because, his children and his neighbours are not with him. There is a feeling of emptiness. The atmosphere, the emptiness creates, affects everything. I really wished that I had made a film funnier and livelier. But there is sadness there. I also tried to look at the situation of the animals. And I wanted to reflect the situation from this perspective.

Q: Yes it is also a documentary of the animals at the same time. You focused on the relations between the new born animals and the children. There is communication and understanding each other between them. This is not a usual subject. A double story goes at the same time. How did you manage this.

A: The importance of the human beings is exaggerated. We exaggerated ourselves. We see the nature as a gift given to ourselves. This is dangerous. It is one of the main problems. We also see the animals as God-given gifts to us. We have to find a way to live in harmony with nature. But instead we got complete hegemony over the nature. So it is important to look from the other side as well. I wanted to look at things from a flower’s or a dog’s point of view. The idea was exciting. In cinema everything is seen from the human eyes and the rest is others. But I wanted to see from a dog’s eyes. In general human being’s dominance over the nature is almost the same as men’s dominance over the women. Or these things are related to each other. To discuss and understand the situation better, we have to loot at the details.

Q: With your latest documentary film, you have gone out of your usual way, and come to a different region. Especially, you give every scene a visual aesthetic like a kind of painting. Do you think it is beyond your expectations, or far from your boundaries?

A: I do not know. I can not say I had done it consciously. Usually something drags me naturally and I follow. I wish it was like that. As if a window or a door was opened. I wanted to enter but due to my own mistakes, wrong methods, it becomes difficult to use this possibility. I think there are some faults somewhere. If I could manage to get better, I think, more possibilities could have been opened up.

Q; could another film come out of the door you just mentioned? There are lots of materials to be used in a fictional film. Do you think you could make another film because of that?

A: Yes, since I had finished that documentary, something has been pulling me towards making another film. I have been thinking about it in order to make it more controlled, closer to reality, but created with our arrangements. I have also been thinking whether I could take another angle and look at it in a different way and add some other features to it.

Q: Some of the sceneries exhibit the beautiful geography of Kurdistan. It reminded me some films made in Ireland’s or Scotland’s mounting summits or in misty plains. Is there any film or director which has influenced you in that matter? I am asking this in relation to your interest in nature.

A: It was not because of the films I have been watching but because of the geography of the region. And, it is the result of the interest in that region. I do not have enough time to watch many films anyway. It comes naturally when we wander around the area.

Q: In your documentary, mostly, we see the relations of people of Savak and their relations with their animals. Don’t you think that, in your film, their connections and communications to the outside world are shown very little?

A: This is natural. You can not experience the every aspect of their lives. I preferred that way as well. Otherwise, the sadness, the emptiness and the political situation could lead to a different picture. Since so many people immigrated, they have relatives or friends all over Europe and Turkey. Therefore, they have communications with those people i.e. outside world. But I ignored this. I wanted to create a similar atmosphere. By following the lamb, and its entering the city, for example, we have seen the completely different sceneries and the noise with an outsider’s eyes and came back to our story again.

Q: There are disturbing images as well. The film usually goes softly but sometimes you touch the harsh realities. During the loading the truck, some of the sheep are overrun and get injured. We can also see the horses’ sufferance, peoples’ anxiety and the scenery of the slaughter house, for example. We see the other side of the coin as well.

A: Yes, sometimes we really found it hard. It was due to difficult conditions. Life is going on and you can not change anything. While filming the horses, we had to stop the cameras and help the horses. In there, life is beating the human beings, and humans are beating the animals. We can blame the system down there but we have to understand first. It is the same in men and women’s relations. It is a controversial argument. It was really painful for us to shoot the film in the slaughter house. We worked all day there. It was a really bad scene. But we had to go beyond what is seen. After that film I almost become vegetarian. And I had a respect for people like that. Human beings are not the only matter. We have to look at the life from every possible angle. In that project I had a feeling of being far from it.

Q: Your documentary will be shown in cinemas soon. It will be shown like the other films. It is not very usual in Turkey isn’t it?

A: We break a rule. Maybe this is the first. We want to reach the audience to be fair with our work. If a documentary has cultural an artistic values, it should reach the audience.

Q: I will repeat a criticisms: Will Kazim Oz carry on making films about Dersim?

A: I see it as a representation. It is about immigration and it is not only Dersim’s problem. Working there is easier for me. That is why I choose it. All my films are related to Dersim. That gives the people such impressions. I think it is really necessary to reach all over Mesopotamia

Q: Could we get some technical information about the film?

A: it took us one and a half year to shoot the film. We used an average technique. Most of the film was shot under the sponsorship of ARTE TV. Soon it will be shown in cinemas. At the post production stage we had support from the ministry of culture. It was very important for us. The film will start to be shown in cinemas on 14 May in 6 cities.

Q: I would like to ask a question about Kurdish cinema in general. In recent years, Kurdish cinema is really moving forward. Some of the films have got really very good receptions from all over the world. Lots of good films were made like, IKI DIL BIR BAVUL which won prizes, and like MIN DIT and Gitmek. There is an excitement. How do you read the situation. Where do you think we come from and where are we going, in terms of cinema?

A: The year 2000 is, in some respects, the beginning stage and the date of birth for Kurdish cinema. We have not reached the adolescent years yet. In the next ten years, we will see very important films, I suppose. We are in the beginning.

The original version of this article has been published in and can be read here

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