The Turkish filmmaker on his new award-winning film, Russian literature as inspiration and how darkness feeds his imagination
Nuri Bilge Ceylan is arguably the most important Turkish filmmaker today – and a Cannes' favourite. Born in 1959 in Istanbul, he graduated from Electronics Engineering at Bosphorus University and then went to London and Kathmandu to work out what he wanted to do in life.
My childhood was portrayed in my early movies. Those films were therapeutic. I used to make characters out of the parts of my personality I hated most
For the ‘provincial trilogy’: 'The Small Town' (1997), 'Clouds of May' (1999) and 'Distant' (2002), relatives and close friends were used as actors in order to portray his childhood. After shooting the autobiographical drama 'Climates' (2006) with his real-life wife, Ceylan's international success was confirmed.
His latest movie, 'Once Upon a Time in Anatolia', received the Grand Prix at the French Film Festival last May and it is sure to garner equal success when it is released in the UK next March. Dazed met him during his participation at the Kustendorf Film Festival - Emir Kusturica's personal project settled in the southwest of Serbia. Surrounded by white mountains, in Drvengrad village, the director spoke about the 'slow cinema' he enjoys to practice.
Dazed Digital: You are not working with amateur actors anymore and lately your films are related with the crime-thriller genre. Why?
Nuri Bilge Ceylan: Maybe I just began to trust myself more. Now I'm brave enough to try different things and I understand cinema in a really different way. I'm not interested anymore in that naturalism that amateur actors can create for me, I'm not so fond on that kind of reality anymore. In this new step in my career I need to work with professional actors who have a passion for cinema. The only disadvantage is that they often come to the set with a lot of clichés in their method that I need to solve before shooting.
DD: Your work has been almost autobiographical so far. What influences your work besides your own experiences?
Nuri Bilge Ceylan: Russian literature. Of course my own life is the first influence. My childhood was portrayed in my early movies. Those films were therapeutic. I used to make characters out of the parts of my personality I hated most. That was how I tried to make peace with myself. But literature teaches you how to look at life. It is the best filter when you start to deal with the real world. For instance, 'Once upon a time in Anatolia' is telling a real story, but I decided to introduce some Chejov details on it in order to do it more complex.
Every director tries to impose on his movies his own truth, his own reality. Most of my decisions are instinctive. I have to admit that I enjoy this fight between author, cinema and fake Hollywood stories
DD: Your way of making films is sort of a realistic statement against all that 3-D and sequel fever that rules in the industry...
Nuri Bilge Ceylan: Every director tries to impose on his movies his own truth, his own reality. Most of my decisions are instinctive. I have to admit that I enjoy this fight between author, cinema and fake Hollywood stories. But artistic honesty depends on your intentions as a director, not in the technique. It's really easy to lie in cinema. Even if you are into realism, not using any kind of special effects, it's easy to hide the truth from the audience.
DD: When did you decide to become a filmmaker?
Nuri Bilge Ceylan: Not before my 30s. When I was a child there was neither electricity nor television in the place I grew up. That darkness fed my imagination. In those days, before electricity came, ghost stories were our cinema. When I was able to watch a movie, I could escape for a while from my own reality. I loved that. When I was 16, I realised the cinema was something else. It was after watching Ingmar Berman's 'The Silence', in Istanbul. It was different to any other movie I have ever seen before. It impressed me a lot because I was living in a family supported by strong women, so those characters were familiar to me.
DD: How do you deal with your own movies once they are released?
Nuri Bilge Ceylan: Once I finish a film I don't like it because I'm sick of it. The editing process on my movies is long and tedious, so after watching the film one hundred times I don't want to have anything to do with it anymore. I lose some perspective about my original intentions. I become completely blind and deaf to my own film. So I can't say if I have reached my goals or not. Only after a while, or when a close friend gives me his point of view, I can go back on it.
Text by Héctor Llanos Martínez
'Once Upon a Time in Anatolia' is out now