This film program, centering around the 2019 book titled The Ghost on Board: The Construction of Kurdishness and Turkishness in Turkish Cinema, will trace the Kurdish issue in Turkish cinema from the 2000s to the present and the forms in which Kurdishness and Turkishness are represented in relation to it. How do the representation practices and methods of these films differ from previous periods? How are conventions and representations of, and discourses about, Turkishness and Kurdishness constructed in relation to the Kurdish issue? With which emotions and ideas were the films conceived and fictionalized? The Ghost on Board is a program consisting of eight films and aims to critically discuss the construction of Turkish and Kurdish identities around these critical questions.
Funded by Berliner Senatsverwaltung für Kultur und Europa and the Projektfonds Urbane Praxis and is part of Draussenstadt
Sebahattin Şen studied Media at Akdeniz University (BA) and Sociology at Muğla University (MA) before receiving his PhD degree from Dep. of Sociology, Istanbul Mimar Sinan University of Fine Arts in 2016. His articles have been published in various journals such as Cogito, Kültür ve İletişim, Teorik Bakış and Dipnot. In 2017 he was expelled from Van Yüzüncü Yıl University, where he used to work as a research associate, because he signed the petition “Academics for Peace”. In 2019 his book The Ghost on Board: The Construction of Kurdishness and Turkishness in Turkish Cinema was published by Metis Publishing.
Journey to the Sun follows the story of Mehmet, a young Turkish man who is trying to make it in Istanbul; his developing friendship with a Kurd, Berzan; and the transformation Mehmet undergoes through these encounters. The film marks an important point in Turkish cinema as it considers the Turkish-Kurdish issue critically and “externally” (from a Turkish point of view). At the same time, the film also questions this perspective of Turkishness as a dominant identity against Kurdishness. Journey to the Sun is akin to a panorama of Turkey in the 90s, produced when war and state violence in the Kurdish regions and societal violence in the west of Turkey were intensely present. The film is set in Istanbul and Kurdish geographies, where unsolved murders, bodiless corpses and dead bodies that cannot be buried exist, where violence spreads from the state across society, the state's militarist machine colonizes geographic and social space, poverty prevails, and where the living are like the dead and the dead continue to live.
Little Hejar, who lost her family to state violence in the Kurdish region, encounters a retired public prosecutor, Rıfat Bey. The relationship between Hejar and Rifat, who do not understand each other's languages, turns into a metaphor for the encounter between Turkishness and Kurdishness. Big Man, Little Love is an early example of a reflexive and critical view of Turkishness in relation to the Turkish-Kurdish question by using the possibilities of allegory and metaphorical expression. It’s a film which sees the relationship between Turkishness and Kurdishness as one of dominance and domination. Its awareness of Kurdish geopolitics as a colonial issue makes it an exception in Turkish cinema.
Toss-up handles a phenomenon that has never been examined in Turkey, neither in cinema nor in literature: post-war syndrome. The film follows the traumatic lives of Devil Rıdvan, who lost his right leg during the conflict in the Kurdish region and is back to his hometown Göreme, and Ghost Cevher, made deaf in one ear and who is back in Istanbul. Mirroring a frequent theme of anti-war films made in America following Vietnam, Toss-up also takes post-war syndrome as its subject. Yet the film presents a war which is seemingly endless, showing how the Turkish-Kurdish issue turns into ongoing violence in the Kurdish region.
Majority examines how the young Mertkan internalizes the social codes of his conservative, nationalist and militarist middle class family and decides to live an ordinary life. The only thing that has the potential to break this ordinariness is his encounter with a Kurdish woman. By framing conservatism, nationalism, racism, militarism and masculinity of Turkishness from a critical position, Majority explores how the family can transform into a network where dominant ideologies are established and the values of the majority are formed by defining the “norm”.
Beyond the Hill follows Faik, his son, grandchildren, and employees and their lives together in a village. Here, however, they face an enemy that determines the dynamics and the dramatic tension of the film: the nomadic ethnic group, Yörüks. The film can be read as a critique of Turkishness, one in which the ghosts of the Kurds roam around. Although the film is a study of society, politics, and the government in power, it can essentially be considered a powerful examination of the effects of the Turkish-Kurdish problem: a continual state of unrest which, based on the ethos of Turkishness, pervades the individual, the community and the state with paranoia.
Jîn deals with general themes such as war, masculine ideology and militarism from the perspective of a Kurdish female guerilla, one of the key actors of the war in the Kurdish region – a rare example in Turkish cinema! The universal themes that make up the film are processed through war and the figure of the female guerrilla, drawing the narrative from a humanist and Romantic transparency of universality to a burning, dark reality rooted in locality.
A cargo ship is suddenly forced to stop its journey as a result of the bankruptcy of its owner. The ship’s crew, consisting of five sailors and a captain, is suddenly stranded in the middle of the sea. During this uneasy wait, power relations on the ship begin to emerge between the characters. Turkish cinema, whether through ghosts or real representatives of Kurds, cannot present an allegory of Turkey without the Turkish-Kurdish issue. The question is: how are the Kurds included in this allegory, and more importantly, how do they structure the allegory itself? Conceived as a political allegory, on the one hand Ivy makes modern bureaucratic power visible whilst on the other, it associates this power with the effects of the Turkish-Kurdish issue on political, social and personal extensions of Turkishness. In other words, it shows that the Turkish-Kurdish issue, one in which death and violence lie at the center, also has constructive effects on the ethos of Turkishness as a colonial issue.
Song of My Mother is a Kurdish film about the homesickness of an old woman, Nigar, and her life as an immigrant in Istanbul. Despite all her son’s efforts, Istanbul is turning into a nightmare for Nigar, who was forcibly displaced from her village. Simultaneous to Nigar's homesickness, her son Ali is desperately trying to establish a life in Istanbul. Ali works both in a public state school as well teaching Kurdish to students at a private institution, turning the character into another example of a Kurdish subjectivity that is divided between Turkishness and Kurdishness. The film makes visible that the Turkish-Kurdish issue is expanding by including Istanbul as a diasporic place for the Kurds.
In Between observes the car mechanic Osman's strange but understandable relationship with Kurdishness and Turkishness. Osman is someone who can understand but not speak Kurdish, which is his mother tongue, and can speak but not understand Turkish, which is his second language, and therefore faces many problems from time to time. As examples of a minor cinema (Deleuze & Guattari), Ali Kemal Çınar’s films draft a style in which events, characters, plots and situations are by itself humorous, absurd, and political. The fixed and economical use of the camera, the creative use of sound and the amateurishness of the actors constitute the minimal aesthetics that characterize his films. In Between is a film in which humour, absurdity and surrealism intertwine with political style. That the Turkish-Kurdish issue is (along with other dimensions) a colonial issue, appears in the film through the linguistic division of Kurdish subjectivity.