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Special Screening for the 6th Anniversary of the Light Millennium

On Time, City and Culture

Short Turkish Documentaries...

A scene from Nurdan Arca's documentary: Time Capsules



The Light Millennium's 6th Anniversary commenced with a screening of 5 short Turkish documentaries at Columbia University.  The series was named aptly, "TIME, CULTURE and CITIES".  Though I do not know Turkish, I sat through the subtitled documentaries, and the evening proved to be well worth my time.

The event featured "The Old Town's Newsman" as the first of the series.  In this film, the filmmaker Mustafa UNLU tries to capture the spirit of Istanbul's diminishing "RUM", or Greek minority community.  This community has been part of the history of tension between Greece and Turkey; it bears the scars of the population exchange that took place. I could very well relate to the partition between India and Pakistan and the scars that were left behind due to such huge migration. I guess time and tales do not differ when it comes to human aspects of any major tragedy that has occurred in history!

To understand this documentary, one needs to understand the history of the region.  Greek kingdoms flourished throughout Anatolia during Ancient Greek and Roman periods.  Greek communities survived in Anatolia under the Ottoman rule, as a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural societal model was pursued.
-- A scene from Mustafa Unlu's documentary>

After the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire following the First World War, the Republic of Turkey was established in 1923.  During this process, the Treaty of Lausanne implemented a population exchange between Greece and Turkey.  Around 1.500.000 Greeks were forced to migrate from Anatolia to Greece, and around 500.000 Turks came from Greece to Turkey. 

The Greeks of Istanbul (and the Turks of Western Thrace) were exempted from this exchange.  After this exchange, only 200,000 Greeks remained in Turkey. 

In the following decades, an imposition of a hugely discriminatory Wealth Tax and the Istanbul riots, both of which targeted minority communities, resulted in accelerating the process of emigration of the Greek community.  By 1955, the officially recognized Greek population of Turkey had shrunk to only 1% of its former size, reduced to a small community of a few thousand people, living mainly in Istanbul.

The story of this haunting city comes across as an honest attempt towards understanding something that may not be essentially your own.  The documentary begins with a description of the "Rum" population and how the diminishing "Rum" community tries to hold on to its values, its culture and other aspects of human emotions by maintaining its own meeting places, schools and churches.  Many Greeks have left their homes in search of higher education and better jobs and most haven't come back to where their parents and grandparents live. Time has stood still for the older generation here.

Prof. Etem Erol, Middle Eastern Studies @Columbia, hosted a panel on the special screening. Mustaf Unlu responses a question in relation to his documentary, "The Old Town's Newsman", which was shown 17 minutes of the 60 minutes documentary.

The Newspaper "Apoyevmatini", distributed by an old man in his 70's, seems to have run its course over the century. The story of the newspaper itself mirrors the story of the aging Greek population on the edge of extinction in Istanbul. Though the filmmaker doesn't make this an issue, he is successful in portraying the essence of pain of a community that is holding on to its history despite failing efforts.  The restaurant scene sums up the film, lending a voice to what the old town has lost.  The movie explores the theme deftly and the message comes across effectively working towards building up an emotion of desperation and decay.

Turkish documentarians are at the panel follow by the special screening.
From left to right: Nurdan Arca, Sehbal Senyurt, Murad Ozdemir
and Ersan Ocak.

Nurdan ARCA worked in organizing the first-ever short film festival of Turkey in 1968 and has worked as a documentary filmmaker since then as a producer and director.  Her documentary "Time Capsules" depicts the adventure of underwater archaeology along the Turkish Coasts since the 1960's. The film follows the excavation of a Byzantine shipwreck in the Southern Aegean over a period of four summers. The excavationsheds light on the evolution of civilization in the 9th century.  The underwater photography is marvelous. Remains of the 1,500 amphoras containing wine and olive oil still intact are taken out from the depths of the sea to study. The research will help understand the history of trade among the civilizations of the region.  As the oldest sea route, if even just one ship sank each year, there must be close to 10,000 shipwrecks in this area.

The excavated artifacts are brought to the Bodrum Museum of Underwater Archaeology. The documentary is very educational and interesting in terms of history and trade.  The filmmaker has taken great interest in telling us a story of a shipwreck and connecting it to the city and place from which these remains came from. A time capsule from beneath the sea tells the tale of an era bygone, and a culture no more.

"Children Of Homdu River" by Sehbal Senyurt is a story of a civilization that is largely isolated from the modern world, unaffected by its weird needs. The population of Homdu River is about 20,000, in Northwestern Mongolia. The people of Homdu have their own medicine man that cures their fears and disease. They take pride in preserving and nurturing nature and live in perfect harmony with the environment around them.

One can see many similarities between Tuvan culture and that of Beothuk Indian tribe. The Documentary aesthetically narrates the small world in which these children of Homdu River exist - alienated from the big cities around them, though, some have succumbed to the lure of modern life.  The documentary is both interesting and intriguing, and even poignant at times. It tells the tale of greed, hunger, simplicity, honesty and virtue of changing times and civilization.

Sehbal is a documentary film director and camerawoman most known for her documentary called "The Adyghe" which has been watched by over 5 million viewers.

Next, we encountered "Tinkos Fish Tinkos", an irksome tale of a fisherman, a tale that is told with truth and honesty by Murad OZDEMIR.  Murad meets a fisherman named Harun and decides to document thirty minutes with him in the sea. Incidentally, the fisherman gives us great insights into his life and keeps us in good humor.  His innocence untouched by the cleverness of town folks is endearing and at times hilarious. Murad uses his time on screen to bring out the brilliant filmmaker within him. He captures the sensibility of a fisherman with satire and skill of a cartoonist. His style often reminds one of Woody Allen. I am sure Murad will go on to produce more of these simple stories for his audience, which present great moments of genuine wit.

Murad OZDEMIR has produced and directed several video films; currently, he is a research assistant in Galatasaray University, Istanbul, Turkey.

All the documentaries, which were screened on the day of 6th anniversary of Light Millennium were connected to the theme of "Time, Culture, and Cities". The stories centered around time and changes which altered the culture.  Though one feels sad for the loss one has to accept that societies go through rises and falls, and everything is perishable on this earth.

Prior to the special screenig, Turkish documentarians and the organizer of the event are together at the Columbia University, International Affairs Building Lobby. From left to right> Nivedita Bangolore Chandrappa, Murad Ozdemir, Bircan Unver, Nurdan Arda, Mustaf Unlu, Sehbal Senyurt and Peri Johnson.

Special Thanks to:

For Biography of the documentarians>
For Media Release of the event>

Summer 2006
Issue# 18
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