Leaving Istanbul

Leaving Istanbul

Turkish director Atil Inac discusses the challenges of telling, in two countries and four languages, the story of a young ethnic Turkmen woman who is pressured into committing an act of terror and revenge. An on-campus screening and discussion of "A Step into the Darkness" concluded the 5th annual Southeast European Film Festival.

On May 3, the UCLA James Bridges Theater hosted a screening of “A Step into the Darkness” and a discussion with its "politically driven" Turkish director, as Atil Inaç described himself at the event. Inaç 's second feature film closed the 5th annual Southeast European Film Festival (SEE Fest), which for the second time included a film industry conference at the Anderson School of Management. The UCLA Center for European and Eurasian Studies (CEES) cosponsored the events.

Senior Vice President Greg Schenz of Endgame Entertainment moderated the discussion with director Atil Inac.

Senior Vice President Greg Schenz of Endgame Entertainment moderated the discussion with director Atil Inac.

Inaç, whose family comes from the war-torn Caucasus region, said that his outlook on filmmaking has been affected by the turmoil and fighting that followed the breakup of the Soviet Union. The plot of "Darkness," he said, is “based on fragments of many true stories – of despair, of the slippery road of joining a terrorist circle.”

One of the first to be shot partly in Iraq since the U.S invasion in 2003, the film tells the story of Cennet, a young ethnic Turkmen woman whose devastating hardships leave her vulnerable to the allure of extremism and violence. From portraits of rural Turkmen life and sweeping panoramas of Iraqi mountains and forests, to urban scenes on the streets of Kirkuk and Istanbul, it covers geographically and linguistically varied terrain. Inaç described the difficulties involved in filming in these settings and in finding actors who could speak Turkmen, Turkish, Kurdish, and Arabic. The project took a year to complete, including two weeks spent shooting scenes in Iraq.

After her entire family is executed in a misguided raid on an Iraqi village by American troops, Cennet – played by first-time actress Susan Genç – goes off in search of her brother living in Kirkuk. There, she is told that he was injured in a bombing and transported to Turkey. Rather than accepting help from her brother’s friend, Cennet enlists smugglers to escort her out of the country and is eventually forced to flee their company. Desperate and alone, Cennet is rescued by a band of Muslim radicals who are traveling to Turkey in order to carry out a suicide bombing in Istanbul. After reaching Istanbul, the group decides to include Cennet in their plan; they tell her that her brother is dead, and that she should help them exact revenge on those responsible for the deaths of her family. Under their powerful emotional pressure, Cennet accepts this unimaginable task, but as the appointed time draws closer, she begins to have doubts. Should she embrace a seemingly righteous death, or struggle to go on living?

"Darkness" confronts serious socio-political issues of the region, including the ripple effects of “collateral damage” in the War on Terror, the struggles of those forced to cross contentious borders and war zones, and the potential power of religious extremism in the face of desperate circumstances. But the film also touches on universally human themes such as family, loss, revenge, justice and hope.

“We live in an era of so many issues that film can address,” Inaç said, “and I see it as my duty to present these issues.”

SEE Fest exposes American audiences to films from a region of the world rarely represented in mainstream filmmaking. Throughout the year, festival organizers screen and promote individual films, organize seminars and lectures, and create opportunities for cultural exchange between Southern California and Southeast Europe. This year’s three-day festival screened more than 15 films from Hungary, Turkey, Romania, Bulgaria, Albania, Greece, Croatia, Serbia, Slovenia, and Bosnia-Herzegovina – including several world premieres. For “A Step into the Darkness,” SEE Fest represented the end of a film tour that began in Montreal last year. The film won the festival’s Critics Award for Best Film, presented by SEE Fest founder Vera Mijojlic  and Cinema Without Borders founder Bijan Tehrani.

The festival featured its second annual business conference at the UCLA Anderson School of Management, with three panels of film industry veterans from the United States and Europe that provided insights into the business of producing, marketing, and distributing films internationally. The conference was cosponsored with CEES and the UCLA Anderson Center for Managing Enterprises in Media, Entertainment, and Sports (MEMES).

Audio of the full conference program is available via the CEES podcasts page.

Published: Tuesday, May 11, 2010