Saturday, August 20, 2016

Hollywood Is Everywhere: Global Directors in the Blockbuster Era

My book came out last month from AUP, and among (or rather, right before) all the craziness in Turkey, this is what I wrote on my Facebook wall:

So, I guess time for shameless promotion has finally arrived. The book is now available, and yes, sadly it's expensive, but maybe you could get your library to buy a copy? (And if enough copies are sold, maybe we'll get a paperback version!)

Back to the blog post.

This is the official blurb:
"Hollywood has a long tradition of bringing in emigre directors from around the world, dating back to the silent era. And today, as the film industry is ever more global, the people who make blockbuster movies reflect that, hailing from many countries across the world. But that fact hides a fundamental difference, one that Melis Behlil examines in Hollywood is Everywhere: today’s Hollywood studios are themselves transnational, with ownership structures and financial arrangements that stretch far beyond the borders of the United States. Seen in that context, today’s international directors are less analogous to the emigre talent of the past than to ordinary transnational employees of other major global corporations."

You can go to the AUP website for further information and ordering, or to Amazon. The book is available in hardcover and ebook for now (again, if it sells enough copies, we'll get a paperback edition). 

This is pretty exciting news, even though it has been somewhat overshadowed with the attempted coup, state of emergency, and what not... 

My book (my actual copy now) at NECS conference in Potsdam (photo by Ger Zielinski)

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

I realized I haven't written here in a year and a half. Here's one of the things I did in the meantime; the original is on:

Elegies from Latin America
By Melis Behlil

"Penumbra" (Eduardo Villanueva)
Argentina's Mar del Plata Film Festival is known as a showcase for Latin American cinema. Now in its 28th edition, the festival has three main competitions: International, Latin American and Argentinian. Within the Latin American section, the main jury awarded its Best Film prize to The Amazing Catfish(Los insólitos peces gato) by Claudia Sainte-Luce from Mexico, with a special mention for The Quispe Girls (Las niñas Quispe), a Chile-France-Argentina co-production by Sebastián Sepúlveda. The International Film Critics' Prize in the same competition went to Mexico's Penumbra by Eduardo Villanueva.
The Amazing Catfish, while telling the story of a family's transformation through the mother's battle with a terminal illness, was the more cheerful film among the three. Energetic performances by its young cast and a penchant for bright daytime shots built a clear contrast with what could have easily become a sob story that exploited the emotions of the audience. Instead, what we have is a first feature that is distanced yet heartwarming.
The other two films that have been recognized at the festival share quite a lot, both in terms of theme and style. In their own ways, both are elegies to disappearing lifestyles. The Quispe Girls is adapted from a play set in the remoteAndean plateaus of Chile during the Pinochet regime. Three goat-farming sisters, mourning a fourth who is no longer with them,live isolated lives, oblivious to the political turmoil in the country. The daily routines they seem to fulfill with vigor and pleasure have been beautifully shot, with excellent acting by a mix of professional and non-professional actors. It is only when the sisters notice that all other farmers in the region have sold their flocks under the threat of government confiscation that they become aware this may be the end of the only way of life that they know.
True to its title, Penumbra was shot mostly in twilight hours, providing the film with a darker feel. It tells the story of a hunter and his wife on the remote border region between the states of Jalisco and Colima in Mexico. The characters are portrayingtheir own lives, placing the film somewhere between documentary and fiction. The couple is alone, haunted by the absence of a son they have lost and the animals who are no longer there to be hunted. From its impressive opening shot, Penumbra is a beautifully crafted film that invites the viewer into the world of its characters, yet refuses to provide an easy way in.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Living in Taksim - Report June 15-16, 2013

It's been over two weeks. It's still hard to write, and we still cannot enter the park, so I'll try to tell this mostly through pictures and videos.

Saturday, June 15th. We thought negotiations had just started and were ongoing. Yet, there were rumors that the PM wanted things finished - he did not plan on talking to any other "representatives." Beautiful day, park full of people, "tourists," elderly and kids. I spent some of the morning there, and some of the late afternoon. The PM held a rally in Ankara, where he made clear that he wanted the park emptied. We suspected he'd want it done before his rally in Istanbul the next day, but didn't really expect it so soon - not before sundown anyway.

June 15, moments before the police entered the park

I went to my mom's for dinner. At some point before we sat down to eat, we decided to check out the square and saw that the police had started their formation. This was at around 20:20, they started giving warning, and entered the park within 15 minutes. Not an hour, like some press reported. It was barely time to empty the thousands of people in the park.

What was good to see was that people in the park (who were actually debating leaving the park gradually, although the official response was to stay) did not put up a fight endangering their lives - they were not marginal terrorists as the PM would have everyone believe, but people with a common sense. Here is a video of the police in the park - you can see our "tent" at around 54''.

The rest of the night and the next day was barely reported in the international news. I tried keeping in touch with my friends in, around, and away trying to reach Taksim all night. A group of people, including many injured, took shelter at Divan Hotel around the corner from me and across the park. They were repeatedly attacked and gassed, despite the MPs who were situated there (not from AKP, obviously). Here is another video, starting with the attack on the park and very clear footage of subsequent events. A friend who was at the hotel informed me frantically that the police was trying to get in - ultimately, they didn't. On twitter and elsewhere, we got pictures of huge crowds trying to get to Taksim - from the Asian side, from Gazi, Nişantaşı, Beşiktaş, all over. Obviously, the metro and other forms of public transportation towards the square were shut off, as usual. People still walked - but they were gassed and dispersed at different points. This went all the way into Sunday evening.

Buses to carry supporters to AKP rally
All of this was even more annoying and frustrating, because as anti-government protest attempts were being squelched, AKP was using public resources and transport to carry supporters to their rally. A bill sent from the municipality to AKP headquarters about the expense for the buses was produced after a day or two, but did not seem convincing. This may stem from other lies at the rally. Banners of "Çarşı," the left-wing supporter group of Beşiktaş, crucial to the resistance, were raised - only they were fake. Everyone (save for whoever made the banners) knows that Çarşı has a distinctive logo, with the Anarchist "A." One last note about the rally - it was not "organized" by AKP supporters like CNN and BBC suggested, but by AKP itself, using public resources. It's an important distinction.

Taksim on Sunday - no one but the police, gardeners, and us
I spent most of the day at my mom's, where I had to spend the night. When I got out to go back home, the whole square was empty save for the police and park gardeners. I felt invisible - no one asked me anything. I guess they thought I was "safe" since I'd already entered the square. My own place was within the police circle as well, so it was eerily silent - we were in the eye of the storm, and from what I gathered from friends' messages and Tweets, it was still a true storm around the square. Many were injured on Sunday, including many of my best students. At some point in the late evening, small crowds of men emerged from Kasımpaşa (PM's own neighborhood), carrying sticks (beating at least one tourist according to a friend who was an eye witness to the event) and not being gassed by the police. Their chants of "God is great" only made them more intimidating. In this video, you can see a police vehicle warning them, and taking absolutely no action.

So the park utopia ended on June 15th. We are waiting for Gezi park to re-open, probably in time for Ramadan. In the meantime, people started gathering at different parks and holding public forums. There is some kind of protest at some point of the city any given day. Other events have been going on, and a large debate has started. These few weeks have had a massive impact on the social fabric of the country. Previously apolitical generations have hit the streets for the first time. Groups that never before talked to one another fought side by side; Kemalists and Kurds, Anticapitalist Muslims and the LGBTT community. The gay pride march on June 30th was the largest ever. For the first time, the urban "white Turks" have realized that they have been following the Kurdish conflict from this (biased) media for the last 30 years. Paradigms are shifting, metanarratives collapsing. We'll see where it all leads, but this has been the most memorable and exciting June for anyone involved...


Monday, June 17, 2013

Living in Taksim – Report June 12-14, 2013

First, an addendum to June 11. over 70 lawyers defending the park were taken into custody at the courthouse yesterday. They were later released, but another perfect example of trying to strike fear in people’s hearts.

This footage is around 2 AM June 12 at the park, very soon after I had left. Following the gas attack, it started to rain. While that’s good for clearing the air, it’s difficult for people sleeping in the open air. I went back to the park in the morning, people were trying to re-group and re-establish an order. All the while, they were also trying to keep themselves dry and their belongings from flying away in the storm. Honestly, it looked a little depressing. But after a short nap at home and an afternoon at the office, a much drier and cheerful park awaited me. The evening was crowned by a concert -  first by the statue, then in the middle of the square, and finally almost inside the park, above the steps. The piano was moved around by a bunch of guys who picked it up and carried it up and down. After the stress of Tuesday, sitting on the ground in the middle of the square and listening to “Imagine” (a few times too many perhaps, but still) with friends around me was priceless. At this point, people had gotten gas masks and hard hats. My mom bought my hat, and a friend lent me her mask. It was surreal – several thousand people hanging out in a park with gas masks, goggles and hard hats. One thing I heard over and over again was the anger and discontent about even having to own - and wear - this equipment. We’re regular citizens, not militants.

The news of the day were the negotiations in Ankara in the evening. The PM had called several people from the park and a group of artists. None were chosen by the park protestors, and they said so before going in. From what we heard, it was a long, emotional and ultimately fruitless meeting. When they came out, the spokesperson announced a possible referendum, which was never discussed in the meeting. We also later found out that there is no legal infrastructure for a referendum to be held. One of the negotiators, who declared he’d never been to the park and would refuse to go, gave a speech after the meeting which entertained everyone. I could only follow it from social media, but here it is – he’s not making much sense. This is the star of the famous “Valley of the Wolves” series and films; I have no idea why he was invited.  

I was able to go home fairly early at night, and got the longest sleep of the last few weeks. It felt good…

On Thursday (June 13), the fear campaign continued. There were rumors (perhaps a few real cases) of people being searched, and those with hard hats and / or gas masks being detained. No confirmation though.

A second set of negotiations were called for 11 PM – this time, the list included members of the Taksim Solidarity, and the artists had actually been to the park. But again, it was called by the PM’s office with no proper representation. Waiting for the negotiations, the filmmakers issued a press statement, and I was busy trying to help with its translation. Hence, I missed the highlight of the day: human chain formed by the mothers. The previous evening, the mayor had called out to the mothers of the “young” protestors in the park, telling them to pull their kids back, essentially. The mothers responded by showing up themselves and forming a human chain around the park . Very touching…

I felt that we were approaching the end of things, one way or another (how very prescient of me…). So I went for a walk with a friend around the park. Not so much inside, because it was really crowded again, but along the edges, in the darker areas that are forgotten. In retrospect, I guess I wanted to etch the memories of this utopian space in my brain before it was gone forever. At some point, I went back home and wrote my report for June 10-11.

Police and the people
Morning concert
Friday morning, I had signed up for the 6-10 shift again. It was a nice and cool morning; we cleaned out the tent and I headed to the square, where I heard the piano concert was on again. Davide was playing by the statue, with a small audience that included a few drunk people and more than your usul share of the crazy. Around the statue, young police officers were in dialogue with protestors who surrounded them (pic below). It was a heartwarming sight, but the officers’ superiors soon replaced them with older, more experienced, and more distant colleagues…

As I headed back to the park, it started to rain. Soon it was a heavy rain and we were trying to keep everything dry. Soon, the summery shoes I was wearing were wet and I was cold. Not long after the rain stopped, there was an announcement that dry mats and blankets were available in the headquarters. And someone showed up at the tent, offering us new, dry pairs of socks – an offer I truly appreciated and picked up immediately. I ended up staying there until the afternoon, and when I went to the radio for my weekly show, all we could talk about was the park again. And having played the film version of “Do you hear the people sing,” the week before, this time we played this And cried, of course.

Rain in the park
After the (again fruitless) negotiations of the previous night, the park had organized seven forums in various locations to discuss the options. This is an ultra-democratic system, but of course, not very practical. Taksim Solidarity held a meeting later, with all the input from the forums. It apparently went on from 8 PM until 4:30 AM, with no clear outcome. They announced the next morning that people intended to stay, but there was also talk of converging some of the smaller groups into larger tents and leaving the decision to individual groups. It was seen as the beginning of a negotiation process, to be continued for some time…


Sunday, June 16, 2013

What now?

I took notes for June 12-15, but it's very difficult for me to write anything right now. After the police attacked and took over the park, tens of thousands took to the roads, trying to get to Taksim. They came from all over the city, but were all dispersed with gas - the police has taken over the city. There are still clashes near Taksim. They're not letting anyone on the square, ferries and metro do not work. On the other hand, they are scheduling free busses to the AKP demonstration to be held this evening. Pure fascism. 

Friday, June 14, 2013

Living in Taksim – Report June 10-11, 2013

Long time, no report. It has been a tough week… Monday was fairly relaxed, I was in the park 6-10 AM again, it was a continuation of the previous two weeks: peaceful, green, full of life. In the evening, it was announced that the PM would meet with a group of people on Wednesday to discuss the park. It was the first announcement about negotiations, but the problem was that these people were not representatives chosen by the protestors, but some people related to the park and a random group of artists. Nevertheless, I thought it was good that some steps were taken.

Tuesday morning, looking forward to the forthcoming negotiations on Wednesday and certain the police would hold back until then, I put on a light make-up, wore a skirt and high-heeled suede boots (first time for all these since the beginning of the events). The park was gorgeous again at 6 AM. At around 6:50, there was a short bout of panic- apparently, the number of police down the hill had surged. The panic quelled shortly, although everyone had already gotten up. At 7:30, news arrived that the police was demolishing some of the barricades and entering the square. They made an announcement that they were there only to clean up the façade of the cultural center from the banners (the most popular of which was a giant “Shut up Tayyip”), and the statue of Ataturk (which was covered with banners and graffiti). The governor tweeted that they had no intention of entering the park.

The rest of the morning was a long wait. Some of the groups that wanted to keep the barricades started clashes with the police at certain locations. Some of these were apparently police in civilian clothing, as our friends who had access to TVs informed us via Twitter. They were wearing standard-issue gas masks and carrying walkie-talkies. The general impression was that it was a charade staged by the police and broadcast live by all the channels that had been absent the first few days. I tried to go home to change, but was told that my neighborhood was not safe at the moment. At some point, a human chain was formed around the park. Most of us walked out to see what was going on, but no one was attacking the police. That’s when we got hit by the first gas. We all rushed back to the park, trying not to panic and not to run. It turns out my swimming goggles are really good at keeping the gas away from my eyes, and my makeshift gas mask -which is essentially a filter with extra paper towel tucked inside - also worked pretty well. It’s still a pretty unpleasant and painful affair.

At 1 PM, the Taksim Solidarity was supposed to read out their press release. A large group of people gathered on the steps. The police made an announcement saying they did not intend to attack and of course, soon gas bomb pellets were flying in our direction. We retreated back into the park. This whole thing repeated itself once again, and it was pretty clear the press release was not going to get read. The press that had broadcast the charade in the morning was not around to show any of this. I went back to our tent, where I spent most of the rest of the day. Luckily, at some point I was able to go home and change into jeans and sneakers.

Blasting away the Anticapitalist Muslims
Despite the announcement of not entering the park, the police did enter parts, and kept on throwing gas bombs inside. Our side of the park was largely unaffected, but the Western side was often covered with gas. Later in the evening, many people showed up in solidarity, but the general feeling was quite tense, the police having been literally pushed out once. They were able to destroy a portion of the tents, those closest to the square. Ironically, one of the first to go was the masjid (prayer space) put up by the Anticapitalist Muslims group (pic above). Throughout the evening, both TV channels and some people on Twitter kept on talking about how the police was entering the park, beating people and burning the tents. I got curious, as none of that was within my vision from the tent. A midnight stroll through the park  resulted in confirming that there was nothing really terrifying going on in the park – tense, but quiet waiting. Apparently, this was a way of intimidating people into not coming to the park. When I posted a picture of the quiet park, I received quite a few mentions calling me a liar. So we (or I) realized that Twitter was not simply a useful tool for communication, but also a weapon of disinformation.

The view on the edge of the park - it was much more peaceful inside
I wasn’t sure how I would go home, since there were clashes on and off en route. My mother’s was also out of the question since the police was situated exactly between her place and the park (pic below). Luckily, I ran into some friends and ended up staying with them – it also felt really good to be in the company of others, and not by myself after a long day of waiting in fear. (Soon to come: Things did get better the next day, although it was a long night for those who stayed in the park...)
(Pictures copyright: Ulaş Tosun)

The police at the entrance to my mom's street

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Living in Taksim – Weekend Report June 8-9, 2013

The police has announced that they would not intervene at the park until Monday. So the weekend in Istanbul was peaceful, the park full of “tourists,” people who come from all over town to see what’s going on. We even had visits from various family members…

The big event of Saturday was the walk by soccer fans towards Taksim, especially by Beşiktaş supporters. Çarşı, a particular group of fans, has been very active in the resistance since the beginning and they have amassed an enormous number of fans – not necessarily the club, but the fan group. They walked from Beşiktaş up the hill through Nişantaşı. We intercepted a small portion at Elmadağ, a very enthusiastic and diverse group. They were joined by Fenerbahçe fans crossing over from the Asian side, and a smaller number of Galatasaray fans walking along İstiklal. This was what it looked like when they all arrived on the square.

I skipped all that and went to meet some friends at Asmalımescit, and area full of bars and suffering heavily since the ban of tables outdoors last year. People were standing around, breaking into chants and songs every few minutes. The whole area around İstiklal is truly unbelievable, everyone’s smiling. I hear that people are singing on the ferries, in the metro, all around. A psychiatrist wrote about this today, saying people have overcome their fears and have a different stand now. We were talking about this a lot yesterday, especially those who have been on the barricades are full of energy and life. These are not “looters” as our PM likes to say, but lawyers, engineers, bankers with advanced degrees, international careers. The transnational capitalist class become revolutionaries…

But still, my age group appears to be more apprehensive than the younger generation, who are seen as the engine leading this movement. I feel truly “middle-aged” for the first time. Maybe it’s the experience of having lived through a coup d’etat, maybe it’s having seen too many films; I (and most of my friends) cannot be as optimistically hopeful as the young. It is an amazing thing that is happening, no doubt, and things are changing – or beginning to. But we often say this is great “even if nothing comes out of it” or “even if they build the barracks.” Defeatist, perhaps; or simply realistic.

"The jacket"
Sunday was a day full of RTE speeches. He gave 6 speeches I believe, stopping every few miles from the airport into the city in Ankara. He wore the same horrid checkered jacket, and said more or less the same lies at every stop. It’s amazing how blatantly and full of hatred he can lie. Some examples: he claims protestors entered a mosque with their shoes and drank alcohol inside. Truth: they did enter with their shoes, but cleaned up afterwards – they were running in because they were being chased by the police, with gas. The imam of the mosque himself gave interviews saying the mosque was only used as a makeshift hospital and no one drank inside. There are extensive videos of what was going on inside. Another example: his government is apparently pro-environment, because they planted 2,800,000,000 trees. Never mind the environmental disasters they are causing (hydroelectric centrals, nuclear plant planned, cutting down forests everywhere – one petition here) but 2,800,000,000???? People tried to make the calculations, it seems impossible. He maintains his divisive language of “my people” and “my police” versus “those looters.” He also keeps on talking about an “interest lobby” that’s behind all this. No one’s sure what that is, we’re suspecting his advisors may have mistranslated “special interest lobbies” (the sense he uses the word in is the interest in finance, with percentages and all). What makes me truly sick is that he kept on using the policeman who died. He made a martyr of the poor man, as if he was murdered by protestors. The police had accidentally fallen off a construction whole he was pursuing protestors – his own colleague testified that he was overworked and tired. While the PM gave his speeches around Ankara, thousands gathered at Kızılay (the main square there), and were gassed/watered/beaten by the police without showing the slightest sign of violent protest. So the police violence remains, it’s just not in Taksim anymore because Taksim is too much in the spotlight.

Emek protest -
photo Janet Barış
I spent the Sunday morning at the park, which was fairly quiet. This has got to be the best-documented resistance movement in history. In addition to all the protestors shooting videos and taking pictures, the filmmakers in the park had organized six different groups shooting around the park and the activities throughout the day. This is not just the documentarians, but award-winning fiction directors. It looks like we’re going to have a whole batch of films coming out of all this. One of the activities was the protest at the historic Emek theater, the oldest movie theater in the city that was torn down about two weeks ago. We had protested for about three years to stop the construction of -guess what?- another shopping mall (here's an article in The Guardian about it). Again, a very personal cause for me, as it was my favorite theater (as it was for many cinephiles), and my father used to live in the adjoining beautiful Circle d’Orient building as a teenager – that has also been demolished. They’re supposed to keep the façade, but everything else is gone. A huge banner was hung on Circle d’Orient, carrying the lines of a beloved Turkish poet.

We walked from there back to Taksim. There were multiple protesting groups walking in opposite directions. Every time we came across another group, we stood, chanted a few lines together, and moved on. This is a truly surreal experience. I know, I’m repeating myself, but I cannot stress enough how amazing/weird/unbelievable this is. It feels like we’re all in a dream, hoping it won’t turn into a nightmare.