This is our conversation with the director of “Ant and Human”, amazing short movie from Turkey
Ant and Human by the Turkish director Cevahir Çokbilir is one of the first shorts that we have selected, for the new edition of Indiecinema Film Festival. Meager. Essential. Poetic. At the beginning, a harsh scene of war and its unexpected resolution. Only two protagonists on stage, surrounded by a barren landscape. A man and an ant. But just as the microcosm is always in relation to a macrocosm, a small life lesson is born from this meeting between creatures of such different dimensions, destined to leave its mark. After selecting the film, we wanted to talk about it directly with the author …
Who is Cevahir Çokbilir?
Before speaking about the movie selected for Indiecinema Film Festival, we’d like to know from you, Cevahir Çokbilir, something more about your artistic studies in Turkey and upon your first cinematographic works. We heard, for example, that you have directed other short movies that have been very successful, entering the competition and winning prizes in various festivals… can you add also some impressions about such experiences?
I wanted to study music at Fine Arts High School, but I couldn’t pass the exam. As musicians and music teachers do not have a job guarantee, as in many other sectors in Turkey, I have chosen the Department of Radio, TV and Cinema at university. In 2012, I completed my undergraduate education in Ankara University, Faculty of Communication, Radio, TV and Cinema. Then I completed my master’s degree in Marmara University Fine Arts Institute Cinema and TV department. I had various production works and film trials before, but the first film that I directed in 2012 was a short documentary called Maşuk.
In Anatolia, there are people who perform the duty of “zakir”, play the baglama saz, sing the saying, and sing folk songs in the cem in the Alevi culture. In this film, we told the life story of an old grandfather, who both performed as “zakir” in his youth and played the baglama at weddings, and how the traces of this culture in his villages are now on the verge of disappearing. This culture is also called the “Culture of Love”.
Our beloved documentary film was screened at very important international festivals in 2012, 2013 and 2014. We received 17 awards from national and international film festivals for my short films Pomegranate Time, made in 2014, and Snowfall Time, made in 2018, based on my family’s experiences in the military coup of September 12, 1980 in Turkey. Naciye Çokbilir, a musician and my mother, who graduated from primary school much later, after marriage, and developed herself artistically without any education, took on the role of the leading actress and story writer in the film.
We participated in many screenings and events with these films, and they were met with great interest by the festivals in which they were selected and awarded in 2014, 2015, 2016, 2018, 2019, 2020. We watched and interviewed the poor villagers and village children by installing cinema screens and sound systems in the villages in the region of Yavuzeli district of Gaziantep, where I shot the film.
The first movie of Cevahir Çokbilir
My movie Snowfall Time is also a movie I shot for my graduate thesis. Apart from these, my graduate advisor, lecturer and director Prof. Dr. I composed the music for Semir Aslanyürek’s movie Chaos.
Chaos was screened at the 42nd Montreal World Film Festival. Since my mother is a musician, I undertake the task of music director in their recordings and also the music video director. I play baglama saz and guitar. In the tradition of Anatolian Alevism, there is a baglama instrument in every house. Since I grew up with folk songs, my connection with music is innate. On my YouTube channel, you can watch my movies -I didn’t release it because the festival process of our movie Ant and Human is still going on- and you can watch clips of songs and folk songs that I directed and sang myself.
In summary, it is very valuable for me to have participated in many festivals and received awards with the films I have made, and that the stories I have told have reached and appreciated by thousands of people. While such a festival journey is a great source of motivation for a director who has not yet made a feature-length feature film, the fact that the films included in the screening selection at film festivals in Turkey do not find much space in the cinema halls and reach very few audiences is an important factor in both making a film to be sent to the festivals. it has some handicaps in terms of wanting it to be watched by the widest possible audience. It was a bit of a long answer, thank you for being patient until here, but I think I will give long answers again 🙂
The movie Ant and Human
Anyway, I like the long and interesting reply, really. Coming now to “Ant and Human”, how did the inspiration for this work come about? We really liked the themes explored in the short film. We seemed to see, among other things, an allegory of Karma, which also results from the comparison between the extremely small and the extremely large … did you therefore start from considerations of a philosophical, spiritual nature?
The answer to this question is answered by my uncle Şahin Çokbilir, who is the lead actor and screenwriter of our film and is also a musician. Here’s what I can say about what inspired our movie Ant and Human. By keeping himself above nature, man is waging wars to dominate everything in every field. It is on its way to destroying both nature and itself. Hunger is the most obvious phenomenon. Children are most affected by this. All this was flashing before my eyes. I wrote this script to explain this. In this sense, the script emerged as spiritually and philosophically intertwined. I wanted to explain that wars will destroy our world, that we should live together with other living things in nature, and that we can only survive if we support each other. Let’s love others as we love ourselves. I mean, big or small, we all need each other.
Indeed we noticed that the actor there has the same surname as you. And we heard also that in previous jobs you have often collaborated with your mother. So is yours a family of artists, interested in various ways in the art of cinema? And you just confirmed you have a passion in common, I mean music… am I right?
I mentioned this a little bit in my answer to your first question. My mother is a woman who has developed herself in the field of music with her own efforts and is currently producing albums and singles, songs and folk songs. Although my uncle had theater experience during his university years, he started music professionally in 1991 with the album Entering a Heart with Yunus and Pir Sultan. He has many albums. Although the styles and tastes of the three of us differ, we have the same roots as we come from the Turkmen Alevi tradition, a centuries-old tradition in which saz baglama folk song conversations were made abundantly in their homes. Music is a passion, a way of life, not only for my mother and uncle, but also for almost our entire family.
The style of Ant and Human
In “Ant and Human” there is a contemplative shooting style, focused on landscapes, silences and inner spaces. Is this your poetics, then? And has it been influenced in some way by the great Turkish authors of the past or present, such as Nuri Bilge Ceylan?
According to the scenario, we have a very narrow cast. A human and an ant. Therefore, in order to establish the realistic atmosphere of the story as well as possible, we tried to realize the cinematography and sound design in a way that would increase the effect of the story on the audience. As can be seen in my previous films, I adopt long shot plans, shot sequences and landscapes, dream scenes while setting up drama. It is impossible not to be influenced by Nuri Bilge Ceylan. At the same time, Yılmaz Güney, Abbas Kiarostami, Andrey Tarkovsky, Theodoros Angelopoulos are among the main directors I was influenced by.
The opening sequence of the film shows a situation of violence, war. What do you think of the climate that has been breathed in recent years between Europe and the Middle East, with the recent events in Ukraine that are creating even more anguish?
At the opening of the movie, I wanted to shoot the scene about the war situation and which I thought would strengthen the effect of the movie with a larger group of soldiers. However, we pushed the limits given to us by the economic possibilities of the film. As for the wars… On July 2, 1993, a massacre, also known as the Sivas Massacre or the Madımak Massacre, took place in Turkey. Turkey’s artists and intellectuals were burned alive and killed. It is a black mark in human history. I would like to share with you the first stanza of Aşık Nesimi Çimen’s work “Peace Pigeon“, one of the artists and folk poets burned there, regarding the wars in Ukraine, Europe and the Middle East, and even wherever in the world, he says:
“Let friendships be formed, people laugh
Let the dove of peace fly in the world
Let evil perish, let enmity die
Let the dove of peace fly in the world
Let friendships be made, people laugh
Let the wars end, let people not die
Nesimi says, o missile builders
ruthless cruel murderers
Let all people live
Let the dove of peace fly in the world
Let friendships be made, people laugh
Let wars come to an end so people don’t die”
How significant is the process we’re going through, isn’t it? Let me complete my answer to your question with a quote from the Greek world poet Yannis Ritsos‘s poem Peace:
“Peace is the child’s dream.
Peace is the dream that your mother sees.
Peace is the words of love sung under the trees.
We should know the value of peace. Let’s end with the Italian Cicero: “The worst peace is better than the most just war.“
Independent films in Turkey
One last question, which also partly concerns our festival, that was initially created to support the best results of independent cinema made in Italy: what is the situation in Turkey, at an economic and pragmatic level, for those who want to produce indie movies?
One of the important film directors of Turkish Cinema, Derviş Zaim, after a film was screened at the Antalya Golden Orange Film Festival years ago, a student studying in the cinema department in the interview section asked, “What are the basic qualities a director should have in order to make a film?” He replied as follows. 1- Good story and screenplay. 2- Good directing ability. 3 and most importantly the ability to find money.
If you cannot find your own funds and sponsors to make an independent film in Turkey, it’s a little difficult. Although state institutions such as the Ministry of Culture’s General Directorate of Cinema provide significant amounts of production support for the production of documentaries, short films, animations and feature films, these supports may not be enough while completing the production process of your film. Even if you somehow complete the production process of your movie, stop distributing your movie to all movie theaters across the country, if you can reach the 5 percent of the movie theaters and meet the audience, this is a very good number.
In other words, you should not forget that you cannot make a profit from the box office when you start making the movie. Mainstream and populist films earn almost all of their box office revenue. Both the theaters and box office systems and insufficient production support make it nearly impossible for independent filmmakers to keep making films. Our movie Ant and Human is produced by Turkish Republic. A short film supported by the General Directorate of Cinema of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism. At the same time, the Municipality of Worms from Germany supported it.
Ant and Human was one of the 2 most supported short film projects in Turkey when it received support. The amount of support was 20,000 TL. When we evaluate it with today’s exchange rate, it corresponds to 1450 USD. With this budget, let alone making a short film, this budget may not even be enough to apply to a few of the important film festivals in the world. Me and my uncle, the actor and screenwriter of the movie, covered 80% of the total budget of the movie. In addition, in order to continue your life, you also need to meet your basic expenses such as house rent, electricity, natural gas, water and internet.
When you work in any job with an average of at least 8-10 hours a day, average monthly wages vary between 310 and 350 USD. Let’s say you have managed to meet your basic needs such as house rent, electricity, natural gas, water and internet with 250 dollars of this, with the remaining amount you have to meet your basic needs such as nutrition, clothing and socialization. So in conclusion, if your family was very wealthy and you did not inherit from your wealthy family, if you cannot find serious funds, you have to make a superhuman effort to make an independent film in Turkey.