Interview with film director Metin Yegin, author of 'D'

Interview with film director Metin Yegin, author of 'D'

Metin Yegin, is the director of the film “D”, which is based on the story of numbers of revolutionary prisoners’ escape, from high security military prison “Metris”, after the military coup of 12 September 1980. He claimed that he had some contacts with many of the guerrilla organizations all over the world, but PKK is the only organization among them which is democratic and ecologically concerned.

In his film “D” he reflected, in a humorous and humane way, how the changes in political atmosphere around the country after the military coup affected the prisoners’ lives and their views and perceptions about it. He showed “the other 'face' of revolutionaries”.

Metin Yegin talked about his films, documentaries, TV programs, and the other guerrilla organizations he contacted around the world. He said that PKK is the only organization in the world which declares itself as democratic and caring for the ecology. He answered our questions.

Q ; The last film about the era after the military coup of 12 September, is yours. In this country there were also many attempts to escape from the prison which ended tragically. What made you shoot this film? What is the reason you have chosen the event in Metris prison.

A ; In fact, the main reason was that I wanted to make a film about a subject or something that we scored some points and won. For a long time there were no films about 12 September. After a while, some films were made but they were all about revolutionaries, who were tortured and beaten. It was true that we had been beaten and tortured quite a lot. Also, in a TV soap opera about the 12 September, we were shown in a district oppressed and defeated. I came to think that why we should always show the revolutionaries being beaten. Do the young people always have to beaten and tortured to become leftists and revolutionaries? Can’t we or didn’t we win on anything?. I have chosen that subject as I lived through these things. It is true that we, as left wing revolutionaries, were badly tortured and got beatings. But at the same time, in spite of all the oppressive conditions and tortures, even in a most unlikely situations, we performed some excellent resistance and creativity. That is why “D” is about a story of escape from prison. In 2000 I started to shoot a documentary about the escapes from Metris prison. I had the intention of making this film then as well but, resistance and revolts against the F type prisons had started in most of the prisons. I made the film about the F type prisons and the other project was postponed. It wouldn’t be proper to film it then. I have not shown the documentary yet. After all, I decided to shoot the film about the Metris. The reason for that is that we have notions and images about 12 September and we impose these notions to younger generations. We only carry the defeat with us. But we also have to carry the notion of resistance we showed. We made that film because of this. Another reason for the film D is that in recent films, the leftist, revolutionaries are shown as innocents. They were put in prisons because they are mistaken as guilty. I say NO to this. We were guilty. In my film every one is guilty. There is no innocent person with us. We are guilty because we robbed the banks. We are guilty because we wanted to change the world and this system. We were guilty because we wrote and published some illegal articles which were crime. That is why we wanted to commit a crime like “D”. We wanted to continue to commit this crime of wanting to change the world. If three people die in every minute. This should change. And we wanted to make a film to watch with joy instead of sorrow. We wanted to make a film in which it shows that we won.

Q; Why is the title of the film “D”?

A; In fact, just to make people ask this question. “D” is for “Devrim”(revolution), “D” is for “Devrimci”(revolutionary). “D” is for every revolutionary. At the same time we wanted to make a generalisation for younger generations. And as I said in the beginning “D” is for generalisation of the things we won, we created, under the extremely difficult conditions. We wanted to tell about the creativity.

Q; No name of the revolutionary organizations or any particular ideology or the members of it are mentioned. It is just a generalisation, isn’t it?

A ; I have to stress the fact that this film is fiction, not a documentary. It is inspired by a true story but rest of it is completely fictional. With this fiction, we wanted to bring the reality under the light. People started to ask questions about the situation they did not know or knew very little. People asked who they were and how they escaped. Some people could find out the answers very easily. For the young generations we wanted to bring new dimensions into this notion. Another aspect in the film is that you can never tell who is who. One reason is that it is almost impossible and the second reason is that we wanted everyone to find some people or themselves in the film. When you make a film you need a hero. But in our film there is no hero. It is a collective film. You can’t even remember the names after the film. The characters will be remembered. This is our choice. We wanted it to be the result of our collective work.

Q; In previous films about 12 September, mostly, more popular names, or, famous people took part even though we can’t say they “agree with the system”. In your film, however, you took more collective and alternative cast of players didn’t you?

A; Certain characters imply different things in different people. It leads to categorization. We did not want that. And also it was more practical. We made this film in a completely revolutionary way. Unlike the big budgets of the fictional films, we made it collectively.

Q; You made it collectively. You did not have any big producers or rich sponsor so you did not have big budget. Did it cause any problem? How long the filming took place? Could you talk about the scenario and shooting stages?

A; Most people get proud of their budget of the films, like, they have a budget of million dollars. This, creates an illusion in peoples’ minds that if the budget is big, the film must be good. Ours is completely different story. We spent 70 thousand TL. I had written a book under the sponsorship of a bank. They did not want to print my book. When it was printed, they did not put my name on it. I had to negotiate with the bank. After the lengthy negotiations, we agreed on 10 thousand TL. I said I am going to make film about bank robbery with this money. We spent that money for this film. And of course we managed to finish it with the help of our close friends. 120 people worked in the film. Only 3 people were paid. We spent money on lighting and sound recording. As it was a film of the past era, we spent quite a lot for the cars and the setting of the environment. We built a prison. We spent most of our money on it. The rest of the people worked sometimes up to 18 hours a day without getting paid. This feature is extremely important for me. That is why I find the whole process very political. With solidarity and small helps from lots of people, we managed to finish it. It was also conscious choice.

Q; You also make documentary films. It is a new trend and experiment for Turkish cinema. We witness transition from documentary to fiction or from fiction to documentary. What is the cons and pros for that, according to you? And also, will the fictional films of Metin Yegin continue?

A; Sometimes, a documentary is considered as a preparation of a fictional film. But, to me, a documentary is as important as the fictional film. It is a different format. I, personally, do not use a fictional scenery in my documentaries.

I have some problems. I am distressed at the moment. But I think it is necessary for the creativity. I think we should feel upset in this world. I am a revolutionary and my mission is to express my point of view. By a documentary, I try to tell something. When I write, I also tell something. The main reason for that is that I want to change the world. A fiction has got that kind of feature. Of course I will continue. I will try to make something different and better.

I do not think my film “D” is a political film. It is about escaping from the prison. There is a strong political background in the film but still, I do not think that it is not a political film, in terms of format. The audience oppose this idea but I really see it like that. Even under the harsh conditions, the days passed by with lots of jokes and humour.

Q; The background of the film is political really but you only took the humorous side of it. Although you can not make film just for the audience’s expectations, but did this situation cause any problem?

A; For me, it is the other way round. Because I really think that those things go like that. If you are in a prison for 24 hours a day, it becomes your normal habitat or environment. Especially when escape involved, the days went like that. As I said it is a fiction also. There are places these things are completely different.

Q; Were there any problems in terms of prisoners relations with the management and the wardens of the prison? And also in terms of communications between the prisoners and the outside world? Is that what you wanted to expose? Because almost entire film goes on like this.

A; We reflected the outside world through the characters who remained in the prison. My film is about the story of the prisoners who stayed inside, not the story of the ones who escaped.

The revolutionary movement outside is effective on prison life collectively. But we did not focus on that. Orders come from outside but they are vague. So I think it is a problem of focusing. If we had tried to show outside world as well, the foundations of the film would have moved. This film does not claim to show every aspects of the prison life. We pushed one aspect forward. Everyone’s perspective is different. Everybody could interpret it in their own way

Q; While you made the film, did you talk to anybody who witnessed the tunnel and the escape in question? Do you know anybody who saw the escape and is still alive? What was your approach?

A; I made a documentary film in relation to the escape in 2000. We did some other things also. But I learnt the true story of the escape from them. I maintain that this film is just a fiction but when I talk to them they maintain that The film is almost exactly the same as the true story.

Q; The film starts with black and white, nostalgic scenery and then follows the humour. What do you think of it, aesthetically? The retrospectives are also nicely done in terms of aesthetics. Do we remember 12 September nostalgically?

A; Yes I, somehow, see it that way. When I look back, It seems to be bed time story to me. Everything is gone. Long, long time has passed. Jumping back to the past is widely used instants.

Q; There are many films about 12 September. Have they manage to expose the every aspects of the military coup, in your opinion? Has the revolutionary cinema taken its place against the military coup? Or, do you think that there is a revolutionary cinema?

A; 12 of September is such a trauma that even if you make 100 films, you can not possibly expose and explain every aspect of it. I think, we have to separate the two era as before and after the military coup. Before, everybody knew how much money the other people had. In those days, people, who worked for the left wing newspapers, used to work without any profit. Nowadays, working in a leftwing newspapers, is considered as a jumping board. There was also romanticism in being revolutionaries, in those days.

In Turkey it is still early to talk about a revolutionary cinema. When we compare it with Latin American revolutionary cinema, we can see a huge difference. What I am saying is just a self criticism. We need a kind of revolutionary romanticism. We are always seen as kids who always got beaten. The youth is extremely important for us. We lived through the times before 1980s, in which people went to tax offices and said they would not pay their taxes because the revolution was near. There could be many more films about 12 September, but if we talk about the revolutionary cinema, there are so many points untouched. In that sense we need to improve some kind of standards. We tried to create an opportunity and area for as many people as possible to work and find their own way to express themselves freely. Nobody can claim that this film is not warm and honest

Q; Your film is about a subject so many fractions of left wing organizations could claim their authority. In Turkish left, there are always discussions about the inheritance and their roots. During the film, did you find any trouble with those arguments about the inheritance?

A; Some friends said that they were the real force behind the escape. In fact I had that kind of worry. But, we created a general situation. In this process everybody made their contributions.

If we talk about the art in general and the freedom of expression in art, do we have any right to censor it? If Sinan Cetin made this film, for example, there would not be such discussions. I Think it is just because I am on the revolutionary side. People, who know that era, could say that characters in the film are not real. But this does not mean much for the people who watch the film. What is important also is that to bring the matter to peoples’ attention. I think we managed that.

Q; In terms of revolutionary or working class cinema, there is not a big jump forward. We have Yilmaz Guney and his films. He created his own school of cinema. Despite the fact that there are many directors who are influenced by Yilmaz Guney and left wing politics, it is not possible to say that there is an influential and effective left wing movement in cinema today. What is the reason for that, in your opinion? Another thing is that the slogan of your film is “ the first goal, scored against the military coup. Could you talk about it? Has any goal been really scored? And How?

A; Yilmaz Guney was a talented director and he developed his way of expressing in his cinema. The real question is whether we have any courage like Yilmaz Guney? We need to be bold in order to succeed if we want a new revolutionary cinema. In order to reach that level, we have to create something.

If Yilmaz Guney had written the same scenarios, would they have been made in the same way? The answer is yes. Because, what he did was involved courage and boldness. We always have to create something better. We have to implement better political foundations in our cinema. Creating a film teaches us much more than any school can. In that sense, I think that my film is different than the rest of them. Films may win some awards. It is a very good thing for a film.

The television and media are beyond the reality. There are two heroes in Lebanon for example. One is Polat Alemdar the other one is Tayyip Erdogan. What ever you do is pointless when he appears on television and says “one minute” Daily life has lost its reality against television. So If we are to make a film, we have to try different things. We have to attack from different angles.

We say that we scored a goal against the coup. The reason for that is, I think, that the military coup is the softest and moderate military coup in the world. It does not mean that they did not executed mass murders. But if we look at the military coup in Guatemala, they wiped out almost half of the population. Another reason is that military coup is no longer in a position to deter us to do anything like that. We scored a goal against the coup. We have to refrain from talking about our defeat only. Many ways of creative resistance were invented. We can score better goals now.

Q; In your documents and TV programs, you showed the streets around the world. Now you show the streets in here, to the world. Is it going to continue? Have you got more plans to introduce our streets to the other parts of the world.

A; I am a traveler. Main reason for the program is that I can show the places where I have been and also when I am there I can show the streets in here. The streets are so rich. They taught us so many things. I will carry on, of course.

Q; When you travel around the world, You also made a contact with many of the guerrilla organizations. If you compare PKK with other guerrilla organizations around the world, what can you see?

Q; The answer might take three volumes. If you talk about an organization, in order to make right explanations, you have define them according to their own definitions. Maoists, in India and in some other parts of the world, for example, do not accepts other movements as Maoists. But we define them all as Maoist. I define a political movement as they define themselves. Kurdish Political movement define itself, as, ecological, democratic movement. And it should be accepted like that. Generally, people think that Kurdish political movement is well known all over the world. It is a big mistake. Nobody knows. If you ask even in Istanbul, nobody define the organization as they define themselves.

Q; What is the reason for that?

A; Kurds can not manage to explain themselves. They get angry when misunderstood. They should not get fed up with explaining themselves. If necessary, you got to explain thousand times in order to prevent peoples’ different comments. If you ask in Latin America, Kurds are in collaboration with EU. But from there, the difference between KDP, Barzani and Talabani can not be seen. Because it is understood that in general they are all Kurds. If you don’t explain yourself, you can not say that people misunderstand you. For that reason, Mesopotamia social forum is important for me. It is an important organization to tell the world about political and social situation in the region.

Q; Inside the guerrilla movement, there are other activities such as cinemas, documentaries, theatres and other forms of cultural activities. They have whole life in there. Is it the same in other organizations?

A; Exactly like that. FARC created so many activities. But there are some strange cases as well, like EMFL in El Salvador. They are in power now. When they were guerrillas, they had two radios. Now, in power they have no government radio. Kurdish movement should face its history. If they can be more open and brave towards their own language and history, there could be a big improvement. These are not easy. But I insist on my claim that Kurdish movement is not well known around the world. 90% of the left wing movements do not know about it. When we talked to Marcos of Zapatista, he mentioned Abdullah Ocalan. He heard about the death sentence, he said. He did not know anything else about Kurdish movement. Kurds have language barrier. But they should constantly explain. Films are most effective way of doing it. Brave films must be made.