GÖKHAN ERKILIÇ
SEKANS Sinema Yazıları Seçkisi 3 (December 2010, p. 90-99)

 

1) It can be told that you proceed on a route from experimentals to shorts, from shorts to documentaries and from documentaries to feature films. Which of those is playing greater role on the decision mechanism of that route: Living conditions, technologic resources, economical conditions, creative process?

 

Probably a bit of all those reasons but I was lucky enough to move along with my creative process more than anything else. I was never forced to work for television for economical reasons for example. But I considered it always important to move on. When I found a comfortable field or genre in filmmaking, I wanted to experiment in something new. I like contrast. I like a black and white image next to a picture in colors and I like to invent a story after I dealt with reality and its representation in film for month and years on end. At the moment I am writing songs for a musical about a Poodle beauty contest and next I might do a film that has no theme at all.

 

2) Do you observe typical changes in documental cinema during these initiative years of the new millennium we’re in?

 

To be honest I do not observe documentary cinema that much. I am not very interested in anything in connection to reportage or the straight forward documentary. So I only watch films of this genre if I can expect a boarder approach than just a theme. For the last few years I was caught up very much in my own work so I cannot answer questions in terms of film history or tendencies in genres. Actually I also do think this is more the job of a critic or a film historian. I always found films and filmmakers who are close to me and my way of thinking though but those were always people who overstep genres, who see filmmaking as an art, who do essayistic work or work that is related to fine art more than journalism.

 

3) Can we learn the documentaries and the directors that framed your documental cinema style and influenced yourself?

 

Dziga Vertov was always important for me because he mixed his political approach with a truly poetical style (the same is true for George Franju), works of Werner Herzog, especially Fata Morgana but then again I am always influenced by experimental filmmakers like Stan Brakhage or Peter Kubelka but mostly by painters like Hironymus Bosch or Vermeer. Painters are much more influential for me in terms of style and atristic approach than other filmmakers.

 

4) Let’s start with Kino im Kopf. If you would shoot this documentary nowadays, which changes would be done by you in the triangle of pleasure-idea-style? There are people thinking this movie was reflecting the hints of your conception of cinema. What is your opinion?

 

That might be true. It was interesting to find oneself in the conception of other peoples minds. And I was interested in the concept of multiplying stories. Like for example in the novel The Manuscript Found in Saragossa by Jan Potocki, who told a story where someone tells a story within that story and within that story again someone tells a story and so on and so on. From the middle part of the book all those stories are being closed again like boxes that someone opened. I like open systems, stories, images and sound that lead to something else that trigger new stories and thought and things that are unfinished. Like painting where part of the canvas stays empty and other parts a carefully crafted. Kino im Kopf was en early attempt to work with such kind of an open system. Stories that are not finished thought that lead you somewhere else and just easily tossed little episodes that are trashy, fun and artistic at the same time. It is more an exercise in storytelling than anything else though.

 

5) Megacities: It is understood that the emotion belonging to cinema’s infentility period hasn’t died yet in India. Have you just focused on these four cities during the development phase of the movie? Your movie makes anyone think that for some part of the would to fantasize was a pathologic phenomenon.

I don’t know if I really understand what you are getting at but in terms of focus – no I haven’t only researched in these cities. I was also interested in Lagos, Cairo and Sao Paulo but in the end I ended up where I ended up. I t is quite long ago but I remember it as an innocent process that was mainly driven by curiosity. I did not have a theme other than big cities. So I could film anywhere and whatever I wanted. That is a kind of freedom that is scary and uplifting at the same time. I miss this approach nowadays, being often tortured by theme and approach and other stumbling blocks on the way to a good film. So I often think how it was doing Megacities.I give you an example of a movie that I am planning at the moment it is called “Untitled”. I will give you opening statement of the concept for the movie. It leads back to Megacties and opens up new paths for the future.

 

Five Ws and one H

 

In journalism there are six basic questions to be answered before a story can be considered “watertight.” Who was involved? What happened? Where did it take place? When did it take place? Why did it happen? And how did it happen?

 

Documentary filmmaking often takes the same approach. A new film project usually starts with questions like these: What is the story? Where does it take place? Who is in it? Why do you want to make it? And how are you going to structure it?

 

I want to reduce these basic questions to the concepts of “theme” and “perspective.” They can act in a friendly manner, providing the filmmaker with a framework within which to construct his film. They can, however, also twist your perspective of what is happening around you and reduce the actual events to a pre-formulated thesis. If this is the case, they demonstrate not only unfriendly behavior but even animosity.

 

On trips I have taken to do research or shoot films I have repeatedly encountered instances or situations which I perceived as special but was not able to actually shoot. At the time I was always caught up in another subject that demanded my full concentration. I have always seen this as a hindrance. To a true storyteller the whole world is a potential story, and he draws from the things he encounters and tells what he considers worth relating.

 

6) Nacktschnecken: A study on the effects of dialect and accent on a film genre, that was challenging in terms of thse effects’ positives and negatives. Do you see comedy as one of the present favorite areas of the potential conflict between the social classes? Is comedy protecting its character calling for us to take the reality hiding behind it serious?

 

Comedy is comedy is comedy. Who uses it and to what purpose is a different thing. If one uses comedy to describe the “potential conflict between the social classes” as you say, she or he can do so. But comedy is a genre and it can be used to describe the subordination of kangaroo babies under the rule of alligators on Mars. I don’t know if that might be such a good film but it could be funny. Although you are right, the reality behind a comedy is often what really does make it funny. “Slugs” was such a thing; it was invented by an actor and long term student at the time, who really lived what he was writing about. So the reality factor and the dialect factor behind it were strong. And that was what I liked about the project at the time. At the moment we are working on the third part of the Sex and drugs and rock and roll trilogy and we are experimenting on less realistic grounds. I do think a lot to use talking penguins. The casting has begun.

 

7) Slumming: A poet had found place for himself on account of you. What can be a poet’s mission on the age we are living? (in the middle of economical, political and social injustice and decayedness)? Even though the material which would be processed by poet is much, isn’t a mass feding with poems is needed? Can your movie be read as a story of loneliness?

 

Yes it can be read like that. It can also be read as a movie that says, loneliness can be a creative and wonderful thing. Like a lot of things that happen to you can turn into the opposite of what you might think they are. This is the story of a bad deed that turns into something good for the person it was done to. The protagonist of Slumming is refined because two young men played a prank on him. Through that he is thrown back upon himself. I always ask myself what a war would have done to me, or what kind of a person I would be if I had spent five years in prison. I would think differently, maybe I would appreciate live differently. And the notion of being alien somewhere. I always like it, if I am in a country where I know nobody and I don’t speak the language that throws me back upon myself. It an hostile and peaceful state at the same time.

 

And poetry is a quite lonely art. It always was. As was the world a place of economical, political and social injustice. That is definitely not new of the 21st century.

 

8) Das Vaterspiel: Which were the actions that played effective role on your view of cinema and art? Is the past a thruster and substantial force? What kind of a role the city you born, the environment you growed up, the climate you lived, the environment you produce in and the cultural world surrounding you played and continue to play on your creative character?

 

I come from the second largest city in Austria. During my days of gymnasium the cultural situation in my town was not bad, maybe with the exception of cinema. I became member of a club that specialized in screening movies, for example in movie theatres after the late show or in auditoriums of the local university. At that time I was a junkie for films. I would watch anything I could get a hold of and that was before VHS or DVD. So I literary spent my years of adolescents in the darkness of screening rooms or movie theatres. I would watch a minimum of 3 movies a day. So that became my substantial force. I began dreaming to do movies of my own. My doing “Kill daddy good night” had nothing much to do with that but with the social and political environment of that time. But since it is based on the novel “Das Vaterspiel” by Josef Haslinger it is still somewhat of a second hand experience. The moral and political downfall of the political elite in Austria was something that I did not experience first hand but something I could feel in the over all climate of Austrian live. When I read the novel, I thought – okay, that could have been my youth too, a little later, in another city, in another social environment. It felt close and far away at the same time. But that kind of thinking was already very close to me since I had done Slumming.

 

9) Contact High: During shooting this movie, have the will to entertain the people predominated or have you wanted to do something to entertain yourself? Especially during watching the movies in which comedy items became heavy, we can’t do without thinking them to be shot for being as a psychologic balancer.

 

There is the conscientiously stress created by your documentaries on one scale of a balance against the relaxation feeling created by your feature films on the other scaleTerazinin bir kefesindeki belgesel filmlerinizin yarattığı vicdani gerilime karşı öteki kefede konulu filmlerinizin yarattığı bir rahatlama duygusu var.

 

I never do anything to just entertain myself but of course I do have to be entertained too. Actually it is a good sign if your own work does entertain yourself. But Contact High is quite a mixture of something playful, with something philosophical with something ironic and mix the whole thing with some LSD and some songs and there it is.

 

In my youth we used to listen to a song by Jefferson Airplane called White Rabbit. The lyrics of this song are like a plot description of Contact High:

 

One pill makes you larger
And one pill makes you small
And the ones that mother gives you
Don't do anything at all
Go ask Alice
When she's ten feet tall

 

And if you go chasing rabbits
And you know you're going to fall
Tell 'em a hookah smoking caterpillar
Has given you the call
Call Alice
When she was just small

 

When men on the chessboard
Get up and tell you where to go
And you've just had some kind of mushroom
And your mind is moving low
Go ask Alice
I think she'll know

 

When logic and proportion
Have fallen sloppy dead
And the White Knight is talking backwards
And the Red Queen's "off with her head!"
Remember what the dormouse said:
"Feed your head
Feed your head
Feed your head"

 

10) Does your last movie Whore’s Glory aim to form a trilogy together with Megacities and Workingman’s Death in terms of technique, narration and theme? Or is their common point needed to be discussed on a narrower area?

 

Yes it does aim for a trilogy and it has the number 3 incorporated in its formal concept since it is a build as a triptych. http://www.glawogger.com/produktion_en.php I like the 3. Also “Slugs”, “Contact High” and “Rock and Roll” are going to be a trilogy in the end. But concerning the documentaries, I think I might do a fourth part of the trilogy with the project called “Untitled – The Film without a Name”. http://www.glawogger.com/projekte_en.php

 

11) Workingman’s Death is a unique example of rhythm usage in documental cinema. Was that a planned thing before you shot this movie, or appeared after shooting the images? Is it an improvisation or a design?

 

Rhythm is always important for me and since Megacities and Workingman’s Death are done without commentary and with only little statements the rhythm gets even more important. And also it came with the subject itself since all those jobs convey a certain kind of rhythm. Sledgehammers, Wooden baskets, knives and torches are all tools that are used in a manner that convey a rhythm. And the places these labors appear in do the same. I wrote a text once for the book accompanying the movie that tries to transport this rhythm in language. I will incorporate it in this answer.

 

KANDAPELLETHEAD Port Harcourt, Nigeria

 

The Port Harcourt slaughter yard is a labyrinth of people and animals. It took weeks before I had visited all the departments and explored every path.

 

The whole area is actually a market, which is situated between a zoo, a bridge in the middle of construction, a river, and an industrial park where multinational corporations like Coca-Cola and Shell have set up operations.

 

The grounds consist of a few huts, a large covered market hall, a cold storage room, a corral for the cattle, pig pens, a pool table set up under an awning, a mosque, a few shanties, a slope leading to the river that also serves as an open toilet, and the various sites where animals are transformed into meat.

 

These sites consist of a charred elevated platform for roasting the beef parts and whole goats, a large paved surface, the “Slab,” where the cattle is slaughtered, skinned, and cut into portions, and finally a kind of courtyard where the pigs are butchered, placed in bath tubs of scalding water, and scraped with sharp knives to remove their bristles. Right next to this, a long hall extends straight through the market. After roasting, this is where the goats are brought to be cleaned and further processed. And then there are the restaurants, a second mosque, the CD store, several tailors, and the photographer.

 

It starts to get light at around five in the morning. Now you realize that the counters are covered with people, sleeping vendors, butchers, assistants, meat haulers. They yawn and stretch and peel back their thin blankets. The sweet smell of the previous day’s meat hangs in the air, and you can hear the roosters crowing everywhere.

 

Some people pray, some wash themselves at the Slab or brush their teeth out back by the great mounds of bones, others have breakfast, a hot milk beverage or skewers of meat, and many of them hold small transistor radios to their ears. A symphony of images, sounds, and smells slowly unfolds before you, swells and becomes ever louder, ebbs at noon, and is calm again.

 

First come the goats led by the young assistants of the goat butchers and goat roasters. The goats make the most noise as they are being brought – all tied together – to the slaughter yard. It is hard to tell whether they can sense what awaits them; maybe it is just uncomfortable to be pulled around all tied together like that.

 

Next, other young assistants use pieces of discarded tires they have cut into sections to fetch fire from the fire pits in front of the restaurant where the women have begun to cook. As fire is brought to the slaughter yard, calls of “Mallam! Mallam!” begin mixing with the rising clamor of bleating goats. “Mallam” means “sir” or “man” and is a respectful address used to call the goat slaughterer over to where a goat is being held down and have him slit its throat for a fee of 40 nairas.

 

The goat slaughtering area is dotted with masonry-lined holes, which one after another turn into fire pits. They are where the goats will be roasted later. Now the flames are leaping and thick plumes of black smoke rise and fill the sky.

 

In the meantime, the assistant cattle traders and butchers are driving the cattle from the corrals to the Slab. For the workers, this is the best part. It is both a test of courage and the chance to see how fast you can run. The bulls (and they are all, without exception, bulls) do not bellow at all, but they behave like wild animals on these last fifty meters to the slaughtering grounds. A short time later, they submit almost apathetically to their fates.

 

As they arrive at the Slab, the hawkers’ cries mix with the distant but audibly frantic bleating of the goats. “Kandapellethead!” or “Kandakandakanda!” or “Pelletpelletpellet!” they yell, each trying to drown out the other. “Kanda” means skin, “pellet” means innards, and “head” is the same as in English. The hawkers shout these words in any combination, announcing the three delicacies they have to offer for future consumption.

 

In the meantime, the goats sizzle on their fires, and around the corner the pigs squeal. They are the ones most likely to comprehend what is in store for them. In the background, men walk past carrying charcoaled goats on their heads. They are on their way to the goat washers, who yell cheerfully as they scrub the hair off the goats with water and brushes.

 

At the Slab, the first bulls are being thrown down, they hit the concrete with a heavy thud or land in the spreading puddles of blood, while the hawkers yell at the top of their lungs: “Kandapellethead!” Some are already bargaining loudly with the newly arriving customers, who usually only want to pay a fraction of what the vendors are asking.

 

Wheelbarrows full of goat carcasses, bloated from roasting and bright yellow after being washed, are pushed toward the parking lot, while the first cattle heads are severed from their still kicking bodies.

 

One of these heads weighs in the range of fifteen to twenty kilograms. The butchers mark the heads with the owners’ initial, then they are taken to a relay point and from there to the goat slaughtering area.

 

Here, the shouting and bleating, the slaughtering and roasting are still going strong. The horns are hacked off and the cattle heads roasted, then they are washed in discarded water-filled truck tires until they are the same yellow color as the roasted goats. Then they are brought back to the Slab and cleaved in the midst of dying animals and twitching meat.

 

Most of the cattle is already skinned and cut into pieces, and the haulers shoulder large sections of meat. This is one of the most grueling jobs of all. With half a bull on their shoulders, these men run to the washing troughs, where they soak and wash the meat briefly, then heave it back onto their shoulders, run clear across the market, and stow it in the trunks of taxis and transport vehicles.

 

Then they hurry back to the Slab so they will be there for the good pieces and good buyers. Meanwhile, other workers are taking the tails and skins to the fires to be roasted.

 

This frenetic cycle of herding, slaughtering, dying, hauling, washing, roasting, chopping, portioning, bargaining, hawking, arguing, screeching, rejoicing, and running repeats itself until noon rolls around and the vultures come.

 

The vultures sit on the roofs waiting patiently for the cycle to spin to a stop. Then they hop down onto the Slab or on the great mounds of horns and bones near the goat slaughtering area to devour what is theirs.

 

At around one o’clock, a couple of workers hose down the Slab.

 

Then the blood flows into the river, across which a new bridge is currently being built. It looks so different than anything at the slaughter yard. The workers there are clean, the concrete is clean, and one day the president of Nigeria went there to inaugurate the clean half-finished bridge. That day, the slaughter yard at Port Harcourt was closed so that the smoke and noise would not disturb the president during the ceremony.

 

The workers got the day off, and so did we. All we shot that day were five pigs in the middle of the goat slaughtering area which, amid thousands of chopped off horns, had curled up together for a little snooze.

 

The book was never published in English. http://www.glawogger.com/autor_en.php

 

12) Have your movie Whore’s Glory ever got out of line during the course of production? Have it orbitted out of your prediction? How do the women see the world of the future?

 

No, it didn’t get more out of line than any other movie I did. And how the women see the future, I really don’t know. This was a question I always asked while during Megacities and never asked during Whores’ Glory. Could be a sign I have gotten more afraid of the future during all those years.

 

13) And our last question... What’s your top ten films?

 

Ten feature films and a short film: A I dade da Terra, Glauber Rocha; Come and See, Elem Klimov; Mothlight, Stan Brakhage; Fata Morgana, Werner Herzog; Fat City, John Huston; Hellzapoppin’, H.C. Potter; Blue Collar, Paul Schrader; Hecate, Daniel Schmid; Senso, Luchino Visconti; In the Mood for Love, Wong Kar-wai; Tiempo de Morir, Arturo Ripstein.