Olgun Ozdemir’s 2019 feature has been winning awards at several festivals. He talks to TRT World about his process and what the film has meant to him.
Olgun Ozdemir’s third feature film, Scent of My Daughter, has just won an award from the Method Film Festival in Los Angeles, USA. Selected as the Best Foreign Film, the movie tells the story of three strangers.
A Yezidi girl kidnapped by Daesh and freed by Turkish soldiers, a French school teacher who has lost her family in the 2016 Nice truck attack, and a young Turkish man living in the US who comes back to Reyhanli, Turkey where his parents were murdered by car bombings in 2013.
Beatrice has lost her parents, her husband and her three-year-old daughter in the Nice terror attack in July 2016. Fulfilling the wishes of her father, she decides to repatriate the bodies of her parents and her daughter in his native Armenian village in Hatay, Turkey, near the Syrian border.
Down in the depths of despair in the cemetery, Beatrice attempts to take her own life, only to be intercepted by Hevi, the Yezidi girl on the run from the Turkish forces who saved her because she wants to go looking for her sister in Gaziantep. Around nightfall, the two go to a motel operated by Ibrahim’s aunt-in-law Emine Hanim, a tough matriarch, who shelters them for the evening and then at breakfast, orders Ibrahim to drive them wherever they need to go.
Together the three strangers start visiting refugee camps in the area, seeking out Hevi’s sister, while trying to deal with their pain in their own ways at the same time.
Director Olgun Ozdemir tells TRT World that “A person’s religion, ethnic background, these don’t interest me.” Ozdemir says he has lived “something similar to a migrant experience” as his father was a “guest worker” in Germany when he was growing up.
“I wasn’t born there,” he comments, “but I don’t remember when I got there.” He was four when his family relocated from Turkey to Germany’s Koln; then he lived in Hamburg. He says he returned to Turkey in 2014, and has become more and more acclimated.
The origin of the film is an article he had seen in the newspaper, about a Yezidi girl escaping from Syria to Turkey who is being aided by a Turkish man to help look for her sister. “The film, of course,” he says, “is entirely fictional.”
“I tried to make a film with high production values despite a low budget,” Ozdemir tells TRT World. “We received 700,000 YTL ($93,473) from the Ministry [Of Culture and Tourism in Turkey] and the rest we found overseas. The total budget was $300,000, a tenth of all those films competing at Cannes, Venice, Berlinale.”
Hevi, the Yezidi girl, is played by Ozdemir’s 19-year old daughter, Yilsen, who had no previous acting experience and who had to learn Kurdish for the role. “Perhaps she did such a good job because she is a newcomer playing a shy, skittish, introverted girl,” Ozdemir says proudly.
Asked about what the film means to him, Ozdemir muses: “These lands, the Middle East, have suffered for centuries, with blood, pain, tears… But have remained standing. It’s truly a miracle. The people of these lands, they are strong and resilient people, that’s what I wanted to convey in my movie.”
The film, perhaps as a first in Turkish film history, features five languages: Turkish, English, French, Kurdish and Arabic. Ozdemir says that he wanted to portray technology, which he feels is demonised 80 percent of the time, as a force for good, when Beatrice and Hevi connect via the translation app on Beatrice’s smartphone.
Language is an important aspect in Ozdemir’s life. He says even when they lived in Germany, he and his three brothers always spoke Turkish at home at their father’s urging so as not to lose their roots.
The film’s producer Ron Carr says that “Scent of My Daughter” is “a poignant, historical movie, a journey with three protagonists.”
“I didn’t do this movie to make money; that was not my intention. It was a labour of love. It doesn’t matter if it makes one penny or a million dollars. I’m just happy that I did it, had the opportunity to do it,” he tells TRT World.
Ozdemir and Carr are planning to collaborate on a new movie, titled “Tatli Sut Kopugu (Cream in My Coffee)”, and Ozdemir says he would like to work again with Caglar [Ertugrul, who played Ibrahim in Scent of My Daughter] and Serif [Sezer, who played the matriarch Emine Hanim].
“Some directors like to use little-known actors all throughout,” he says, but I like to use at least two-three popular actors, and balance that with two-three no-name actors.”
It looks like we will continue to hear from Olgun Ozdemir in the near future, and as Scent of My Daughter begins to play in more theatres in Turkey, it will take its place in the national consciousness.