The famous Turkish director shares his thoughts on the pandemic and how his proposal to honour health workers with a day was accepted in the Italian Senate.
“I was on an Italian television show when I first thought about proposing a ‘White Coats Day’ to honour the health workers who so selflessly worked to save lives during the pandemic,” says Ferzan Ozpetek, the famous Turkish director who now lives in Rome.
“During the first lockdown in Italy, everybody thought Covid-19 was like the flu or pneumonia, they didn’t take it seriously. Then a friend of mine, a doctor, told me about a case of a 27 year old who couldn’t breathe and went into a coma.”
Ozpetek tells TRT World that his manager’s husband, a retired doctor, also went to the north of Italy to help out with the efforts of fighting the pandemic. “I also have two nurse friends who were working nonstop in Rome.” That’s when he realised the severity of the disease.
Ozpetek likens the fight against Covid-19 to the proverbial World War III. “44 years ago [when I first moved to Italy], the people who lived near me would tell me about what had happened and what they did during World War II. They would be joyous during Independence Day.”
He says “we are now going through World War III. And those at the forefront of the battle are the ‘White Coats’, the doctors, nurses, ambulance car drivers. They all risk their lives.”
Ozpetek continues by saying that in 10-11 years, a young child who thankfully hasn’t lived through these days would be able to ask what happened, and that “we’ll be able to remind him of these selfless acts.”
According to Ozpetek, his suggestion during the TV programme received a lot of positive attention, and he received calls from the likes of Giorgio Armani and many actor friends.
Ozpetek believes that women are “always ahead of men, smarter than men” in many aspects of life. He tells TRT World the story of a female anesthesiologist who decided to test a patient for Covid-19 after he showed up at the hospital three times with a cough and a fever at the beginning of the pandemic.
“She was supposed to wait and get permission to test, to go through bureaucratic channels. Instead, she acted out of her own volition and checked him for the coronavirus. Doctor [Annalisa] Malara is her name. This was the first coronavirus case in Italy, on February 20.”
“That’s why I proposed February 20th to be the ‘White Coats Day’ in Italy. In three-four days with an intense level of networking we reached 15 thousand people who backed us. Famous people, non-famous people, everyone gathered together behind this proposal.”
Ozpetek tells TRT World that the next step was presenting the proposal to the Senate. The law passed, the parliament accepted, and February 20 was officially ‘White Coats Day’ in Italy, in honour of all health workers in the frontlines of the epidemic.
According to Ozpetek, there is interest from the European Parliament to mark the day across the European Union.
Asked about how the pandemic has affected him, Ozpetek says his latest film, the Goddess of Fortune, was released around Christmas 2019 and took in 9 million euros ($10.94 million) at the box office. And his book, Come un Respiro (Like a Breath), came out during when Italy emerged from its first lockdown.
But he was also adversely affected to some extent. He was staging Loose Cannons (Mine Vaganti) in a theater when the theaters were shut down.
“This is a time when we are all trying to find ways to survive. Whoever has anything, gives to the other. These are the kinds of times we are in,” he notes. He points out that cinema and TV production has stopped, and the pandemic has adversely affected everyone. Everyone, he says, perhaps with the exception of nature.
“Nature is being renewed,” Ozpetek tells TRT World. “And human relations too, our values are changing. For the better.”
Ozpetek reminisces about the tradition of shopping for others, ‘paying it forward’ in a sense. In Turkey a shopper would buy two loaves of bread, take home one and leave one at the store for someone who might need it. In Italy this was done at coffee shops. “Nowadays,” says Ozpetek, “it is done at supermarkets.”
“Everyone is going through a rough time financially. The government is paying those who have jobs with insurance. But uninsured workers are hit hard.”
Ozpetek also discusses how in these times not getting sick is not necessarily for yourself, but for others. “These days, you must think of others. You must say, ‘I shouldn’t get sick so that I don’t infect others,’” he explains.
As for what his plans for the future is, Ozpetek says he is shooting a commercial, and that the screenplays for eight episodes of the Ignorant Fairies (Le Fate Ignoranti) that will debut on the Disney Star platform are ready. He says he will shoot the first two episodes, as well as the last one, with the remaining episodes to be shot by his assistant director.
Ozpetek laments that he hasn’t been to Turkey in 2.5 years. “I miss it so much, I dream of it,” he says. “But after the death of my older brother…” he trails off, lost in thought. “It is hard.”
He steps out of his reverie to answer one last question: what life will be like after Covid-19. “One thing that the coronavirus has brought us is uncertainty. We do not know what will happen to us the next day. The art that will be produced will be considered more valuable. Tourism will not get back to ‘normal’ right away.”
“I went for a walk last night,” Ozpetek says, “and it was empty all around. This at a usually lively square. So I reckon it will take a while.”
Thumbnail and headline photos courtesy of Selin Alemdar