A young Turkish filmmaker has won a new award for her first feature film, ‘Toprak’ (Soil) that takes place in a small village in Antalya, in southern Turkey.
Sevgi Hirschhaeuser is a 27-year-old Turkish filmmaker based in Munich, Germany. She has directed music and fashion videos before, but not any short films, she tells TRT World.
‘Toprak’, her first feature film, revolves around a young high school student studying for university exams, and his family. Burak’s parents died when he was young, and he is being raised by his uncle and grandmother. He would like to leave behind his village and go to university, but his uncle has other plans for him: namely, to take over the family orchard and stay put. Yet, as the saying goes: the best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry.
The film has most recently won the Hof Gold Prize of the Friedrich Baur Foundation 2020 awarded by the Bavarian Academy of Fine Arts in memory of Heinz Badewitz. It is awarded for the best directing performance for a first feature film, and comes as a 1-kg gold bar (currently worth about 52,000 euros or $60,500) and mentorship for the director’s next project.
Other awards received by ‘Toprak’ include Evolution Mallorca International Film Festival, Spain for Best Feature Film; Woods Hole Film Festival 2020 Woods Hole, USA for *Best Actor (Numan Cakir), Best Cinematography, Best Drama Film, Best Emerging Filmmaker;
Oceanside International Film Festival, California, *Best Actor (Numan Cakir), Best Narrative Film; Miami Independent Film Festival 2020 Miami, USA for Best Feature Film; Ischia Film Festival 2020 Ischia, Italy Official Selection for Best Cinematography; Florence Film Awards 2020, for Best Cinematography, and many more.
“I regret that our film didn’t get selected for the Antalya Golden Orange Film Festival,” Hirschhaeuser tells TRT World. “I would have liked to celebrate with our cast who is mostly from Antalya, but our film was “found lacking.”
Hirschhaeuser says she was influenced by real life stories. The village the film was shot in, Serik, for example, is where her mother is from. The clash between village folk and city folk is what Hirschheuser observed as she grew up in Antalya, and the young Burak character is inspired by her own cousin Burak, who lives with his grandmother and acts as his namesake in the film.
“He was 17 when we shot the film, now he is 18 and has entered his university exams,” she says. “He wants to become an actor; this was his first role.”
The cinematography is by Chris Hirschhaeuser, Sevgi’s husband. “It was great working with him,” she says. “We have worked together before, and he was so enthusiastic about every location we scouted. The only hitch was that he and his assistant spoke no Turkish, so I found myself translating quite a bit along the way.”
Hirschhaeuser met her husband a few years back during a shoot for a series, again in Serik. She moved to Munich five years ago, after getting married.
“It was difficult at first, because we used our own savings to finance the film,” Hirschhaeuser tells TRT World. “We made a small budget independent film, thanks to all the people who supported us by focusing on the project and working really hard for it.”
“We had no expectations of winning awards,” Hirschhaeuser muses. “But we were so proud when they were announced. We had no idea we would win so many!” she says humbly.
Hirschhaeuser is currently working on two projects: “The first one is a drama about women’s rights,” she says. “Being away from home puts things into perspective and helps me see the contrast between here and there,” she adds. The other feature will be a psychological thriller: “I’d like to try my hand at something new.”
According to Hirschhaeuser, independent filmmakers have a harder time making films than directors with big budgets. “We get asked many questions, are scrutinised heavily, and have to work with much less,” she says.
I am so grateful for Numan Cakir accepting the role of the uncle, Cemil, she says. “After all, he’s a known actor and I’m a no-name first time director. I contacted him, he asked for the script, and once he read it, he signed on wholeheartedly.”
Cakir and Burak Aydin got along beautifully, she says. “It was a better set atmosphere than I expected.” She told them she wanted to shoot long takes, short on dialogue and strong on emotion. “I wanted to shoot single plan shots which we succeeded in pulling off,” she says, before confessing that she, too, is a Nuri Bilge Ceylan fan.
“Some believe that long takes are boring, but I had to use them to reflect village life. It really does move that slowly,” she says. “Time stands still at a village.”