At home on two continents
The guest country section at DOK.fest München 2023
"There is something that runs through everything: what is it?" asks the translator Kawa Nemir in TRANSLATING ULYSSES, drawing on a Kurdish proverb. "Language," is the answer. Kawa has been translating Ulysses, one of the last century’s seminal works, into Kurdish since 2012. When the peace negotiations between the Turkish government and Kurds were cancelled by the Turkish side in 2018 and the Kurdish community came under fire again, he went to the Netherlands. There, at the Anne Frank House, he checks the proofs of the first translation to ever exist in Kurdish. "Those of us who are involved with Joyce are all paranoid: we can never be safe," Kawa teases, at the same time making a statement to the thousands and thousands of dissidents the Turkish state is producing in its increasingly autocratic guise.
There are those who leave and raise their voices or use them in the pages of a translation, those who emigrate internally and render silent resistance – and those who, against all odds, remain vocal, like EREN. Eren Keskin is a lawyer and activist. A charismatic figure, she makes an appearance when protest against human rights violations, especially against women and minorities, arises and when it fails to do so. "You can call them torturers, but you can't call them rapists," she says, describing the Turkish executive's view. But because they are often both, Eren articulates what others don't dare to – leading to her facing hundreds of criminal cases that could land her in (life) imprisonment at any moment.
At the same time, thousands of kilometres away, another campaigner stands up for her point of view and has been issued a fatwa for it: in Berlin, Seyran Ateş demands nothing less than a sexual revolution in Islam and has trained as a female imam for this very reason. She inhabits her bisexuality and her conviction that the Islamic religion needs to be reformed and refuses to accept the prohibitions and commandments of orthodox followers. Her controversial theses, such as opposing the hijab for teachers, have brought her opposition from leftists and feminists – and open hatred from radical opponents: "This Seyran is a whore’s daughter. Betrays her fatherland. Deserves the death penalty," she quotes in SEYRAN ATEŞ: SEX, REVOLUTION AND ISLAM as an example of the countless death threats she receives almost daily.
We return to Turkey, where more than 150,000 people were dismissed from their roles in state administration, the public health and education systems after the 2016 coup attempt because they were suspected by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of being "terrorists". This is what happens to Engin, a teacher, and Yasemin, a doctor, in THE DECREE. "The patients want their doctor," protesters chant outside hospitals. The two protagonists do not want to give in and abandon their students and their patients and thus do not want to give up on their home country.
As different as the four films in our guest country series are, they are united by a desire for dignity, freedom and change in this divided country that is at home on two continents.
Sara Gómez Schüller
Germany 2023, Maria Binder, 95 min., original with English subtitles
Lawyer and activist Eren Keskin has advocated for the rights of women, minorities and LGBTIQ in Turkey for over 30 years – not allowing herself to be deterred by the constant risk of being jailed. The director has followed Keskin over many years. Her film draws a portrait of a fearless women and her battle against oppression and violence.
Turkey 2023, Nejla Demirci, 96 min., original with English subtitles
When a wave of dismissals follows the attempted coup in Turkey, Yasemin, a doctor, and Engin, a teacher, are among those who suddenly find themselves on the streets. They try in vain to get their jobs back or just to find out the reason they were fired. For President Erdoğan however it is clear: those affected are not real Turks but “terrorists.” Then the film project also draws the attention of the authorities…
Netherlands/Turkey 2023, Fırat Yücel, Aylin Kuryel, 71 min., original with English subtitles
Fleeing persecution, the Kurdish translator Kawa Nemir finds shelter in the Anne Frank House. There he works on the Kurdish translation of James Joyce's masterpiece Ulysses, once considered untranslatable. His work becomes a fascinating journey of exploration of Kurdish word worlds, the film a gentle portrait of a person for whom language has become a new home.
SEYRAN ATEŞ: SEX, REVOLUTION AND ISLAM
Norway 2021, Nefise Özkal Lorentzen, 81 min., original with English subtitles
“We are living in the 21st century but we teach Islam as if it was the 7th. The most important point is sexuality. Why is the Islamic world so sexualised? We have to talk about this.” As a liberal female imam, Seyran Ateş does not mince her words despite the death threats she receives. Nefise Özkal Lorentzen closely follows her during her controversial struggle for progress and equal rights in the Islamic world.