Interview with Filmmaker Kurtulus Ozgen (8 POEMS OF EMIGRATION)

8 POEMS OF EMIGRATION played to rave reviews at the May 2020 Documentary Short Film Festival.

Matthew Toffolo: What motivated you to make this film?

Kurtulus Ozgen: Both my grandparent’s families were refugees. They were forced to migrate from Crete Island (Greece) and Kardzhali (Bulgaria) to Anatolia during Balkan Wars (1912-13). As a descendant of such heritage I was bound up with refugee crisis for a long time. I strongly believe that immigration crisis and the troubles of immigrants-refugees evolves to be the one of the deepest ethico-political issues that humanity faces.

2. From the idea to the finished product, how long did it take for you to make this short?

It wasn’t an idea at first. It had been a feeling and an intuition mingling in me for some time. Around February 2019 (once again) from the news we all witnessed the poignant tragedy of children, women and men who drowned in Aegean Sea, just hoping for a (better) life. I wasn’t able to endure this cruel fact any more. With a weeping heart I felt the urge to create a kind of “requiem” for all the refugees of the world. So I started to work. John Berger (as an intellectual and an artist) has a strong influence on me and my perception of art. During my research I came across his book (which I had read some time ago) And Our Faces, My Heart, Brief as Photos (1984). In the book I rediscovered this poem titled “8 Poems of Emigration”. I had found the voice of the film. The affect I was seeking for… In May 2019 when I finished, I realized the film leaned towards to be a “poetic statement” rather than being a “requiem”.

3. How would you describe your short film in two words!?

poetic (statement) counter-attack


4. What was the biggest obstacle you faced in completing this film?

After my decision for making an essay film formed of found footage (and sound) my greatest challenge was finding the right video footage that would do just to the film and just for the film. I had to debate with each video footage over and over again. My visual narrative was structured as an “assemblage” rather than editing. Each plan and the whole film had to be limpid yet affective, be in harmony yet form a counter-image, be honest and (somehow) reflect my political view.

5. What were your initial reactions when watching the audience talking about your film in the feedback video?

I was honored and overwhelmed by the comments of the audience. The audience’s acumen, perception and knowledge was very impressive. I announced the influence of John Berger on me and on the film at the “artist’s statement” (summary of the film), after watching audience feedback, I felt to need to create a “memoriam” for John Berger at the end of the film. I will do in a short period of time.

Watch the Audience FEEDBACK Video:

6. How did you come up with the idea for this short film?

Also for the last decade Turkey has been accepting immense amount of refugees from Syria because of the civil war. My observations, encounters with refugees and being acquainted with some of them (especially two siblings I had met during my time in AegeanDocs Film Festival 2015 at Mytilene Island) and the unsettling feeling constantly growing in me brought up this film.

7. What film have you seen the most in your life?

Many… Sans Soleil (1983) by Chris Marker, Memories of Istanbul (1989) by Hasan Ozgen, Pina (2011) Wim Wenders comes to my mind at first glance. Thanks to Ersan Ocak, I ‘ve been watching Harun Farocki’s films a lot lately.

8. You submitted to the festival via FilmFreeway, what are your feelings of the submission platform from a filmmaker’s perspective?

I am very fond of FilmFreeway, it is my only online festival platform.

9. What song have you listened to the most times in your life?

Again Many… A Turkish folk song named Deniz Üstü Köpürür (Foams Above Sea) by various performers, Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood by Nina Simone, Dance Me to the End of Love (live version) by Leonard Cohen, Temptation by Tom Waits just came to my mind right now.

10. What is next for you? A new film?

I’m working on an essay film that I call Habitus of Self. This time I mine all my audio-visual material from youtube.com (which I regard as a digital habitus). The film inquires the influence of habitus (family, society, country, system) to the self. The question I am kind of investigating is “is there a choice?”

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