Table of Contents
Foreword by Xavier Koller
I never met Yılmaz Güney in person. My first encounter with him was on the screen, with ‘Sürü’. Its powerful images stayed with me. That’s a strong, intelligent mind at work, I thought at the time. Cactus Film released the film in theaters in Switzerland. Later, when I learned that the author of the film, Yılmaz Güney, was in prison, that Zeki Ökten had shot the film under Güney’s directions from jail, my interest in Güney himself was truly awakened. Who was this man? How was it possible to produce, and control, such a strong film from captivity? How did he create the conditions to make this possible? Where did this Güney come from? What was his past? What crime had put him in jail for 19 years? Who were his associates, the creative collaborators he entrusted with making the film? There was so much I could not know because it was impossible to find anything published in German.
Then came ‘Yol’. Shot by Şerif Gören. Edited later by Güney. This film impressed me even more than ‘Sürü!’ After ‘Yol’ won Cannes, more information came out about Güney. It emerged that, exactly as depicted in ‘Yol, he had used the sacrificial Bayram feast, when prisoners were allowed to visit their families for a few days, to make his own escape from prison. Absolutely brilliant!
In this detailed and impressive book, Edi Hubschmid tells the story of Güney’s personal yol (journey) into exile. He shows us the creative calculation Güney worked
with, the creative power he used to endure the punishment inflicted on him. How he used his film ‘Yol’ strategically (my own assessment) to secure a life outside prison. His early death after ‘Duvar’ (‘The Wall’) makes me think that he must have decided it was better to die free than perish in captivity.
In 1989, during preparations for my film ‘Journey of Hope,’ Edi Hubschmid gave us the names of people to contact in Istanbul. Edi himself could not yet travel to Turkey, because ‘Yol’ was still banned there. Among others, we met Serif Gören, Tuncay Akça, and, especially, Necmettin Çobanoglu, who later starred in my own film. I had discovered him by watching and re-watching ‘Yol’ for possible cast members. Serif told me that Necmettin had been on ‘Yol’ primarily as a production manager, not an actor, but when the actor intended for the role did not show up for filming, he had asked Necmettin to play the part. A stroke of good fortune for me, as it turned out.
Serif, Feride Çiçekoglu and I stayed in a hotel in Alanya for a few days – a hotel designed by Feride’s husband, Zafer, who was an architect. We discussed my film treatment and worked on the structure of the possible script. Since I was not familiar with Turkish culture, I asked Serif to shoot the sequences set in Turkey, while I took care of the rest in Italy and Switzerland. He agreed.
I kept pestering Serif with questions about Güney, but he was always very reticent. Just before we started shooting, I found out why. Serif was frustrated and angry with Güney because he had not appreciated Serif and his work on ‘Yol’, and had taken all the credit for himself. The result of this was that Serif made me this ultimatum:
“Either I do the whole movie, or I’m out. I don’t want the same thing to happen to me again!”
Now I was in real trouble, both morally and legally. The production was financed based on my treatment and on my being director. That is why, unfortunately, Serif left the film and I had to abandon my ideal plan of working together with him. Having no other choice I shot the film in a language I didn’t understand. So, regrettably, Serif did not share in the unexpected success of ‘Journey of Hope’.
As it turned out, years after his death, Yılmaz Güney had a huge impact on my work and my life.
Preface by Edi Hubschmid
In 1980 and 1981, I was a young film producer and travelled often to Turkey. We were in coproduction with Güney Films in Istanbul and in contact with the Turkish film scene, especially with Yılmaz Güney, who was in prison in Isparta at the time. Güney had developed a sophisticated system for making films from prison with ‘Sürü’ (1978) and Düsman (1979). From the outset of the ‘Yol’ project, we had planned to cooperate very closely. When the film was finished, it was put on the Turkish index and banned for eleven years. As a result, it suddenly became inadvisable for me to travel back to Turkey.
Our then young company, Cactus Film AG, was a cooperative created in 1979 after splitting up from the Zurich Film collective. At the time, we were uncompromisingly committed to films by auteurs.
Even though, as a Swiss company, we were naturally interested in making films about Switzerland, we were also trying to work across language and national boundaries and broaden our scope. We were part of the left-wing film scene of the time and therefore our main interest was in political film auteurs who were working on socially relevant topics. We intentionally looked for this kind of cultural exchange. The solidarity created in the process corresponded to our credo in terms of content.
I am motivated to compile the following notes, photographs and documents into this photo narrative for three reasons:
1. To offer my own personal memories of an extraordinary artist who, with his irrepressible creative power and courageous attitude, made a great impression on me. In 2017, Yılmaz would have been eighty years old. I am still sad that he left us so soon.
2. To show Yılmaz Güney’s creative potential and how he was able to make movies from prison. It is also an attempt to take a look behind the scenes of film production and the prison walls of exile.
3. To relate my encounter with Güney as it really happened. All sorts of myths have been created around his life, especially in Turkey. The story dates back 32 years but has lost none of its topicality. Güney not only expressed himself through his films, but also in his writings and speeches. His 10-page article in the press booklet for ‘Yol’ (see p. 198) is still current and explosive.
I can only talk about those situations I lived through (1979-1984). I have archive boxes full of various documents and photos. I also have my diaries from 1981 and 1982 and have used them to check on some of my memories. My knowledge of what happened after 1984 is only fragmentary. There are additional documents, photos, and videos on the website www.yol-the-book.com. Some of these date back to that time and shed light on some special, production-related aspects (they are very incomplete); at the same time, they beg the question of what happened after that.
There are no books on Güney available in German. The only publication is the script for ‘Sürü’ (1980). There is an abundance of material in Turkish, and I am familiar with the most important publications. I have had these translated in parts. Since Güney is a mythic figure in Turkey, what is written about him is error-prone and interpretive – people write about Güney’s work and activities from hearsay rather than fact. I would refer readers interested in this Kurdish
filmmaker and his work (beyond the scope of this book) to the large amount of material on the web.
My hope is that Güney Film in Istanbul will be able to preserve his films, technically and organizationally, and ensure that they endure as befits this great artist. Film negatives must be preserved, and DVDs, preferably with digitally restored versions (including various subtitled versions), should be made available again.
The production of ‘Yol’ took place when there were no mobile phones or computers as we know them today. We did not always have a camera with us and so we made relatively few recordings of our own. Nevertheless I have chosen to use a picture-book format, using what I call symbolic images. In principle, the production of a film is always carried out in the same way. Filmmakers from a wide variety of languages and cultures are able to work together without any problem so
long as there is both common craft and a guide for carrying out this craft – the script – in a language that everyone can understand. This is usually English. But it can also work without words, with body language. For example, Güney and the Swiss editor Elizabeth Waelchli often communicated merely with gestures: a small tap on the shoulder, a meaningful look, or the like, were enough for them to understand each other.
A wide variety of films have been made all over the world, under very different circumstances and influencing factors. A film is a bit like a tomato: you can’t tell how and where it has been cultivated just by looking at it. But when you eat it, you know whether the tomato has been grown hydroponically or in the sun on the vine. A film is the same. People do not watch films to find out how they were created.
Like many other people, I find that the current situation on this earth sometimes seems so chaotic, unjust and brutal that it is difficult to hope for a better future. For example, recent developments in Turkey are extremely worrying. It seems as if we are going back to the 1980s. For us, the now retired ’68ers, it’s as if we’re waking up back then. It was on September 12, 1980, that the military took over from the Prime Minister and installed an extremely repressive dictatorship. Today, once again, prisons are overflowing. In Turkey, anyone free and harmless can be arrested if they express any criticism. Repression is such that Turkish consulates and embassies are keeping track of everything, of what is said or written about the country.
It is not uncommon for a charge to originate from the Man in Ankara with the thousand rooms. In Turkey now, there appears to be something akin to a thought crime. You can be arrested and not know how many charges have been filed against you. The way the government is being run from Ak Saray (White House), there is a danger that the Turkish population will, like sandstone, be sandpapered and disintegrate into hostile groups.
I sit here in my comfortable apartment in Zurich, in this beautiful and orderly Switzerland. A country that radiates peace and quiet, but daily struggles to make direct democracy truly live. Moreover, my country is still seeking its place in Europe and can neither decide for or against.
Many Swiss people of my generation believe in the cliché of Switzerland’s pure white cloak, in the myths of William Tell and the Rütli Oath. The fictitious act of Switzerland’s founding into a state in 1291 is nothing but dusty legend, which at best serves the purposes of tourist advertising. The rightwing conservative circles in Switzerland continue to harp on about this mythical, transfigured state. They deliberately forget that today’s Switzerland was only founded with its first constitution, moving from a confederation of states to a federal state, in 1848. In 2006, those same conservative elites went to Turkey to celebrate the anniversary of the establishment of the Civil Code, copied from Swiss legislation (ZGB). At this celebration in Ankara, then Federal Councilor Christoph
Blocher forgot to ask whether these laws were being applied in Turkey today.
Frankly, I am ashamed that Switzerland has missed so many opportunities since the end of the war in 1945. Its arrogance prevents the country from freely and emphatically taking clear positions. It is only when outside pressure builds that Switzerland is forced to accept and admit misconduct, and then change its laws. The analysis of historians only came with the Bergier Report, published in 2002. Among others, the following topics were covered: the Nazi gold scandal, dormant assets, banking secrecy, the platform and hub for organized crime, tax evasion, refugee and asylum policy, the “boat is full” mentality, arms exports.
In the 1970s and 1980s many Swiss filmmakers were “besmirching the nest.” For example, “Die Erschiessung des Landesverräters Ernst S.” (“The Resolution of the Country Representative Ernst S.”) by Richard Dindo or “Das Boot ist voll” (“The Boat Is Full”) by Markus Imhoof spoke the unsayable, which often led to parliamentary attempts to reduce the funds available for financing films. In Zurich, for example, the government councilor Alfred Gilgen, head of the education
department (1971-1995), often refused to award the Zurich Film Prize to a particular film. As a result, filmmakers would collect money so that they could give the non- awarded filmmaker a consolation prize.
I mention these events in Switzerland because I wonder how long it will take for Turkey to come to terms with the past when that process begins. In light of the current political situation, that does not even seem possible right now.
It was impossible to get a grant from the Swiss Film Commission for filming ‘Yol’ because even back then there was no co-production agreement between Turkey and Switzerland. And we were disappointed, but not at all surprised, when it became clear that a request for asylum in Switzerland for Güney and his family had no chance of success. We therefore had to leave my country as soon as possible.
I am aware that there are many people around the world who are exposed to violence. Many people have had Güney’s bitter experience. And, unfortunately, such evil continues in any number of hot spots around the world. This book is dedicated to all victims of oppression and exclusion, and I hope will serve as a reminder and a memorial. Yılmaz Güney would have agreed.