Nejla Demirci: Everyone will watch this movie (Part 2)
By İrfan Aktan
Few films have captured the terrible status of free expression in Turkey, such as Kanun Hukmu (The Rule of Law), directed by Nejla Demirci. The government attacked the documentary. The opposition could not dare say, "Wait a minute, let us see what is being said in this movie," a documentary that acted as a window into the country's realities but was never watched.
This issue serves as a crucial litmus test. A large portion of the public employees fired during the state of emergency imposed following the coup attempt on July 15 were leftists who had long-standing disagreements with the Fetullahists who carried out the coup.
The film Kanun Hukmu puts this part of the problem—which the government refuses to discuss—back on the agenda. After those who haven't seen the film have had a chance to voice their opinions, let us hear from Nejla Demirci, the film's producer and director.
What does the Constitutional Court's ruling say about the ban on shooting your film as a violation of freedom of expression?
The Constitutional Court evaluated this at great length and issued an exemplary decision. According to my lawyer Ergin Cinmen, this is the first time in the republic's history that there has been such a long and comprehensive discussion on freedom of expression in art. My film has been altered to remove the word (opinion, expression) from the source. This is why the Constitutional Court is debating the ban on producing a film without even knowing what it would say. This is a critical decision for Turkish cinema. In one meeting, Umit Kivanc stated, "Friends, take a printout of this decision and carry it in your pocket."
Did you also face obstacles in the process after the Supreme Court decision?
Shortly after we received the Constitutional Court decision, all my bank accounts were seized! I later learned this was done because I had not paid the fines imposed on me for "violating the legislation on misdemeanors" while the recording occurred. This was done despite the Constitutional Court's ruling. As a result, I was forced to cope with an unlawful process again.
How did the application to the Golden Orange Film Festival and the subsequent process work?
I, like everyone else, waited for the Golden Orange Film Festival and submitted my application because I believed that this documentary would be a consoling message for the people living under the state of emergency decrees, who had experienced a time of great destruction and that their voices could finally be heard. Then I contacted the festival committee, stressing that, "This film was subjected to a lot of media coverage during the production process; we went through such and such a process. Don't let these publications mislead you because we overcame all this through the law, through the Constitutional Court's decision."
After the movie was approved for the festival, a terrible lynch campaign was started to damage our society's precarious discussion culture. What morality, conscience, or rationale could there be when pro-government journalists openly attack the Constitutional Court's decision, saying that "this is terrorist propaganda," and a professional actor on television analyzes the decision?
Did Antalya Mayor Muhittin Bocek watch the movie?
The mayor, as well as the pre-jury, was unable to support the festival or my film. The jury serves as the voice of Antalya's people. The mayor does not even respect his people if he does not stand behind the jury and does not demonstrate that respect. Muhittin Bocek has little regard for theatre workers when he refers to a "known movie." How can a film you have not watched be called a "known movie"? With this cowardice, you cannot run cultural and arts events. The festival was called off after the film was removed under one pretext and returned under another, and you, as the mayor, still will noteven say "Let me watch this film; let me know what this film is about"! Suppose you don't care about movies and don't feel sorry for the millions of individuals negatively impacted by the emergency decrees. In that case, you can discuss this movie with a lawyer. You can speak with the jury members who watched this movie and left the room after it was rejected from the festival, all of whom made excellent movies! Even better, Muhittin Bocek might have phoned the Ministry of Culture and me, the film's director, and suggested we see the film together and discuss it. When that happened, he could simply ask "What aspect of this movie encourages terrorism?" An unwatched movie is put on trial, and a verdict is given the force of law! A social democrat mayor could have prevented all this.
How did the entire process make you feel?
This problem is not just mine. In this nation, social opposition and our shared values have been decimated. I felt renewed optimism when I observed the unifying stance of all movie industry personnel against the censorship and banning of the movie Kanun Hukmu and the effects this had on society. This response deepened our connection to life. Our filmmakers made history with their resistance despite the power structure's trump card in a nation where TRT and the Ministry of Culture are the primary sources for producing films. The opposition among Turkish filmmakers has become dignified.
How did this procedure impact Yasemin Demirci and Engin Karatas, the two main characters in your movie?
Yasemin and I were astonished as we watched Erdogan's opening remarks to the Turkish Grand National Assembly. My mother asked, "Is he talking about our movie?" as her face went white. I assured her that people won't think that when they watch it. Of course, she was very uncomfortable. The Engin family feels restless. My acquaintances are, too. Patients of Yasemin frequently phone me and plead with me, "Doctor, don't allow anything to happen to you." However, they are individuals who have previously gone through this procedure with pain.
By the way, how did you find out that the movie was excluded from the festival?
Ahmet Boyacioglu, the director of the Golden Orange Film Festival, called me after the film was removed from the festival and this decision was announced. After talking to him, I checked the social media, and the incident had already exploded! However, the public's backing made Yasemin and Engin, Turkish movie and film workers who had been anxious in the face of all this harassment, quite delighted. Before the pandemic, hundreds of women attended my screenings of breast cancer-related films in various places. I'm a documentary filmmaker who works in that industry and runs to the audience. With Kanun Hukmu, I was able to observe how well-known the industry is. The general population knows about my movies and the suffering the Emergency Decree brings. Politicians are considerably behind the general population in this regard. They are attempting to sway the public back because of this. Look at the types of remarks people make about censoring my movie on social media in their cities and villages and notice how the opposition and politicians remain silent!
What do you mean?
Kemal Kilicdaroglu says nothing about what his own party's municipality did to my movie. Is it possible that Kilicdaroglu missed this while there was such turmoil? So why is he quiet now? I am disappointed by this.
Kanun Hukmu has evolved into a documentary that nobody watches, but everyone critiques. Do you intend to broadcast the documentary on a social media site where anyone can view it to break this?
First, the attempt to outlaw a movie today indicates a lack of modern sensibility. A judgment is being made about a movie that has not been seen. This prohibition has revealed the natural character of Turkey's arts and culture sector, the ruling party, and the opposition. In response to this absurdity, the public argued that "you cannot control how I rate a movie intended for me to enjoy." The artists and cinema cinema employees never left me alone. I will consider the procedure in advance and make sure the film, in some manner, reaches all viewers.