How much were you interested in the situation of Kurdish people living in Turkey before beginning your work on this film?
Since it’s been a big socio-political issue during the last decades I was always interested in the situation.
Why did you want to show a mother-son relationship?
I wanted to tell the story in a microcosm and on a core level of human society. Two family members: mother and son. For me, the character of the son represents a state of mind in Turkey which is influenced by doubt, fear and personal retreat in the face of many invisible borders within society. In the current state of juridical arbitrariness you can never be sure you’re on the safe side of it. Taboos, norms and now also the judiciary become fluid elements, which leads to confusion, hesitancy and isolation on a personal level. The vast majority doesn’t want to risk persecution in order the preserve their status quo. Then I was very interested in focussing on the opposing interests in a mother-son relationship. As families become older, responsibilities often change. I particularly wanted to explore how a son, who’s more frightened about state authority, would cope with his more rebellious and stubborn mother in that peculiar situation, with her being imprisoned in her own house. He is torn between rebellion and obedience and thus insecure. His actions draw him more and more into lies and intrigues trying to protect his mother. I wanted to explore how a lack of honest communication and a patriarchal desire to protect someone can lead to unpleasant outcomes.
What was your interest in positioning the characters in an isolated location?
The reduction of the cinematic space on the home of a family was necessary to focus on the core-metaphor of a society. The privacy of someone’s shelter is the last bastion of personal freedom. Throughout human history there have always been tendencies to private retreat during authoritarian times. In this particular case that last remaining space of liberty turns into a prison with invisible borders and is repeatedly penetrated by state authority. I wanted to explore the inner dynamics within a core family during external repression. Therefore, it was important for the narration to stay within that space, especially in a short film. Also, I was interested in creating a universal frame through the focus on one location, which is not characterized by a southeast Anatolian landscape with shabby old clay huts. I had a strong desire to avoid oriental clichés pointing out: that story could be just next door.
How did you work on law enforcement response?
Firstly, it was important for me to work against clichés of the sinister police officer and therefore giving the story a strong “black/white” feeling. As I come from documentary film, I did a lot of research of different cases of home imprisonment in Turkey, but also visiting the real family who had gone through that story. In their case the office in Ankara called up when the mother trespassed the border. For dramatic reasons we needed the police to come to their house in the film in order to exert more pressure on the family. The end is an example of vigilantism by the officers, who just want to find an easy solution for them so that they don’t have to show up every time the old lady trespasses the border.
Would you say that the short film format has given you any particular freedom?
Definitely, I love working within these circumstances. You have to break down the dramatic action, focussing on what’s most important. Reduction is a gift. In our case that was the decision to let it happen in one single location. Also it’s easier (and less costly) to experiment with content and form. My next film could look and feel completely different.
Are you Listening, Mother? was shown in International Competition.