Political Film Society - Newsletter #103 - May 15, 2001

May 15, 2001


The title of the film Journey to the Sun (Günese Yoculuk) describes a trek by a young Turkish man, Mehmet (played by Newroz Baz), with the body of his Kurdish friend Berzan (played by Nazmi Quirix) from the European side of Istanbul to Zorduc, a Kurdish village near the Iraqi border. Although he takes various modes of transportation (truck, train, bus, and horsecart), the story is not really about the trek but instead about why he takes the journey and what he sees. Kurds, including refugees from Iraq, inhabit villages in the southeastern part of Turkey, though many are assimilated if marginally employed into the life of Istanbul. Some Kurdish villagers have become terrorists in response to Turkish repression, which in turn has prompted a westward migration of Kurds toward Istanbul. News stories in the background of the film focus on a hunger strike of imprisoned Kurds, framing the story. Mehmet has a Turkish girlfriend, Arzu (played by Mizgin Kapazan); she and her parents have returned as guestworkers from Germany. Mehmet works for the city’s water department, identifying leaky pipes. One night, as he walks along with Berzan, a young crowd of Turks begins to attack a Kurdish motorist; when they believe that the two friends are both Kurds, they try to defend themselves and then run for their lives. Later, Mehmet is on a bus. A bag next to him on the bus, left by a passenger who ran off on seeing a police checkpoint, contains a gun. Mehmet is then arrested, roughed up by police during a week of interrogation (though more gently than in the 1978 film Midnight Express), evicted from a one-room apartment, fired by his employer because of the arrest, and shunned by Arzu’s parents. After his release, Berzan helps Mehmet to find employment and shelter. However, while interrogated, Mehmet is forced to give information about who gave him his various possessions, and in due course the police track down Berzan, who gave him a free music cassette after the incident with the anti-Kurdish crowd.

Berzan then dies during interrogation, as he is a member of the Kurdish terrorist underground. Nevertheless, Mehmet then feels obligated out of friendship to take the body from the morgue to Berzan’s hometown. En route, he sees the results of the scorched-earth policy of the Turkish government toward entire Kurdish communities. Mehmet, thus, plays the role of a Turkish innocent who discovers what is really happening to the Kurds in Turkey. One scene shows tanks entering a town, looking for targets; other scenes show the results. Directed and written by Yesim Ustaoglu and financed by Western European sources, Journey to the Sun is a stinging indictment of the Turkish government’s persecution of the Kurds, in stark contrast with the idyllic picture in Steam (1998). At the beginning of Journey to the Sun, we see the Grand Mosque and the beauty of Istanbul, but by the end of the film we have viewed cows grazing on a dump where the poor scavenge for treasure, prostitutes, pushcart hawkers, the poverty of the slums and the countryside, and the desperate methods of the government, frightening even small children carrying banned newspapers. Despite Turkey’s ambition to join the European Union, Journey to the Sun portrays an unacceptable level of police brutality and human rights violations of the Kurds, yet censors allowed filming in Turkey. Accordingly, Journey to the Sun is the first film of 2001 to be nominated by the Political Film Society for best film exposé, best film on human rights, and best film on peace. MH

The Caning, a screenplay by Michael Haas, is now available for downloading on www.sgbooks.org. Although the screenplay will probably never be made into a film, the text provides new insights into why the American teenager was unjustly punished in 1994 for a crime that he did not commit in a repressive Southeast Asian country.