The impact on young people is central to the films at this year’s Antalya Fest that deal with the Syrian refugee crisis – but the burden on those nearby doing their utmost to care for them is the subject taken on by Andac Haznedarolglu’s “The Guest.”
The evocative imagery of this groundbreaking Turkish-Jordanian co-production, lensed with strong production values, helps convey the sense of life on the streets – and in the sweatshops – that survivors of war find as their new home in Turkey.
“I wanted to talk about the story I’ve seen all of my life, and I don’t mean just the war in Syria,” the writer-director says. “It’s not about the war itself – it’s about the influence of people.”
The film’s plot evolved from research into hundreds of real-life stories involving refugee families, women and children, she says.
“I was working nearly three years just writing and then I also produced and directed. Now they have become a part of my life – all refugee children and women.”
In one twist of life imitating art, one of the key characters in “The Guest,” a child actress, had to change her plans to appear for the screening in Antalya, says the director.
“When we finished the movie, all the stories became real. She has escaped to Greece now. She’s in a camp – a refugee camp. I followed her and found her in Thessaloniki, where they continue now.”
Travel back to Turkey is no longer on the cards, Haznedarolglu says. “She really wanted to come but she hasn’t got a passport – she hasn’t got an identity.”
Haznedarolglu, who brings nearly 20 years of experience in the TV industry to “The Guest,” felt she had to leave behind that life to develop her story on the big screen. “I went to script writing workshops and I wrote the script,” she says.
Essential to the process was the Brooklyn-based Independent Filmmaker Project, where Haznedarolglu applied and was mentored in developing the film. With no intent to return to TV, the director says she’s now focusing on two more film projects.
As with other films that take on the refugee issue at the Antalya Fest, many of the characters playing those fleeing the war are not acting. With the exception of a few professional actors, such as Jordanian star Saba Mubarak, who plays the dogged Syrian minder of a handful of orphans, Meryem, “the cast are refugees,” says Haznedarolglu.
While filming, actors and survivors bonded while forging the story together, says the director. “They’re really engaged – that’s really important for me.”
“They were also really fighting,” she says, laughing. “I really love them.”
Filmed in a brisk one month with efficiency borne of Haznedarolglu’s broadcast career, “The Guest” also imparted lessons not generally found in TV serials, says the director.
“Movies are very different – deep and touching. I learned many things.”
One issue with casting refugees in central roles, says the filmmaker, was the emotional flashbacks that sometimes arose when shooting cut a little too close to home. At one point, she explains, when filming survivors boarding rubber boats headed for Greece, some cast members become overwhelmed with emotion thinking of those they’ve lost and the horrors of just such a journey.
“They were sitting on the seaside and they were really, really crying,” says Haznedarolglu. “We were also crying.”
Another cast member had recently seen her husband killed by ISIS, she adds. “Many of the stories are very, very real.”
After filming this story, says the director, sometimes in border regions where bombs were dropping close by, the day-to-day crises of friends and work in Istanbul now have little meaning. “Some of my girlfriends are going through breakups – it means nothing to me.”