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Berlinale: Turkish Director Ceylan Ozgun Ozcelik on ‘Inflame’ and Media Censorship in Turkey

“Inflame” (“Kaygi”), a first feature by Ceylan Ozgun Ozcelik, is a psychological thriller centered on a woman who suffers recurring nightmares of working on a TV news channel. She lives alone in an apartment left to her by her parents, who died in a car crash 20 years earlier. But the nightmares are actually memories, and her parents could still be alive. “Inflame” is the only Turkish film playing this year at the Berlin Film Festival, where it world premiered Sunday (Feb. 12) in the Panorama section.

Ozçelik, a former movie critic on television, spoke to Variety about how the film, written with guidance from the Sundance Film Institute’s Screenwriter’s Lab in Istanbul, reflects her country’s recent history and current climate. Here are excerpts from the interview.

“Inflame” germinated at a time when the situation in Turkey was less turbulent. Can you talk to me about the choice of title?

The Turkish title is “Kaygi,” which is actually a different word. “Kaygi” in Turkish means “worry” or “anxiety.” It’s a very popular word in Turkey now. The Sundance lab in Turkey helped me come up with the English-language title.

How do you feel about the idea that due to the title people are going to associate it with the post-coup climate? 

The film actually turns on something that happened in the ’90s. The protagonist is searching for some kind of sense of her parents’ death. She has been brought up thinking they died in a car accident. It’s about memory and forgetting, but also about the oblivion generated by a collaboration between the government and mass media. When I started writing this film I started asking myself, How much can one forget? Is there a limit to this oblivion? It was unavoidable that the main character was a journalist working in the mainstream media, as I did.

How is your experience working in Turkish TV reflected in the film?

Though I never worked as a news journalist, I observed my friends and co-workers in situations that I could not actually put in the script because the audience would think that it’s overwritten, exaggerated. For almost two years, I worked for this production company that worked directly for government TV. They would get names of certain people that had to be excluded from the news, especially from social media.

Yet this film is partly funded by the government.

Yes, the Ministry of Culture has seen a longer version of the film, in order for it to get financing.

Can you tell me how the Sundance lab helped you with the script? 

I was accepted into the lab with just a 60-page draft. I had two tutors, Naomi Foner and Howard Rodman, who were very helpful. They explained to me what was missing in terms of the connections between the film’s themes. I was also told that “Inflame” was reminiscent of Polanski’s “The Tenant,” which made me very happy because I was drawing inspiration from that film. They encouraged me, and this was very meaningful to me.

How deliberate was the choice of venturing into thriller territory?

I just love thrillers; I am crazy about them.  The apartment is a very strong symbolic element that you have in many thrillers, especially those that deal with traumatic events from the past. In this case, history seeps into the apartment, and the most powerful support [to this narrative device] comes from the sound.

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