Mum's the word

Ohran Eskiköy and Zeynel Dogan’s Tiger contender was born of a previous documentary project, they tell Edward Lawrenson

It was while working on their acclaimed documentary On the Way to School that directors Ohran Eskiköy and Zeynel Dogan had the germ of an idea that would form the basis of Voice of My Father. “The documentary is about a Turkish teacher who was sent by the government to a small Kurdish school,” explains Eskiköy, who is Turkish. During production, Dogan, a Kurd from a small village in Elbistan in southern Turkey, mentioned that he and his family exchanged news on audio cassette with their father while he was working in Saudi Arabia.

These audio letters figure prominently in Eskiköy and Dogan’s Tiger entrant. Taking the lead role, Dogan plays a character – also called Zeynel – who returns to his home town in Elbistan to visit his mother and learn more of their father, who passed away some years ago. As he attempts to better understand the past, Zeynel learns more about the violent political climate of his youth. Dogan’s real-life mother Asiye Dogan plays the on-screen Zeynel’s mother, and the film draws heavily on their family’s story.

“The preparation alone brought up lots of memories,” says Dogan about the sometimes uncomfortable creative process. “But I had two positions. I was returning to these experiences but I was also making the film at the same time: I was in it and outside it.”

Although the original tapes to Dogan’s father still exists, the quality was poor and so Dogan asked his mother to re-record them. “She was very stressed and nervous about speaking again to her husband,” says Eskiköy. “It was difficult for Zeynel too, to direct his mother while she was reliving the past.”

Was it difficult to persuade her to act in the film? “I’ve been involved with this film for such a long time so my mother heard a lot about it,” says Dogan. “She knew exactly what we wanted to do so it wasn’t hard to involve her.” Eskiköy adds: “It was a big crew and she was surprised by the number of people who turned up. But by the end she wanted to tell a story of her life.”

Describing their working relationship, Eskiköy says that he and Dogan decide everything together but he has control of everything behind the camera while Dogan works with the actors. He also credits the Hubert Bals post-production award for allowing them the chance to devote some time to good sound design: the eventual budget, he adds, was around 500,000 Euros and the shoot lasted four weeks.

Ahead of the world première at the IFFR, Dogan admits he hasn’t screened the film to his mother yet. “In one way, she says she doesn’t want to see it, but I know she’s really curious about it – so she probably will see it.” Eskiköy adds: “She’s a very fantastic woman. In one way, she has control over us. Sometimes she gave us instructions about how to shoot it or to tell Zeylan how to act like her.” So she’s like a third director? “Yeah”, laughs Eskiköy.

More about Voice of My Father here.