Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Documentary filmmakers take on dams

Three helmet-clad riot police trying to subdue one white-haired grandmother. Angry villagers facing off with the gendarmerie. Former government supporters saying they now hate the officials for whom they once voted and prayed. From the scenes shown in a group of recent Turkish documentaries, it would appear a revolt is brewing in Anatolia -- over dams.

Though many of the new films focus on the threat of dams and hydroelectric power plants (HPPs) in Turkey's Black Sea region, the parallels with the situation in Hasankeyf are strong. People are stuck in limbo, not knowing what will happen to their homes, and to their traditional livelihoods. The affected communities are typically small, rural, and often isolated, both from ways of making their voice heard at a national or international level, and from other villages at risk from similar projects with whom they might create common cause.
Film still from "Damn the Dams"

Many of the documentary filmmakers tackling the issue say they wanted to give a voice to villagers affected by dams and help connect the individual struggles. Speaking at a panel, "HPPs and Docs," organized last week as part of the 31st Istanbul Film Festival, some filmmakers said that they didn’t see the need to include interviews with dam supporters.

"We didn't want to add to the visibility of the [pro-dam] argument," said Özlem Işıl, one of the directors of "Akıntıya Karşı" (Against the Current). Added co-director Umut Kocagöz, "HPPs are rational, so an emotional reaction has to be shown as well."

Turkish docs on dams

* "Akıntıya Karşı" (Against the Current), directed by Volkan Işıl, Özlem Işıl, Umut Kocagöz, and Ezgi Akyol
* "Bir Avuç Cesur İnsan" (A Few Brave People), directed by Rüya Arzu Köksal
* "İşte Böyle" (Damn the Dams), directed by Özlem Sarıyıldız and Osman Şişman
* "Sudaki Suretler" (Figures in the Water), directed by Erkal Tulek
Putting aside the question of whether dam construction is always the rational choice, the appeal of either a film or a movement seems limited if it does not address opposing viewpoints, as Rüya Arzu Köksal, the director of "Bir Avuç Cesur İnsan" (A Few Brave People), argued at the same panel.

“Showing the tension between antagonists and protagonists is much more effective in getting attention,” Köksal said. “We wanted to give the audience a chance to interrogate their own consciences on the issue.”


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