WE all know how painful it can be to separate from a childhood friend. Zeynep Köprülü’s short film Dancing Girls beautifully and poetically captures this feeling by telling the story of two friends spending their last day together before one of them moves abroad.
Close-up Culture are proud to welcome Zeynep on to the site to dive deeper into her film and background.
Q: Dancing Girls is a story of losing a friend that I am sure many of us can relate to. Did this story come from your own childhood or life?
A: THIS story relates to my childhood memories. When I was a child I moved to different countries and cities several times, leaving many beloved friends behind. That is why this story is close to my heart, and I’ve incorporated emotions that I have experienced.
As a director, when I come up with the idea of a film, it always includes a part of me – from my experiences and from the situations I’ve been through. But even if it includes a part of me, the story should always be universally relatable. It is not only my story but the story of all the people who have had to move to new places and have left their loved ones behind. So I think everyone can relate with this emotion that is emphasized in Dancing Girls.
Q: There is a naturalism to the story with references to the eclipse and the girls floating in water, as well as themes of separation, youth and friendship. What were some of the themes you wanted to explore in the film?
A: THE theme I most wanted to explore was displacement. Leaving a place or staying behind while others are going away interested me very much as film subjects.
In Dancing Girls, one of the main characters – Melis – decides to leave the small town she is from to settle down in a new life in a new country. This is where the theme of displacement comes into play. And of course for the other character – Aslı – there is the theme of separation and melancholy.
I wanted to express all these emotions with naturalistic symbols. In fact, the eclipse means a new beginning, reflecting the mood of Melis and Aslı. The water is dominant because the sea symbolizes the acceptance of the situation and learning to let go. It is a rebirth. I wanted the film to be driven by emotions that were reflected from these naturalistic symbols, and to create the visual style accordingly.
Q: The film is set in a beautiful costal location and the evening summer party scene reminded me of the beauty of Call Me By Your Name. Where did you film and how was the shoot?
WE filmed it in a summer town called Çeşme on the Aegean Sea coast of Turkey. When I shoot a movie, the location of the story is always very important. It is crucial to find the perfect location that fits the story.
When I was imagining the scenes as I wrote, the little village of Ildır in Çeşme was always on my mind. It reflects the atmosphere of my childhood summer holidays, and it carries the emotions that I mentioned.
We shot in summer and the shoot was fantastic. We had a small budget and limited time but we were an awesome crew. All crew members had a great connection, and everybody was really helpful and hard working. Also I cannot underemphasize the tremendous help of the local people. So despite the limitations we faced, I was surrounded by amazing people who helped make this film what it is. This was my first fiction short, and it was a very exciting and magical experience for me.
Q: We already know how talented Elit Işcan is from Mustang, but this also was a nice introduction to Nazli Durak. What was it like working with these two young actresses and what did they bring to the project as individuals?
A: IT was really exciting for me to have both Nazlı and Elit in this project. Nazlı Durak did not have any previous acting experience, but together with Elit İşcan they created miracles.
Both of the actresses performed their roles wonderfully. Elit is a really talented and creative actress. I was always thinking of her for the role of Melis as I created the character in the script. So having Elit in the film was a great opportunity for all of us.
But finding an actress to act alongside Elit İşcan was a challenge. Out of pure coincidence I had happened to cross paths with Nazlı Durak and at that moment I decided she was the right person. The two actresses had a natural connection and instantly clicked together so I realized this was the right decision.
In the film the characters are really good friends so it was special to see how Nazlı and Elit evoked the right feelings for this onscreen duo and how they supported one another through the whole process. Both of them are sensitive, talented and hard working so I was grateful to have worked with both of them.
Q: Are there any stories you can share from working on the film with these two young actresses?
A: BEFORE I started shooting this film, I was working on another project for an NGO in Istanbul. This was how I met Nazlı Durak who was working for this NGO and we instantly bonded. I realized quickly she was mature for her age and carried herself with a certain kind of sensitivity.
But she was also lively and enthusiastic. It did not take me long to figure out she was perfect for the character of Aslı. So the fact that I met her out of pure chance had an important impact on the film. When both actresses met and began rehearsals their natural harmony produced the exact feelings between the characters I was hoping for.
Through this whole process we all understood one another perfectly and the performances ran smoothly. We even made some improvisations with Elit and Nazlı in certain scenes that added another level to the film.
Q: You are the founder of Periferi Film. Can you tell us more about the company and your background?
A: PERIFERI Film is an Istanbul-based company aiming to produce and co-produce feature-length and short films as well as documentaries that explore new cinematic expressions. We are also working with foreign productions that are interested in shooting their projects in Turkey. I studied film in Istanbul and attended the cinema academy FAMU in Prague.
Back in my studies I was always interested in directing and made several student short films. But after I graduated I somehow found myself getting involved more with the production aspect of filmmaking. I had the opportunity to work with production teams for international films shot in Turkey which was interesting and provided amazing experiences, but I missed making my own productions where I could focus on more artistic projects. So I decided to start my own company.
As a result I have had the chance to collaborate with tremendous directors as a co-producer. The work I did with these directors was a source of inspiration and it was also a source of envy as I longed to go back to direct my own film projects. And this is how I got started with Dancing Girls.
Q: What is the current climate for and attitude towards Turkish filmmakers, particularly women?
A: THE film industry is typically male dominated. But that is the case in the rest of the world, not just in Turkey. Despite this, there are some really talented women in Turkey working on films that stand out.
Since the theme in Dancing Girls evolves around women, we aimed to have a mostly female crew. It was a decision made in union with our amazing director of photography Annegret Sachse and our producer Utku Zeka. All departments including camera, lighting, art direction and the AD department were predominately operated by women professionals. This was important for us and we will try to maintain this as the standard in upcoming projects.
Q: What kind of stories do you want to tell in the future?
A: FOR now I am focusing on telling stories about women from my region. I also continue to be fascinated by themes of displacement and immigration. Currently I am working on my new short film “There”. It is a story of a Turkish woman who immigrates to France and faces a difficult choice to make between family and her new life.