- One of the films I most enjoyed in this year's Edinburgh International Film Festival was Zer (which I reviewed here). Zer is the story of Jan (Nik Xhelilaj) a young man studying music in New York
who becomes close to his Turkish grandmother, Zarife (Güler Ökten), in
her dying days and is fascinated by a Kurdish song she sings (the Zer of
the title). I was invited to interview the director, Kazim Oz via email: Q1. What was the original inspiration for the film?
The story is based upon a song called ZER that I heard so much while I was shooting a documentary in 2005. Both in shooting process and after the shooting was over, song really haunts me, I always encounter with it. Later on, I worked on the story of the Zer and I put it in a kind of historical dimension. It turned out to be related to 1938 Massacre that was executed by Turkish Republic upon Kurdish people living in Dersim.
Q2. Is Zer a real song and is the story behind it (as shown in the film) a real story?
There are lots of traditional and different versions of the same song Zer. I just wrote a new song and story out of all these different versions. I even wrote new lyrics for the song which has different melody.
Q3. How would Jan's reactions to his experiences have differed if he had been based in Istanbul rather than New York?
It is well thought idea to choose NYC rather than Istanbul and Europe. It is consciously chosen. I thought how far the road and distance is from the roots, then the impact of the journey/quest will be deepen. The story will be stronger if the distance is getting long. It is valid for both culturally and geographically. Someone from Istanbul will cover a short distance to find his/her roots. If I had chosen someone from Istanbul, his relations with his grandmother and his own culture would be different. Undoubtedly, his psychology would be different, as well.
Q4. How did you avoid the blending of past and present in the film from becoming confusing?
In this film, Zer is one the main characters. It also plays a great important role for every each character of the film. Therefore, past and the present must be blending in each other but at the same time it should not be chaotic and suffocating for the audiences. Past and present intermingle in such a soft way in our life that we could not even notice it, it must be like that. Past, present and the future are not separate from each other with radical boundaries and limits. There is actually a kind of wholistic flow of time. I tried to succeed to have cinematic correspond of this wholeness in Zer.
Q5. How do you hope viewers will react to the film?
They react the same way as imagine. They are really interested in the film, they follow it without being confused and being estranged from it. They watch it as if they were in this journey. I am very happy about it.
Q6. Is the film going to get international distribution? If so when will it be in cinemas?
It is on cinemas in Turkey, now. We had and still have great difficulties in distribution on national ground due to the censor executed by the government. You have watched uncensored version of it but some scenes you watched are not included in version being shown in Turkey. They are deleted. In Turkey, censored version of the film is on cinemas. Furthermore, although Zer has audiences who want to watch it, cinema halls are feared of government pressure and do not want to show Zer. As to current situation in distribution, we are looking for a foreign distributor to be able to show Zer in all around Europe. Lots of audiences demand Zer and show their request on social media accounts of Zer. I hope we will be on cinemas all around Europe till autumn.