Interview with Dervis Zaim,
director of Somersault in a Coffin
By David Walsh |20 October 1997
David Walsh: These days films about ordinary people are very rare. Why did you choose such a subject?
Dervis Zaim: Because it's a subject really close to me. I saw these people around. Actually, the main character is based on a real person. Besides, the environment in Turkey, in Istanbul, is so much like this. This is a low-budget, no-budget film. No institution helped us. We produced it with friends, by guerrilla filmmaking, and this helped me to think more independently. The market dictates certain kinds of thinking, of aesthetic production. Since I had relatively free conditions, I was able to talk about this guy, his environment, Turkey's environment as well.
DW: What are the social conditions in Istanbul today?
DZ: Poverty is growing day by day. Turkey is in the process of integrating itself into the capitalist system. It is speeding up. These are the consequences of this process. Every day more people lose their jobs. The level of hunger, which was something rare 20 years ago, is increasing. All these things affect my thinking. Besides, I like Italian neorealism. My aesthetic choices, together with the conditions, prompted me to do this film.
DW: Do you have difficulties with your government?
DZ: This is my first film. Up to now I haven't had any difficulties. We produced this film independently. Censorship is less severe now, compared with five or six years ago. You needed enormous determination to make a film ten years ago.
DW: Is there an audience for your film in Turkey?
DZ: Americanization, standardization is everywhere around the world. People want Terminator. These are the films that enjoy box office success. My film is not successful in this sense. Thirty thousand people have seen it, in the big cities. Distribution is a big problem for me. You know the problem, you make a film but you are not able to distribute it.
DW: American films are everywhere?
DZ: You cannot believe it, in every single theater. Even in small towns. The production level of Turkish cinema is decreasing year by year. Fifteen years ago there were forty films a year made, now there are less than fifteen. If we make that many the press and the critics are happy. Fifteen films is good for Turkey now.
DW: What influence can or should art have on the lives of people?
DZ: It's not an immediate effect, of course. I don't think that people see a film and go to change their lives immediately. This is a long-term process. It takes time. But in the long run, I think people can change from films they have seen. At least I have changed in this process. I am not the same person I was before I started to make this film. There is hope.
DW: What is the relationship between film and reality?
DZ: I believe in fiction. All art is fiction, after all. You have to fictionalize everything in order to give it a truly realistic sense. It is a very complicated concept. The problems of the external world interest me. Postmodernism, that sort of thing, is a luxury for us. Between these two extremes, fiction and reality, together both of them create the film itself. I'm fictionalizing something, but I'm careful not to take it too far from reality.
DW: Why do you make films?
DZ: First of all, personally, I feel better when I make films. I tried to be an insurance salesman. After two months, I quit. Filmmaking in Third World countries is dangerous. You put yourself in danger. I like making films. I like the rhythm of directing, of watching, of writing, even of trying to find money. I even like this painful stage. Of course there are other things, a lot of problems in the outside world. I want to represent these problems, to create these celluloid works. These concerns are integrated into my personal situation and feelings.