Director Serkan Çiftçi focuses on LGBTI individuals’ struggle through the story of trans woman Deniz who lives in Mersin. The director says, “maybe hate does not end in these lands but neither does humanity and it won’t die.”
Source: Murat Emir Eren, XOXO The Mag, Gacı Gibi* (“Hatewalk”), http://www.xoxothemag.net/post/10385/serkan-ciftci-gaci-gibi
Hatewalk, a documentary on trans woman Deniz who experienced a horrible hate crime and LGBTI individuals’ struggle for rights in the southern city of Mersin, will be screened at the 16th !f Istanbul Independent Film Festival. We spoke to the film’s director Serkan Çiftçi about the film and the filming process.
How did you meet Deniz and the other trans individuals in the film? How did you shape Hatewalk?
Deniz is a sex worker who was subjected to a hate crime and barely made it out alive. The incident was widely known at that time in Mersin. Ece and Berfin (Esmeray) share a flat with Deniz, they are trans sex workers and activists, members of the Mersin 7 Colors Association. We set up an appointment with Ece and Berfin at the hairdresser you see in the film. We had a chat there. They were very casual. They were willing to be the subjects of the film. I guess we grew on each other that day.
But I should say, we went through many tests at the association until we got that appointment. There are many films on LGBTI [people] that are yet to be completed. It didn’t seem likely to them that a non-LGBTI person can represent them and make a decent enough film. First we convinced the young folks at the association. Then Yağmur Arıcan, the chair and Figen. We had quite the trial. But eventually we got along. Maybe that was the reason why they acted so casually at the hairdresser’s that day.
Anyway we made it into the house. At first Deniz didn’t take to the idea. After a few visits she got used to us. They were three people. We were also three people. We built a mutual trust. And I guess we also managed to become friends too. It was very interesting to be with trans sex workers during Deniz’s treatment. This is an LGBTI association that is a pioneer in the region and their struggle that overflows to the streets is remarkable. The conditions allowed us to follow two stories at once. We initiated the shoot with this idea. Imagining that Deniz would be walking without her crutches in 2014 Istanbul Pride Walk, we planned a shoot for a period of there and a half to four months and started working.
Hatewalk is full of ‘talking heads’ and interviews; it’s not an informative documentary neither does it prompt us into a certain perspective, it is a documentary that rather follows certain ‘testimonies’. Did you go for such a style when you started the project? Or did it follow a path of its own? How much of your vision could you realize?
When I started shooting the film, I didn’t know what we’d encounter or what kind of story would emerge but I was certain of its style. It was a matter I didn’t take lightly. One thing I didn’t want to see in the film was a talking head. I wasn’t [planning] to film an interview. I wanted something like a fiction film, one scene after another… Working within the conventions of classical narrative, with a time that flows chronologically, aiming for a continuity… I will use this phrase, because I think it brings a smile: the wish to be ‘a fly on the wall’ and capture the audience – the feeling was there before the film.
Hatewalk really challenged me. Even when you have a script and a mise-en-scene, the film never turns out to be what you imagined. When you consider the field we were in, it was like we were in an away game. But the sincere friendships we built formed this style. Berfin’s help made our progress easier. We planned two strong finales, it would be self-explanatory if I say we couldn’t shoot either. We’re talking about an amateur, low budget production, without funding. Although I couldn’t shoot it the way I wanted, I’m happy with the outcome.
There is an increase in the number of films in the LGBTI Films category as well as LGBTI film festivals and this is great. But some of these films put LGBTI individuals and negative, painful events side by side. While this creates emotion, it also constantly creates a negative perception and runs the danger of agitation. Hatewalk, however, does not give much credit to this side and instead chooses to explain these negativities in a rather positive way. Was this a decision when you were starting out the film? Are there projects you were inspired by?
The fact that Deniz experienced an event with major injuries that could have ended her life gives her great grief. I was deeply affected by her continued joy despite it all. All the other characters are joyous, funny, sincere people. I laughed a lot with them and can say I had a good time. I think people shouldn’t lose their joy. Let it not be misunderstood when I say we laughed and had fun. There were times when I lost my breath, could not speak a word, and when I was torn to pieces. When we consider the harshness of their life, positivity is part of their nature.
This is precious to me because I wanted to show what the characters live through, their emotions and pain without exaggeration. Agitation is a very easy path when telling such stories but it’s not a path I want to take. What opened my path was their joy. The energy at the association was high. They are young people who have hopes, who dream, who plan and have fun. Their positivity was my guide when trying to understand their sensitivities and create balance in the stories.
The positive ways you mention were founded on this. The decision to focus on the total struggle for their bodies, desires, and freedoms rather than darkness was a principled one. These decisions determined the storytelling language of the film.
What was the most difficult subject for you and the trans women in the film during the shoots?
I’m not sure what was difficult for them but many subjects were difficult for me. The house was a house where guests kept coming. It was like a public space for LGBTIs. We would be 15 people in that small living room sometimes and many did not want to appear in the film. Laços  would come and go. There was also a fourth person in the house who did not want to be in the film. We had major challenges when setting up the cameras. Filming outside was even more difficult. You can’t imagine how much we were cursed at. We had to combat many difficulties. We managed to overcome the technical problems during the edit.
The scene where Deniz visits her family is probably one of the most moving events in the film. What did you experience there? Were you affected by her family’s treatment of Deniz?
In that scene, Deniz talks about her mother’s death and says, “I started primary school and two days later, my mother died.” I was deeply affected by the way she spoke about such a tragic event, in a simple tone. I thought there must be so much pain accumulated in there that she forgot to rebel against such an unfortunate event. She lost her family when she was very young.
In that village, that house, she was raised by her older sister. She’s like an angel and maybe the remedy of such a calamity. She’s such a woman that she raised two generations by herself, a mother whose hands are to be kissed. The children there are the second generation. Deniz and the rest are the first. She probably fed 30 people that day. May God give her a long life, I’m sure she’ll raise the next generation as well. I’m also sure that she’d teach humanity to us all. Deniz is from that house, the uncle of the kids. How can we not be moved by how she treats Ece and Berfin? Especially when we are after trying to understand and explain the violence and hate people produce without knowing each other…
Maybe hate does not end in these lands but neither does humanity and it won’t die. When we look at the solidarity in the film, the doctors and nurses, we understand how holy love is. The phrase “hate is overcome by love” belongs to one of the characters in the film. It’s no coincidence that we focus on the positive.
What else would you like to add about the project, anything you think could have been better?
I would have liked to include Laços , gacıs  who have been their neighbors and friends, men who have been lubunya  friendly. We filmed them, but could not include because we could not acquire permission to do so. I could have included lubun vocabulary more perhaps. Also, in certain scenes, we could not overcome problems about sound. I wish it could have been better. Actually, there were two characters I wanted to include in the movie. Ömrüm ve Figen. Both of them rejected being main characters in the movie. After we finished filming, first Figen, then shortly after Ömrüm departed from this world. We could not have prevented Ömrüm’s departure perhaps but things could have been different for Figen. This remains as a blow to my heart. I doubt it will heal. I dedicate Gacı Gibi to them. I hope the movie will reach the audience and be appreciated. More importantly, I hope the movie, at the least, manages to beat out the transphobia that is responsible for the cruelty they are exposed to every second in their merciless life.
 Laço- Adult top, gay or straight, between the ages of 20 and 30
 Gacı- Woman.
*The literal translation of the title “Gacı Gibi” is “Like Women.”
 Lubunya- Effeminate bottom