Tuna Özer (23) a filmmaker from Stockholm, has that je ne suis quoi about him. A few people I’ve met seem so apparently profound when I meet them for the first time, and he’s one of them. Why, I let you decide, from the interview that follows. I’m just here to give you the gist. He started making movies when he was 18, even before he attended Stockholm Film School, and now his work ranges from short films such as ‘Jaga Draken’ (2010), ‘Röd Måne’ (2011), to videos such as ‘Botkyrka’ for Skizz and various ads in his opus.
His father, Muammer Özer, is a renowned director in Turkey and abroad. Watching your dad make movies whilst growing up might mean that movies is what you grow into, almost naturally. Regardless of that, the road to fulfillment lays in not filling someone else’s shoes, but walking comfortably in your own. And it has to start somewhere.
I’ve asked Tuna to talk about his latest short-film, which is also his longest film up-to-date – ‘Röd Måne’ (eng= Red Moon). Röd Måne is currently being sent to festivals and has also been featured in high-schools provided as educational material for youngsters.
Tuna and I brushed upon topics that aren’t exactly easy breezy leitmotifs for conversations about the weather. Instead, we ended up discussing concepts of goodness, society, immigrants and honor related violence.
‘Röd Måne’, focuses on a teenage boy who finds himself betwixed inbetween expectations his father bestows upon him and his own feelings. On a larger scale, we are observing a classical dynamic of clashing cultures; traditional moralists (who also happen to be immigrants) on one side and liberal ones on the other. We see what happens when pressure is applied on an individual who doesn’t quite belong to either of the sides. What made you write a story like this?
– The first inspiration for the story came simply because I knew a person that was threatened by his family members because of his choice of partner, and inborn sexuality. As I was writing the script, another person I knew went to court with her parents for being harassed, beaten and threatened to death. She was in such a hard situation, she didn’t want to “betray” her family, but she couldn’t trust the Swedish system either, she was afraid and aware of the fact that she wouldn’t received the protection she needed after the trial. Despite all this, she reported her parents and sued them. She got kicked out from home, no one in her family recognized her as their own and if they had any contact, it was in an aggressive way. The Swedish justice system couldn’t do much either. First she had to battle long and hard for them to find her a proper, secure living, which wasn’t properly protected, as one of her cousins found her, so she had to move again. She had to leave all her friends, all her family and all the comforts of her everyday life. This made me furious. She couldn’t be accepted anywhere, and the feelings that Emir (the protagonist in the short film) goes through, the clash, I believe comes from this. These young people are not stupid, they have seen too many real life examples of people being let down by society and families abandoning their own blood. When you are brought up with this, you become insecure, when you become insecure, you often become easily affected.
And also, I think that there aren’t very many liberal voices around the main character until he meets his brother (Isa), who is a very liberal voice. And this is also important. These youths grow up in neighbourhoods where they are isolated from liberal voices, because their parents made a somewhat active choice to live there. By ‘active choice’, I mean that we as people often like to live in our comfort zone, near people we know, or know about, people we can relate to easily. This is why some immigrants in Sweden end up being isolated from a big part of society. Kids grow up and watch Sweden from outside – they watch people on the street, meet some “non-immigrants” in school and see them on TV, sometimes, when they’re not watching TV channels from wherever they’re from. The other reason why the society has a hard time accepting these people, is because the immigrants stick with each other. It was also important for me to provide a dynamic picture of the immigrant; everyone is not black haired and brown eyed, and not everyone wears a hijab. These kind of traditional moralists often derive from a poor educational system. To me, education is everything, which is also what I wanted to portray in this film – if ignorance lives among us, this problematic will always show.
The larger context of your short films deal with controversial topics – incest, pedophilia, immigrants in Sweden, crime, murder. Is there a particular message you wish to forward to your viewers?
– Well yes. These kind of problems exist in society no matter religion, ethnicity or gender. And sometimes the ones that use something sacred to motivate their values are the ones that are the most corrupt. This might sound harsh, but, in a way I believe that some generations are unfortunately lost to old-fashioned and unhealthy values. They will take most of their ideas to the grave with them, and the new generations that are formidable, the kids, the youths, the young adults have the chance to break free from their parent’s chains. And this is exactly what will happen as soon as they get a proper education and become accepted and to some extent also helped by society. My parents are immigrants, although I’m born in Sweden, all the friends I’ve grown up with have been either immigrants or immigrants’ children. So for me immigrants will never be a ‘holy cow’. Immigrants are not a homogenous group; immigrants in Sweden are from many different countries who bring different nuances in culture and ways of thinking and being. This is wonderful and I think immigration is a positive thing that benefits society. I will never treat immigrants different from Swedes or vice versa. Immigrants do wrong, Swedes do wrong, it’s as easy as that for me. No one is good or bad, I don’t believe in the concept of goodness, I only believe in doing good and doing wrong. And some stuff is more wrong than others. Although it’s not up to me defining what is a good action and what is a bad. Aside from the obvious universal bads like killing someone, or beating someone up, I think we create our own goods and bads and hope they coincide with others to the degree that we can live amongst people without colliding too hard. Today, unfortunately there is a problem with honor related violence in Sweden, among a minority of some immigrant groups. They speak words and use methods that cannot be accepted anywhere or anytime. Immigrants are often being portrayed as victims, or bad guys. In a liberal and forward country like Sweden people generally prefer the ‘victim immigrant’ to the ‘criminal immigrant’. And this is as damaging to integration as the other. I believe that by making alienation appear ‘sexy’ or ‘desirable’, you get people to accept the idea of being alienated and wanting to be a part of an alienated group. We use this in the building of our own identity and then you have a whole generation that doesn’t see themself as a part of our society. This creates a “we and them” mentality. I think we are all a part of society whether we want it or not, and we are shaping this society together. We need to win these people over, like with the main character in “Röd Måne”, instead of telling them that ‘it’s okay for them to be on the brink of society’. Because they often have very much to give, because of their often unique experiences that come from the position they have been in.
Something that was an important to me while writing the script and shooting the movie was not to name any religions, gods or ethnicities. Because it is not important from where or who these people believe in, the important thing is the people, the environment they are brought up in and the resulting actions of this. Thus I used names that are used in the Abrahamic religions from different countries all over the Europe, Africa, Balkan and the middle east.
Let’s talk about your characters. One of the strongest motivators of your characters is shame. Would you agree with that and why do you think that is?
– I definitely agree. And want to add that this sort of exaggerated and self-destructive shame is unfortunately a strong motivator for me sometimes. Shame is a feeling that is very easy to adapt I think. And it is very easy to throw at someone else. I hate the expression “shame on you”. It’s easy to degrade someone strongly by putting some form of shame or guilt on them. Hence, it becomes a strong tool for obtaining power. And shame is, as I see it, a strong motivator in the Abrahamic religions. It is well used by the religious leaders to suppress its followers and believers. Sometimes I find myself being ashamed of something, then I think a couple more times about it, and can’t understand what it was that I was ashamed of. Shame is such a powerful, yet abstract feeling that you can apply it on a lot of things with the maximal effect. And an unqualified guess is that shame is a great tool for master suppression techniques. I’ve also read that shame, in relation to guilt, is more about yourself, than about your actions. So you are actually ashamed of your whole being. So I would go as far as to say that shame is one of the worst feelings you can experience, yet we are constantly exposed to this feeling, and many times because of unnatural reasons, because of ideals or norms created by us humans.
Your production company, Gemensam Film, has a brilliantly done website, and a collection of impressive trailers, videos and ads. Where would you like to see Gemensam Film going, in the future?
– Thanks a lot! We had a great graphical designer (Gabriel Kotowski) create both our logo and website. And we are very pleased with it too. We want to grow with doing commercials, music videos, short films and documentaries. We are a creative collective of six that all have different perspectives and ideas in the movies we watch, like and make. We are all very familiar with all the areas in practical filming which makes us invaluable assets on each other’s and others projects. As we all love fictional movies we also love the language of cinema. Therefore we always strive to do all of our projects by using the language of cinema as much as we can. I think this also leads us to respecting the workmanship and always wanting to excel on all fields, sound, picture, choreography. This is also why we love the cinematic storytelling, because it contains all these elements and more so. We have established a good reputation so far and want to make an even louder fuss about us in the coming years and become a renown and sought after film production company. We want to keep creating interesting, energetic projects and make this our signature.
And how about yourself, what kind of a director would you like to be ten years from now? Is there a stylistic trait you’d like to highlight about yourself?
– In ten years I have directed my first feature film. A feature film that will bring something to the Swedish scene and the spectator. It is important to always reach out to as many people as possible and create both an internal and external dialogue between people. I would be delighted to participate in the dialogue in order to find answers, but also create even more questions. The question marks drive me further. As long as there are answers to find, there are stories to tell, I don’t know if those are my own words or a quote, but it describes exactly how I feel. The dream is to work continuously for long periods with film projects. I like being surrounded by like-minded creative people who appreciate the medium of film and want to create new worlds together. I want to piece together our stories, thoughts and feelings to work together with the people around me and accomplish great works. Style-wise I like wide shots where you give the viewer a chance to choose what to watch in a picture. But I don’t try to bee stylistic; I use whatever I believe that the story needs and use the picture that comes up in my head. This might create a pattern in some kind of style because my head often revolves around related themes that I later depict in the way I think is most just to them.
For more on Tuna Özer go to > > www.gemensamfilm.se
Trailer – Röd Måne (2011)
Written, Directed & Edited by: Tuna Özer
Photography: Rodrigo Candel
Sound: Johan Fransson