Kneaded With Terror: GULYABANI And The Identity Of Horror Within Turkish Cinema
The Gulyabani is a form of demon primarily depicted as a long-bearded giant with a walking stick who terrorizes travelers and those on the road, though different accounts also have the creature describes as a woman or one whose entire body is covered in hairs and giving off an horrific smell.
This figure has been covered within Turkish literature by author Resat Nuri Guntekin who uses it to satirize the superstitious foolishness of the people as well as in the popular comedy Sut Kardesler where it is again a fake creation in order to scare a home-owner into madness in order to inherit her jewelry and money.
We took the time to talk to Orçun Benli to discover his influences, his unusual choice of subject matter and the state of Turkish cinema.
Can you briefly introduce yourself?
I was born in 1980 in Istanbul - my father was in the navy so my youth has been spent living in different cities. I studied TV & Film during which time I worked in a editing studio. After graduation I worked as 3 and 2nd assistant director on various productions followed by becoming a 1st Ad until 2011. IN 2011 I made my first film Bu Son Olsun (Let This Be The Last Time) on which I was also writer and producer.
What was the genesis if 'Gulyabani' for you? Did the original mythology, the story by Resat Nuri Guntekin or the film Sut Kardesler play any part in the creation of your idea?
We wanted to make a horror film but to style it as 'B-movie'. Considering that the tale of the Gulyabani has been around Anatolia for almost a thousand years, a figure leftover from shamanistic belief and rituals that remains uniquely ours, it seemed like a natural choice. And the fact that Turkish cinema did not really have a horror icon, a representative figure, gave us further inspiration.
On the matter of taking inspiration from Ertem Eğilmez 's Sut Kardesler - Ertem Eğilmez is one of the key directors of our cinema, however in his film the figure of the Gulyabani is fake just like it's in Resat Nuri Guntekin's story. Our desire was to turn it real, to create a true horror character.
Can you talk to us about the production process? What kind of difficulties did you face trying to make a horror film in Turkey? Were there any obstacles which only pushed you further to finish the film?
I think my biggest problem during the production process was time - the film was shot in 15 days. When you consider that the majority of the film is nighttime exteriors and that we were shooting in June , we only had 6 to 7 hours of shooting time per night. The last week we only did night-shoots of 7 hours per night and somehow managed to finish the whole thing in 15 days!
Do you see a change of attitude towards the horror genre within Turkey - not only the attitude of the audience but also that of producers and critics as well?
People want to see more horror films but because this is a more niche group producers are still not willing to put any sizeable financing into the production. When you make a horror film in Turkey, the expected audience will be 400,000 to 500,000 people if you're lucky. At least that has been the empirical evidence and inevitably the producers take these as reference.
Was there anything you want to do within Gulyabani but were no able to?
I think if I state that I was only able to manage 30 % of all the things that I wanted to do with this film that's explanatory enough.
What would be your dream horror or genre project?
I would love it if someone made a horror version of The Smurfs.
How do you find the evolution of genre or horror within Turkish cinema? Do you think a local identity is emerging or that the basic common clichés still work as inspiration?
I do not believe that there has been an evolution of this type of movie within Turkish cinema. A local identity does not necessarily mean creative or interesting. I think there's a problem within Turkey wherein people only invest or create known quantities. There's a no-risk-taking approach in order to guarantee success. I think first we need to change the mindset of the bourgeois - ie those with money.
As a final note, we tried to do something different within Turkish Cinema and due to some difficulties within production and the post-production process it is not exactly what we were aiming for - and yet my team and I are glad to have made the film anyway. For us both from a production and other angles it has been an incredibly experience from which we have learnt.