INTERVIEW / Selim and Nur Gunes / Vanessa McMahon, 2011.06.27

One of the most memorable films I have seen this past year was the haunting and lyrical film WHITE AS SNOW (Turkey, 2010) by director Selim Gunes and producer Nur Gunes. This is an unforgettable experiment in storytelling, disrupting our linear-prone conception of time in order to think in fragments. The mind doesn’t look back in time sequentially so why should a film that is retrospective? In this film about a poor young boy, Hasan, from the 1970’s, the viewer is forced to struggle through the story along with him as he struggles to survive. The balance between taking us on a journey and letting us fill in the gaps at the same time is successfully achieved; in fact, so well done I was sitting at the edge of my seat. While it is not a thriller, I found myself biting my nails with anticipation as we are forced to follow a poor child on his life-threatening journey- Hasan’s hard impoverished life having to grow up fast to support his desperate mother and younger brother in the freezing mountains of Turkey while his father sits in prison for murder. WHITE AS SNOW is so cinematically poetic and expertly exquisite a film that for all of its elements it is impossible to forget.

I interviewed the husband and wife filmmaking team about their film some weeks after the Istanbul International Film Festival 2011 and here is what they had to say:

How did you come up with the title? And what does it mean to you?

I wanted, that the lyrics of the movie contain the word “snow”. In general, the white colour dominates the entire movie. The expression “White as Snow” fits with the visuality dominating the movie and the feelings of the child. Initially, I was planning to call the movie “Snow-White Road-Black”. Then the decision was fallen on “White as Snow”.

Where was it filmed and was it a difficult production?

We have filmed it in the town of Meydancik and in the village of Maden, which is connected to the district of Savsat the city of Artvin located in the Eastern Region of the Black Sea. Snow and the cold was the most difficult part of the production. And we had to use the daylight of the short winter days mostly and to start the movie set very early.

How did you come up with the idea for the film and the poetic way in which to film it?

The idea did not come at once. I had been planning to do it since my childhood. Beside this, most of the photographers have the idea of making a film. I was actually telling a story with the pictures I took. When the conditions were ripe to realise my dream, I remembered the literary work “Ayran” of Sabahattin Ali, which I had read once years ago. I preferred to tell the story with images instead of dialogues. I kept the video, sound and music on the forefront. I used dialogues, whenever I needed them. The visual expression, the editing, the natural acting and the sound and music complementing the story have made the movie poetic.

There is incredible DOP in this film. Can you speak of the film stylistically?

During a take, I was thinking about what the scene in that take was trying to tell and then how it would influence the scenery of that plan. Then, I decided how to visualise the situation in that take according to the play. I run the process from the other end. When deciding on the vision itself, my skills in photography helped me a lot. In indoor shootings, with the recommendation of the director of photography, we have applied the “Vermeer” style, which was matching with the feelings of the movie. Thus, the movie has become a movie, which has poetic reality. As to the topic, we have created a poetic movie by visual expression.

Would you classify this film is an art house film or a universal film that can communicate to all people everywhere?

White as Snow is a universal art film, that can communicate to all people across the world. It is the feeling, that tries to passes among people across the world from different cultures. We have seen the best example of it in the interpretation of a literature teacher during the Chicago Film Festival. He gave the following short comment: “It is a timeless work. The reason I liked the movie is, that it does not require any words. The acts of the characters are reflected by feelings and images instead of dialogue”. Another comment belonged to a Spanish woman in Berlin. She expressed, that similar experiences were seen also in Spain and that she was highly moved. Those watching the movie for the second time liked it more. Every time they watched, they were affected in a different way to catch different meanings. In short, White as Snow is open to different interpretations. Although I do not find it correct to categorise it, I can say, that White as Snow is an art film in terms of its language, meaning and symbolic expression. But, it has also a story, which can be experienced in all over the world. And many people from different countries of the world have been affected the same way. Considering these aspects, I can say, that it is definitely a universal film.

You’ve travelled to many festivals around the world with this film now. How does this make you feel and did you expect to be so well received in so many places?

When the editing of the film was completed, it was just as I wanted. When looking at the movie from an objective point of view, I thought, that it could be shown at festivals. Above all, attending a festival is very important in terms of getting to know new people. As the director and producer of the movie, we have found high interest at the festivals. Beyond this, it was nice to share a common passion with different people. This is what we call cinema.

What was it like to screen your film in Istanbul? What kind of impact has your film had in Turkey and abroad?

The screening in Istanbul was both joyful and exciting for me. It was a different pleasure to see, that my movie was to coming to the big screen at the festival, which I had been attended for years. This discrepancy is only valid for Istanbul. The common reaction, which I had in Turkey and in abroad, was that women were affected from the movie much more than men. In Turkey, the audience showed a different reaction to White as Snow, as they knew and experienced the period of the events, which the movie tells about. In abroad, there were many people, who were impressed by the cinematography and poetic expression of the movie. We did not get positive reactions only from the audience but also from people from the industry, such as directors, producers, directors of photography. This makes us absolutely very happy.

What is it like to be a couple making films together?

It is a good feeling. I would recommend it. I think, that we are a couple, which complements each other. Out of this reason, I consider myself very lucky. Her existence was a major force for me as the person whom I could trust one hundred percent during the takings at the set or in other processes of the movie.

Do you have another project in mind or will you follow this film first for a while before beginning your next project?

Inherently, this film will live out its own process and so will I experience this process. But now, my priority is the second film.

Is there anything you would like to express about your film that you haven’t been able to?

Anything you would like to add? I wish, that our movie has the chance to reach a high number of audience in Turkey and in abroad. We are forcing all channels to make this happen. We wish, that the audience likes our movie and tells it to more people on the grapevine.

Well, thank you guys for telling us about your film. It was simply stunning!