Interview: An Academy Award Nominee Deniz Gamze Ergüven talks “MUSTANG”


MUSTANG” is Deniz Gamze Ergüven’s first major film. But when you hear about the multiple nominations and awards this film has received, you’ll acknowledge that she has really succeeded at it. Talking about the awards, Ergüven’s film received a Golden Globe nomination, won the audience award at the AFI Fest, while the filmmaker got a personal prize at Cannes Film Festival. Also, receives Oscar nomination for best foreign language film. To continue naming all of them is almost impossible, as the film is yet to reach its culmination of awards.

While the film itself follows a difficult subject that, according to Ergüven, was somewhat an experience from the past, she masterfully executes it, leaving the audience in a quiet shock. It’s a whole-hearted and delicate film about something that happens not only in the Muslim society, but if you dig deeper, you will be amazed to find out the same can happen in your neighborhood as well.

This is why, I am really pleased to publish my interview with the talented filmmaker, Deniz Gamze Ergüven, with whom I had the pleasure to sit down and discuss her film during the Toronto International Film Festival.

MOVIEMOVESME: What inspired you to write a story about five sisters going through what they went through?

Deniz Gamze Ergüven: The triggering event which was important for me was the fact that it was such a non important issue that was completely changing the lives of these girls. Saying a lot about the type of injustice they were living in I felt was the one thing at the base of my desire to make this film. The fact that there’s this strong sexualisation of women in Turkey and for instance a school director insists that the boys and the girls go into class using different staircases, it’s a way of saying there’s something sexual happening at 8 O’ Clock in the morning which is not the case. Not being able to consider woman differently, that was the inspiration behind it.

MOVIEMOVESME: How did you develop the story to get it the way you wanted to portray?

Deniz Gamze Ergüven: I had to distance it as much as I could from reality to be able to tell it or try to focus in the feelings rather than the event. I guess the resonance of the film becomes more emotional when we do that. There is some fiction in the way the actors acted and made every single aesthetical choice to transcend the gloomy content and make it emotional.

MOVIEMOVESME: The movie begins with her and ends with her; why did you pick the youngest of the sisters to be the leader?

Deniz Gamze Ergüven: There was something about that she builds up on the experience of the others and she’s at the best place to explore the different destinies that could potentially be her own destiny if she didn’t take action. So there was something in her heritage strongly that was making her act. A very strong feeling of growing up like a fruit of a tree as well. My grandmother lived in a very difficult condition, she managed to herself all her life, made my father study in a way that he let me decide to be whatever I wanted to be in my life and I have that impression of being lifted by the people. The youngest sister, she manages to not only explore the best possible way to tell her story and act upon it. Plus, I share her point of view and the youngest of her family, for two generations they have a lot of girls and women, so there are a few things I’ve left as questions, so all these things concorded into the choice.

MOVIEMOVESME: As per Turkish culture, it is a very bold movie; I wonder how you managed to bring up the subject matter with these young girls so that they understand the concept and deliver in such a perfect way?

Deniz Gamze Ergüven: It’s a lot and lot of discussion plus again it’s going through fiction talking about wha the condition of women in Turkey is. Each time at the moment of the script or at the moment of the directing, you have to give a lot of material from the research you’ve done. All these things can trigger behavior with the girls. By the time we were shooting I think we had explored not only what we were working on but the world in which the film was anchored; all of it’s layers had become completely organic.

MOVIEMOVESME: This is your first movie so you could have chosen some other subject. How important was this story to you to you went with it?

Deniz Gamze Ergüven: First of all, I had a previous script which was my first feature film project. I worked on it for years and eventually it was too big for a first feature film and so put it on the side. Then I made a plan that I need to shoot a film very quickly and went from what was the easiest for me to a frightening one. My first film was about Los Angeles riots, another geography another time. So people couldn’t picture me doing something like that. For me it’s obvious, the resonance was obvious. That’s how most things started off and then there were some very deep movements at the bottom of the film and most times my curiosity was going on about what it it like to be a woman in a specific country and culture. So everything I was reading, the questions I was asking led me here.

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