Turkish film about ancient city flooded by dam wins EU film competition

This article first appeared on our partner site, Independent Turkish

The winners of the 10th annual European Union Human Rights Film Competition were announced and the top prize was awarded to a Turkish film telling the story of Hasankeyf, a 12,000-year-old town, which was flooded by the construction of the nearby Ilisu Dam.

Peach [Mourning] by young director Mehmet Ismail Cecen, entered an 85 film competition and won the ‘Best Film Award’.

The eight-minute feature film tells the story of a young man who, with the help of his 10-year-old son, moves his father’s bones from the graveyard of a partly submerged Hasankeyf.

On a cold and snowy day, the young man and his son go by boat to the cemetery with an empty coffin. After recovering the bones of his father, the young man and his son contemplate the places they have known all their lives but which they will never see again.

The film ends with a mourning song performed by a dengbej [a traditional Kurdish singing storyteller]. The song is a lament for Hasankeyf.

The move was controversial. Critics claimed that the huge project was not worth the cost and destroyed part of Turkey’s cultural heritage. Hasankeyf was one of the oldest known and permanently inhabited settlements in the world.

However, the Turkish government argued that the project was vital, that it was part of a larger network of dams aimed at reducing the country’s dependence on imported energy, and that it also provided jobs.

Talk to Independent Turkish, Mehmet İsmail Çeçen, director of the film, explained that they wanted to tell this event through fiction and that they wanted to tell the story of a grandfather, a father and a grandchild, of which one of the three generations died.

“The film tells the story of the migration of 199 villages following the flooding of the Ilisu dam. The dam not only inundated their history, it also left the dead underwater. The elderly had known for years that a dam was going to be built here and they would tell their loved ones not to let their graves flood. This film tells the story of some of the families who migrated and wanted to bring their loved ones out of the graves, ”Çeçen said.

The director said he wanted to bring “international attention” to Hasankeyf.

The film was produced by Mehmet Akyil and Melih Nazlican.

Translated by Esra Turk, edited and proofread by Tooba Ali & Celine Assaf

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