Such discussion topics as whether art is innovative anymore, or claims such as the visual arts have reached their boundaries, have lost their meaning in the technological age. While computer media give us the opportunity to modify the moving image in thousands of ways, the opportunities of the seventh art, cinema, have also remarkably increased.
While in the old days, there were very few people who were cheek by jowl with the camera, today there are numerous cinema professionals thanks to the technology which makes the shooting of grueling films, short-films and documentaries very practical. Cinema and communication departments of universities which have opened one after the other have encouraged their volunteers to quit apprenticeships and undertake academic education. While open to criticism, having a master's degree in cinema studies in the USA, a country with one of the most profound media histories, is now almost as popular as having an MBA degree.
Didem Yilmaz stands out as one of the names to brighten Turkey's image with her documentary film practices among numerous young director candidates who come to the US from Turkey to get a better education. Didem, who has completed her master's degree program in Media Studies at the New School University, New York, is currently pursuing her education at the same school in the Film Department.
Without a doubt, New York is one of the cities that defines the course of art. There are two reasons for her coming to New York: One is definitely cinema. And the other is New York's magical atmosphere. Didem says that New York has been very kind to her and her eyes glitter with joy and hope. Well, why shouldn't they? Her studies have already started to blossom in her school days. We are talking about her most recognized study, the 2003 documentary thesis project "In Search Of the Sultan". In her documentary film, Didem sets out in search of Osman Ertugrul Effendi, grandson of Abdulhamit II and one of the heirs to the Ottoman throne, and being a young individual of modern Turkey she has turned her meeting with him into a story. This documentary, her very first work, has made her a hot name in the visual media sector.
CHASING AFTER A DREAM
And what dragged her into this unusual matter? In fact, Didem's curiosity is not alien to us. Like any of us, Didem learned about the history of our country’s independence and its conversion into a people's state at school desks and questions started popping in her mind: What had happened to the exiled Ottoman dynasty? Where and how did they live? How often did they think of their past?
Had they ever been to Turkey later on? These innocent questions, which could occupy any child's thoughts, did not stay in her mind as mere questions for long when she found out that one of the heirs of the last generation of the dynasty actually lived in New York. She turned her search for the heir of the last dynasty of the Ottoman Empire into a study for her thesis project.
After knocking on many doors she achieved her dream. The history came alive before her very eyes. She had the opportunity to ask the questions that haunted her about the past, and in person, to the last members of the exiled dynasty in New York. She turned her meeting with Prince Osman Ertugrul and his wife Princess Zeynep, and her search for them into a documentary. The most charming part for audience, beyond the identity of the striking Osman Ertugrul, is an ordinary young girl’s success at opening up an old page of history which has long been kept hidden away.
"In Search of the Sultan" offers solid proof for the realization of followed dreams and it has been praised for its striking plot and documentary technique. The documentary film has been shown at the Topanga Film Festival, the International Triburon Film Festival, the 15th Ankara International Film Festival, and the International Palm Beach Festival, and has received awards. The film, which was recently shown at the National Arts Club in New York, has been nominated for student Oscars, which are organized by the American Film Academy, from North America. The film has also been broadcast on CNNTurk television.
It is no big surprise that the film has received such huge international attention. The documentary, in which Didem tells the story of her search for the last Sultan of the exiled dynasty of the fallen Ottoman Empire, attracts the attention of foreign audiences who are sensitive to different cultures and historical change, as well as Turkish people. Didem says, “This documentary has also an instructional side for foreigners who do not have knowledge about Turkey's history. It is very interesting for them to learn the fact that the heir of Ottoman Empire is living in the USA". As visual creativity diversified, the branches of seventh art cinema have begun to develop and directing has turned into legerdemain. But a film, besides its technical abilities and visual success, takes meaning when it achieves communication with the inner worlds of its characters. And this is the key factor in the success of Didem's film.
AFTER THE FILM, HE BECAME A CITIZEN
Her documentary about Osman Ertugrul, one of the exiled princes of the Ottoman Palace, has also contributed to his recognition. Osman Ertugrul, who left Istanbul at the age of 11, after living without a passport for years, had his Turkish passport restored after 80 years. Didem says, “This is the reason why I am so passionate about documentary film. It is beneficial for its director, for its audience and for its subjects.”
Didem, who shot her first documentary film about an old Turkish car, “Revolution Eskisehir”, with a classmate when she was a student at Eskisehir Anatolian University, Film and Television Department, had the privilege of studying with Albert Maysles this summer, one of the foundation stones of the American Documentary tradition. Didem, who also had the opportunity of working on a documentary called "The Gates" in Central Park, New York, continues her works as an independent producer and director. The project she is currently working on, a film called “Waiting for Arif”, is inspired by the writings of author Latife Mardin on producer and songwriter Arif Mardin. The movie, which is at the stage of editing right now, seems likely to have repercussions both in Turkey and in the US as it takes on an important aspect of Turkish identity.
WHO IS PRINCE ERTUGRUL OSMAN?
Osman Ertugrul is the son of Prince Mehmed Burhaneddin Effendi, who was the son of Sultan Abdulhamit II, and was born in Yildiz Palace in 1912. Osman Ertugrul, who traveled to Europe and America with his father at the age of 12, studied diplomacy in Vienna and Paris. Osman Ertugrul runs his mining company, which he established in 1952 in Canada, from New York. Osman Ertugrul has been married to Princess Zeynep since 1991.
(August 2005, 18th Issue)