I was born in Istanbul, 1981.
My dad was the first influence. He chose the films that he would go to according to their directors. He had subscription to Studio magazine and later, Premiere (both in French). I also started listening to classical music thanks to him from my early age. I discovered Bach when I was a child and he still is my favorite artist in any art.
My favorite film critic then was Atilla Dorsay, mostly an auteurist, though I'm not sure he would define himself that way. He had two books that were guides for a while: 100 Best Films and 100 Best Directors (both in Turkish). The most important way I discovered art, however, was the endless conversations I had with my friend Eytan Ipeker, who wrote a short essay on "the possibility of an abstract cinema" years before we found out that Brakhage and his likes ever existed.
There were no cinematheques in Turkey. The only one that had existed (and I heard many stories about it from my dad) was closed due to financial reasons before I was born. I watched many classics on VHS (and later on DVD). The only way I could watch the older films on film was the Istanbul Film Festival.
Some influential films at the time were A Clockwork Orange, Rashomon, Casablanca, Battleship Potemkin, Los Olvidados.
The Istanbul Film Festival offered me some of the most amazing moments of my life. Along with the festival films from all around the world, it had one big retrospective of a director and some other small retrospectives. It was only for two weeks, so I had to see everything I could see in fifteen days and that would be it for a year. I believe I used to see 20-30 films on average. Bunuel, Fellini, Hitchcock were some filmmakers that had huge retrospectives when I was old enough to see lots of films so I saw a good part of their work. Seeing a number of films from the same filmmaker one after another helped me see how the similarities and the differences between the films from the same filmmaker helped me understand the works themselves much better. The films were usually shown in chronological order.
At the time, Kubrick was my favorite director.
Then came Bresson. Six films of his that I saw in the 19th Istanbul Film Festival changed my life forever. He was screaming to me that cinema was possible with being perfectly honest with the fact that it was a representation, with little drama in the story, etc. It was an experience much more spiritual than any I knew in cinema.
The same year, I attended one of the first avant-garde film screenings in Istanbul. Bilgi University's program included a film called Window Water Baby Moving, which offered the possibility of cinema working in abstract terms. It was one of my favorite films. The program also included another film by the same filmmaker, called Text of Light. I fell asleep after the 15th minute.
I moved to Chicago in 2000 to study Industrial Engineering in Northwestern University. My hope of double majoring in film was crushed by the people in the film department who simply didn't care. Thankfully, I got my education from Jean Mitry's The Aesthetics and the Psychology of Cinema.
During my first winter quarter in Northwestern, I started attending to some lectures on American Melodrama by a guy called Fred Camper. I loved most of the films he was showing there, and more importantly, he was talking about cinema in a way I had never heard before. His lecture on Sirk's Written on the Wind was a moving experience in itself. Later on, I had the chance to talk to him in many occasions and discuss films. It was nice to meet someone who was claiming that aesthetic experience was much more valuable than all the other things cinema offered; I realized later that he was offering an alternative that was very close to my heart.
That spring, I started my own website, where I put up the essays I wrote for the film classes. Some of the essays were later linked in Senses of Cinema, and quoted in the The Film Journal. It was amazing to see that some people actually liked what I was writing. In October 2004, the web site became waysofseeing.org.
Chicago had some experimental film screenings and I took a class on Experimental film taught by Chuck Kleinhans. Frampton, Gehr, Welsby, Brakhage, Warhol, Peterson and Chambers helped me think much more deeply about the nature of the medium. Two very influential books were Brakhage's Scrapbook and Sitney's Visionary Film.
Meanwhile, I made some films taking production courses in Northwestern. I don't know how good those are but the process was always amazing and enlightening. I also got myself a Super-8 camera (thanks to Fred's suggestion) and started shooting film. "Art Therapy" is a redundant expression because Art is Therapy.
The infinite possibilities of cinema opened up on the day I saw John Ford's The Searchers. You can find out about that experience on a post to a_film_by where I wrote:
"Since that day, I separate my film viewing experience as BS and AS: Before Searchers and After Searchers. Before Searchers, I used to accept any pleasure that films gave me and was O.K. with it. After Searchers, I realized the power of the experiences that combined the "represented" with the "abstract" and thanks to that realization started having greater and greater pleasures from cinema."
A friend of mine later reminded me what "BS" stood for in English.
In August 2004, I moved to New York to look for jobs in film. Interned at Anthology Film Archives, where I had the chance to read the Film Culture issues on my spare time. That was some of the best writing I had read about cinema. I'm still working at the Film-Makers' Cooperative, where I regularly inspect films. Looking at the film strips themselves, especially when we are talking about some of the greatest films of all times, gradually deepens my appreciation of how cinema actually works.
Last great book I've read about cinema: Telling Time by Stan Brakhage
Favorite Filmmakers today (and their best films I've seen): Robert Bresson (Au Hasard Balthazar); Roberto Rosselini (Francesco, giullare di Dio); Robert Breer (What Goes Up); Stan Brakhage (The Art of Vision)
06/14/05 (updated on 1/29/06)