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CINÉMAMED 2018

Çağla Zencirci and Guillaume Giovanetti • Directors of Sibel

“We had hard-working and talented producers, all working for the sake of the film”

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- Çağla Zencirci and Guillaume Giovanetti, the directors of Sibel, talk to us about their feature, which scooped three awards, including the Cineuropa Prize, at the latest Cinémamed in Brussels

Çağla Zencirci and Guillaume Giovanetti  • Directors of Sibel
(© Cinémamed 2018/Mostenne.com)

We caught up with Çağla Zencirci and Guillaume Giovanetti, the directors of the Locarno-premiered Sibel [+see also:
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, to find out more about their Turkish-set feature, which scooped the Grand Prix, the Cineuropa Prize and the Youth Jury Award at the latest Brussels Mediterranean Film Festival (see the news).

Cineuropa: Why did you decide that this would be your first film using a professional actress, the incredible Damla Sönmez?
Çağla Zencirci and Guillaume Giovanetti: After having made all of our previous films with non-professionals, for Sibel, since the very beginning of the project, we had always had the desire to work with some professional actors for the main roles, along with non-professionals. We wanted to experiment with a new way of working, and to see if it could also fit in with the method of shooting we had developed over the years, since our first movie in 2004. The idea was both to see what a professional actor could bring us, and also to have the possibility of creating a more elaborate mise-en-scène for the film.

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We first went to Kuşköy four years ago; we realised that the whistling language there was amazing but endangered, and during that first trip, we got a glimpse of that young woman who was only communicating through whistles, which gave us the idea for the character of Sibel. Back in İstanbul, straight away we started thinking about an actress who could embody that character, and Damla Sönmez, whom we had seen in independent arthouse films in Turkey, was the first person who came to mind. Thanks to our Turkish producer, we were able to meet her straight away. She turned out to be very excited by the idea of the character, and we really felt like writing the character for her.

What kind of preparation did you need to do with her for the role?
When we first met and told her the basic story, her eyes lit up, which is exactly what we wanted. But there was one problem that she mentioned straight away: she couldn't whistle at all! Still, she promised us that she would learn for the film. That was more than two years before the start of shooting, and so she started to work on it. She came with us several times to Kuşköy to meet all of the villagers, she experienced life there, she spent days working in the fields with women, cutting tea or corn, or picking hazelnuts. She had to be part of village life in order to establish a relationship of mutual trust with the villagers, who welcomed her with open arms.

Then she was assigned a whistling teacher from the village to learn the whistling language, which is a re-transcription of the sounds of the Turkish syllables into various whistling sounds. This allows people to say whatever they want by whistling. She worked for weeks to be able to produce the basic whistling sound, the "Phi", which is then modulated with the tongue and mouth to create the syllables. It wasn’t easy, but then one night, at 3 am, she sent us a video to show us that she could finally do it. Later on, she learned all of her whistled dialogues by heart, and in the film they mean exactly what the subtitles say. She reached such a high standard that sometimes she was even able to improvise some dialogues.

What is your professional dynamic like as a duo of directors?
On set, we always try to separate the tasks: one of us deals with directing the actors, while the other is more focused on the technical crew for the mise-en-scène. But we may swap our roles according to the shoot. For instance, for Sibel, Çağla was with the actors and Guillaume with the crew, but on our previous movie, Ningen, it was the other way around. But the decision-making is always done together. So people collaborating with us should know that we are a two-headed conceptional and directorial team that doesn't always fit in with classical standards. And we have learned to find a balance, given our two different personalities. For example, one of us has learned from the other to never give up, and the other one has learned to let go. But only the people who know us will know who is who!

Did you envisage this as a purely Turkish project?
We met our French producers, Marie Legrand and Rani Massalha (of Les Films du Tambour), and our Turkish producer, Marsel Kalvo (of Mars Production), at the same time, at Cannes in 2015. Ever since the beginning, the project was conceived as a French-Turkish co-production, and straight away, the producers established the project as a broader international co-production, getting Riva Filmproduktion from Germany and Bidibul Productions from Luxembourg on board. We had heard of examples of co-productions with many countries involved which turned out to be a failure, but for Sibel, we had hard-working and talented producers, all working for the sake of the film. Of course, it also implied having a bigger crew than what we’d had for our previous shoots. That meant some extra work for us, but we and our producers cast only very talented and professional people who were all committed to the job. So despite the challenge of having four different languages spoken on set in Kuşköy and having our post-production done in France, Germany and Luxembourg, now that we can see the result and that the film is being seen by many people, we believe it was definitely worth it.

What does it mean to you to receive the Grand Prix and the Cineuropa Prize in this competition?
We made Sibel so that it could been seen by very different audiences, as we did our best to start from a very local story (the film can only take place in Kuşköy) but to end up with something much more universal. Therefore, we're more than honoured if the film can move people from several juries – people of various ages and from different backgrounds, as was the case in Brussels. As we said, the film was basically conceived as a European movie, in the broadest sense of the term: besides having team members from the four co-producing countries, we also had a British technician, a Belgian editor and a Dutch colourist. On the whole, seven nationalities were all personally involved in the project, and we were lucky to have them. We now hope that these awards and the warm reception that the film has enjoyed so far will allow a theatrical release in Belgium (as things stand at the moment, it is only going to be released in Germany, Turkey, Switzerland, France and Austria) and will enable it to reach a broader audience, in Europe and elsewhere.

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