Q&A with Dilan Engin, director of the film
Princess Ball Gown, 14’ | 2018 | Documentary
***3rd Balkan Can Kino Film Symposium
Unfolding the Layers: Shorts from Turkey *Curated by Zehra Cerrahoğlu
Can you introduce yourself a little bit? How did you start to make short films?
I was born in 1988 in Van and moved to Izmir to study sociology at Ege University. Later, I dropped out of the Department of Sociology and moved on to Dokuz Eylul University, Department of Film Design and Scriptwriting. Currently I am focused on getting my master’s degree from the Department of Cinema at Van Yuzuncu Yil University. I had a motivation to study literature, poetry, sociology and psychology deeply and write on them. The process of making films was through the school. At first, I only focused on screenwriting, but in my training process, I also developed a motivation to make films. I made my directorial debut in 2018 through a documentary I wrote.
Princess Ball Gown says a lot about the gender roles attributed to women. How did the idea of telling their story in documentary form with bridal symbolism come about?
During my student years, I started working at a close friend’s wedding dress company to make money. Until then, I realized I wasn’t thinking about marriage or wedding dresses. I took care of the clients who came every day, listened to their dreams about marriage. At that time, I observed that a wedding dress has many meanings. One day in the studio, I was embroidering beads on the body of the wedding dress. Radio was turned on. I heard a story about a woman killed by her husband. I kept processing beads, and I felt deeply sad, ”Oh!” I said. The news ended, and immediately after that, Bergen’s song (“Even if the god forgives you, I don’t”) began to play, and I continued to process beads. I came face to face with a pure contradiction that day and said to myself, I had to find a way to express it. Bergen’s melted face (with a nitric acid poured out to her face by her husband); the news of the murder I just heard; the wedding dress I made… It all turned into a metaphor, and frankly, hurt me. At that time, I had to prepare an assignment for a documentary photography class. A friend and I have prepared a photo project to tell the difference between the production of the wedding dress and the display of the shopping window. This photo project became Princess Model at the end of five years with the funding I received from The Documentary Filmmakers Association.
When I realized that the dominant narration about marriage was not real, there was a void in me. I was not the princess my grandmother told me, not the naive girl my father thought, not the lover my lover expected… I started to think that each of them is a prototype, and none of them allow you to be yourself. Especially girls are raised as if they are waiting for a prince on a white horse, and one day they will find these princes, which are the reward of patience and loyalty. A whole society conveys this lie from generation to generation. But on the other hand, many women are killed by these princes. This short film “Princess Model” has a problem with the story of Cinderella. There is a resemblance between the masquerade costume of a fairy tale and the wedding dress, between the fairies and the textile workers sewing the wedding dress… That shoe doesn’t fit on any of us! Most importantly, we don’t want to wear those shoes! Actually, I tried to discover the women who had doubts like me when sewing this wedding dress. The film aims to witness the feelings and contradictions of the women who sew the wedding dress as the camera follows the dress’ journey from the design to the showcase step by step. There is a similarity between the production of the wedding dress and the production of the image of femininity and expectations. The fabric is cut, mowed, crushed and twisted, but the wedding dress standing in the display case is presented with a sterile, bright illusion, as if it has not experienced these processes. I still work for a wedding dress company, so it’s still going on for me. I also consider the sentence ‘I felt like the needles were sinking into my body on the scene where the lace was mounted on the wedding dress’, which I heard from many women, the most important compliment made to the film.
How do young filmmakers make films in Turkey? What kind of possibilities they have today and what are the difficulties they encounter?
Like everything else in Turkey, making films is a difficult job. Living in this chaotic environment, planning to talk about issues with subtleties, make people feel something, suddenly bombs can explode, your loved ones can die with an unfortunate bullet, and most importantly, your resistance that allows you to continue may end. Ultimately making films is an organizational job, and certain relationships are needed to make this organization happen. These relationships play important roles in finding funds and producers and building teams. Making films in Turkey is done with groping in many ways. A few authorities, a few festivals are leading the way in the process. We don’t have the resources and platforms where we can watch and be aware of the works of art outside of mainstream festivals. I want to add that, at the stage of the transformation of ideas into the white screen, on the one hand we are auto-censoring ourselves, and on the other hand we are subjected to indirect censorship from the environment.
Could you tell us about your future plans and projects?
I wish to continue my studies at the academy in the current situation, to work on the theory of film as well as making films. I plan to make a short fiction film titled “I Am Dying of Grief” in 2021, in which I am currently working on a script. The film is shortly about a woman writing a suicide letter at regular intervals. I am planning to tell a short cycle of this woman who continues to live with these suicide letters. Also, I’m looking for funding and a producer for the script “AH”, a feature film I wrote that is about collective memory and trauma.
*Q&A conducted by Zehra Cerrahoğlu & Balkan Can Kino