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Who Are We Really Fighting?

Director Emin Alper talks crossing genres and the challenges of shooting in the Turkish wilderness in his debut feature, Beyond the Hill.

Tribeca: Tell us a little about Beyond the Hill. How would you describe the movie in your own words?

Emin Alper: Beyond the Hill is about a small community, the members of which choose to create an enemy in order to cover their faults and guilts.

TRIBECA: What inspired you to make Beyond the Hill?

Emin Alper: The core of the story is inspired by my childhood memories. Those valleys you see in the film are very close to my hometown. We were making picnics and camping around those regions when I was a child. But the main theme of the film is much more related with my political experiences in Turkey. The high level of paranoia in the Turkish politics, which always tells us that we are surrounded by enemies, forced me to deal with this issue in a family microcosmos.

TRIBECA: Beyond the Hill seems to cross traditional genres. It’s both a psychological horror film and a character-driven drama in mode of a classic American Western. How did you find the right balance? What kind of research was involved while you were writing the script?

EMIN ALPER: Actually, while writing the script and imagining the pictures, I never thought about genres. I just concentrated on the right feelings and atmosphere that should be transferred to the audience. The unfolding story required some turning points and changing moods thereafter. So each fragments of the film approached some genres, when I was trying to underline the feeling. For example, the film looked like a thriller in the first half hour, while I was trying to invite the audience to share the paranoia of the main character, Faik. Then it turned into a family drama, when I tried to reveal the inner conflicts of the group. And it became a mixture of black comedy and western, when they are waiting for an attack and counter-attack with their rifles in their hands.

Beyond the Hill

TRIBECA: Beyond the Hill takes place in a beautiful Turkish wilderness. How did you locate and secure that location for the film? Was there any particular challenge that you faced while shooting in the countryside?

EMIN ALPER: This place is very close to my hometown. The place was already fixed in my mind when I was writing the script. The challenge was the hard geography and the wind. It was difficult and sometimes dangerous to climb sloped hills. The wind made it difficult to shoot with steady-cam since it suddenly turns the camera. One more difficulty was cold nights. Although it was August when we were shooting and the daytime was quite hot, but at night we were freezing.

TRIBECA: You had such a talented ensemble cast that worked so well together. Can you tell us about the casting process? Were you able to have a rehearsal period?

EMIN ALPER: We were very careful in the casting process. I wanted to be totally sure about the cast and the talent of the actors and actresses. It was the most time-consuming part of the pre-production for me. When I felt sure about the cast, we started rehearsals. But the rehearsals took no more than a few weeks. Since I understood that the actors and actresses and the harmony of them were perfect, I did not feel the need to have long rehearsals.

TRIBECA: The character Zafer is really the heart of the film. Can you talk about how you developed the character and what Berk Hakman brought to the role?

EMIN ALPER: The Kurdish problem and the ongoing war in that region were a source of traumatic experience for many people in Turkey, especially for the veterans. Characters suffering from the post-traumatic disorders frequently appear in my scripts. In this story, his existence is very important, because as a veteran, and the victim of a long-lasting conflict, he abridges the microcosms of our film, where the hate and vicious circle of violence were produced, and the outside world where similar mechanisms work at a national level. Berk Hakman was the first and only candidate of the role from the very beginning. I know he was very talented and fit the role perfectly. And at the end, he did a great job.

Beyond the Hill

TRIBECA: When did you know that you wanted to write and direct?  

EMIN ALPER: I decided to write when I was thirteen or fourteen. I was fond of reading, and I started making up stories and imitating the writers I loved in those ages. In high school, I discovered the magic of cinema and decided to tell stories by images.

TRIBECA: What are you most looking forward to at Tribeca?

EMIN ALPER: I would like to meet New York audience and other filmmakers who will be coming to Tribeca. I’ve heard so many stories about New York’s film and filmmaking culture. I would like to get a sense of it. And also it will be my first visit to both the U.S. and New York. This in itself is an exciting experience.

TRIBECA: If you could have dinner with any filmmaker (alive or dead), who would it be?

EMIN ALPER: Stanley Kubrick, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Luchino Visconti

TRIBECA: What’s your favorite New York movie?

EMIN ALPER: Taxi Driver and Hannah and Her Sisters, I think.

TRIBECA: What makes Beyond the Hill a Tribeca must-see?

EMIN ALPER: I think it is not boring. It has an intriguing and unfolding story, which is enriched by some allegorical inferences.

Emin Alper holds a PhD in Turkish modern history and teaches in the humanities department at Istanbul Technical University. He is the writer and director of the short films Rifat (2006) and The Letter (2005). He won a special mention for best first feature at the Berlinale for Beyond the Hill.


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