By KRISTEN STEVENS
ISTANBUL - Turkish Daily News
After winning three international Best Actress awards in six months, Turkish actress Ayça Damgacı was hitchhiking under the broiling noonday sun in Fethiye on Tuesday. She was not vacationing along the Mediterranean, but leading her first acting workshop. �I hope to share a bit of what's in my pocket,� she said.
Along another road five years ago, Turkish actress Ayça Damgacı had left her flat in Istanbul for the arms of her Iraqi-Kurdish lover trapped in Iraq as American bombs fell on Baghdad. Hüseyin Karabey presents his narrative debut retelling the tale of Damgacı's road trip to the war zone, with Damgacı playing herself.
While accepting her latest prize in Sarajevo last month, a stunned Damgacı told the audience that the award gives her courage to continue and create. After the screening of her film �My Marlon and Brando� (Gitmek) in Sarajevo, hundreds of people applauded long and hard. �That applause was the biggest award for me,� Damgacı told the Turkish Daily News. In Sarajevo, bullet holes are still in buildings and everyone knows someone among the 30,000 still missing from the war, she said. The Bosnian people created a film festival, now the largest in the region, when the war was still happening 14 years ago. The festival celebrates that from war and ethnic differences love and artistic expression emerge intact, an idea at the heart of My Marlon and Brando.
Drawing on real correspondence between two lovers, Turkish director Karabey, who co-wrote the film with Damgacı, told the TDN that the beauty in Damgacı's letters was inimitable. �You can't write fiction like this.� Sincerity is key, Damgacı said, referring to her belief about narrative. �With one small, sincere feeling and one smart idea you can build a miracle in fiction.�
Karabey's ethnographic lens and cinema vérité style help reinforce the growing sense of dislocation for Damgacı, who plays herself in a fictional retelling of lovers separated by national identity and war. Karabey draws on his documentary experience and journalist work in northern Iraq to show the cruel transience of borders.
Journey to the center of love
Damgacı first traveled to Turkey's southeast with her theater group nearly ten years ago. She ventured further on her own to Mardin and Diyarbakır where she danced with locals in street weddings and �learned how [Kurdish] people talked to each other.� The only information I had about Kurds was what I heard about the PKK and the �Kurdish problem'.�
With all of these fresh feelings and images, she was approached by a producer in Istanbul's Taksim square who wanted to cast her in a film in northern Iraq. Playing the village flirt, she met actor Ali Hama Khan. In real life, the two fell in love on the set and kept the romance alive despite distance, war, borders and futile phone attempts � until it came to an end.
Read aloud, Ayça's letters to Hama Ali anchor the film in our heroine's despair and the inevitability of her journey. �You are my moon and stars, my Marlon and Brando, my everything.� Damgacı described their encounter as �a crash of personalities, of worlds, really,� adding that she suddenly became creative, writing poems and essays.
The pair never had scenes together in My Marlon and Brando, only real letters and video letters. In the videos he had actually sent her three years earlier, Hama Ali soars onto the screen with unexpected humor and amour so candid that his longing for Ayça endears us to him.
Running into dead ends
Despite the mutual longing, she soon realized that there was no way for him to travel from Iraq to Turkey. �He is a poor artist like me,� she said, �not a Kurd with thousands of dollars.�
She recalled the Ministry of Foreign Affairs' response to her call for assistance with her journey to Hama Ali's home in Suleymaniye, Iraq: ��You're talking about traveling to the 30th parallel…� an official said. ��It's very nice what you're doing but we don't think there is any cinema or acting in that area,' they told me. The subtext was how could there be anything but fighting and survival in such an undeveloped place.�
The courage to create
Adding secondary stories and characters to the script, she and Karabey also improvised a bit during the filming. We'd ask, �What would Ayça do here?'� Damgacı's sincerity at times stuns with self-awareness. She says the film process was about �searching for empathy as much as it was to create some distance� between herself and a love that was not to be. �This is not Lady Macbeth,� she laughs. �I was just trying to be honest.�
Honesty and love's intention transcend the story's political realm, making the characters' ideological divide plain but beside the point. Before Ayça packed her bags in a desperate journey to reach him, viewers catch glimpses of her protesting in Istanbul against the American invasion of Iraq. Meanwhile Hama Ali sent her footage of himself dancing in the streets because the Americans were coming. This paradox, sprung from the lovers' vastly different experiences, can only exist in love's domain. It remains separate even from the cause of their undoing.
In Rotterdam where the film was first screened, Damgacı said receiving positive feedback made her feel like �it's good to be in this world.� After the film's screening at Adana's Golden Boll Festival in April, where she won the best actress award, an woman in the audience told her that she was proud to see such a courageous character in Turkish cinema. �You made this journey on your own. You are so brave.� �I think they like to see someone who looks like them,� Damgacı said, �a fat-bottomed girl of average beauty. It fills your loneliness in this world.�
Damgacı was also awarded the best actress award at the International Istanbul Film Festival.