One of the great things about attending an International Film Festival it that you meet people who you would not normally cross your path. Sitting next to me while I was watching Alejandro Fernandes powerful Chilean drama To Kill A Man (2014) was a very attractive young film director from Turkey her name was Azra Deniz Okyay. She was born in Istanbul in 1983 and spent most of her childhood in Asia. After graduating from Lycée Français Pierre Loti she completed her Cinematography BA and MA in Paris at the Sorbonne-Nouvelle. She interned for a while at Paris Partizan, an advertising and video production company and then worked for a year and a half at Premiere-Heure as a Junior Art Director. Her body of work to date consists of videos and short films all of which have mainly been shot between Paris and Istanbul. Her latest award winning short film Little Black Fish (2013) was having its UK Premiere at the Edinburgh International Film Festival as part of a programme of short films called collectively City and Wilderness.
This is a movie inspired by true stories. Part documentary, part fiction it involves three women, Maral an illegal Armenian who is living and working in Turkey, Ela (played by Azra Deniz Okyay) who is trying desperately to stay in Paris and Julia (Camille De Sablet) a French woman who wants to develop her career as a photo-journalist. The film opens with Ela being chased through the streets by immigration officials and appears to escape by jumping into the Seine. We then go back in time where we learn something about Maral, who is a qualified nurse. Because of the lack of employment and the low pay she has left Armenia and travelled to Turkey to try and find work. Living in constant fear of arrest because of her illegal status she has not seen her mother or brother for 12 years. We then move back to France where we find Ela dressed as a clown working the Champs Elysees handing out flyers for a circus. Ela shares a flat with Julia who takes her portfolio to a photojournalist company but is told that her ‘local’ photo’s are not what is required instead she is told to find a war zone like Gaza, risk life and limb and take some ‘real’ photos. She retorts that she will attend the Armenian – Turkey football match, a war zone in its self, and present the company with a photo-story. Ela sets out to get her resident permit extended, but its out of date along with the rest of her paperwork! Maral in the meantime has had all her hard earned savings stolen that she was going to send home to her family.
Financed by generous friends and group funding It’s neither Turkish, French nor Armenian its simple an ‘immigrant’ film. Azra Deniz’s, who as well as acting and directing, wrote and produced the film, describes her project as one that’s meant to highlight immigration problems and to bring attention to the Turkish-Armenian debate. A film I perceive to be about how bureaucracy which can cruelly put an end to people’s hopes and dreams. The soundtrack is un-intrusive, the movie is superbly cut and edited, it holds your attention and succeeds in showing how ordinary hard working citizens of the world are touched by circumstances completely outside of there control. Azra Deniz Okyay has a great feel for her subject matter and makes you think twice before making the term ‘illegal immigrant’ sound like an expletive.
‘The little fish live in a little lake. It must be in a big lake so it can grow’.