Talent Talk: Horror and Politics Meld in Turkish Filmmaker Orçun Behram’s ‘The Antenna’

Orçun Behram’s dystopian The Antenna is set in a bleak and run-down apartment complex where its superintendent is confronted with oozing and faceless entities that terrorize its tenants. The trouble begins when the government installs new satellite dishes in its bid to control information and monitor its citizens.

The political horror film bows Oct. 20 on VOD platforms in the United States and Canada, including iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, Xbox, Vudu, Dish Network and all major cable providers.

Released by Dark Star Pictures, The Antenna has played in some prominent film festivals, including Toronto, BFI London and Spain’s premier fantasy film festival, Sitges.

Born in 1987, Behram graduated in 2011 from Columbia College, Chicago where he majored in film. Settling down in Istanbul, he has worked on variety of projects, including music videos, short films and documentaries. The Antenna is his first fiction feature.

In an email, he expanded on his cinematic influences, the production challenges he faced and on how horror makes the perfect medium to deliver a political message.

MPN: How much did George Orwell’s dystopian novel “1984” influence your film?

Behram: I think the mechanics of authoritarianism today and during George Orwell’s time are similar despite being in completely different eras. 1984 is certainly a book that opened a pathway for future dystopias. The Antenna certainly walks on this pathway, but I wouldn’t consider the film as a direct influence from 1984 but rather a fusion of influences that built my artistic background: American and Italian horror movies from the ’80s and ’90s, Cronenberg films, Baudrillard’s Simulacra and Simulation have all been influential for me in making this film.

Tell us about the production. Where did you shoot? For how many weeks? What were you hoping to achieve with its stylized cinematography and sound design?

The film was shot in four weeks; three weeks was in a small city called Balıkesir and one week in Istanbul. We found an abandoned post office waiting to be demolished in Balikesir and built all the interiors from scratch. It was a miraculous chance because that would be the only way to stay within budget and gave us a lot of extra time. Also, we didn’t have to clean up after ourselves due to the upcoming demolition. And all the exterior shots were in an abandoned apartment in Istanbul, another lucky discovery considering that there would be no way to shoot in an occupied apartment. Sound is an important medium of the media, so in The Antenna, it is not only a tool to accompany the story but part of the narrative itself.  A lot of sound design was already in place for the script; it was also a tool that I used changing perspectives similar to a POV shot.

In terms of cinematography, it was a great collaboration with our cinematographer Engin Ozkaya. I wanted to create an alternative reality and use very stylistic framing and visuals for it to work. We used anamorphic lenses and tried to create the act within the wide space that gave us. Also, I preferred static shots and a slow-moving camera to enhance the dark and pessimistic feeling the film carries on.

 What were the challenges you faced while making it?

The film has a lot of dream scenes and locations. The huge challenge was building the sets, we used the majority of the materials from junkyards, local second-hand stores, and even props from our family members. It was always a challenge to find things and make them work. There were failures along the way as well, for example, in the boiler room scene. The room didn’t hold the amount of water that was initially planned due to pressure. As a result, I had to rewrite the scene on the spot in a limited time and shoot it that way. There were plenty of similar obstacles along the way and never enough time or money to fix things easily.

What are the faceless beings supposed to represent?

The idea relies on exposition to the media; the reality is recycled and presented in media. As people start consuming it, this new recycled reality alters your being and perception of life. You could consider ‘faceless people’ as people that have been highly exposed and at a point of no return. To simplify all this, what we fear, what we love, how we make love, and what we desire are all accumulation of images thrown at us. The source beyond this accumulation is unrecognizable due to all distortion; hence, people become faceless in a certain way.

Why did you choose the horror genre to make a statement about the political situation in Turkey?

This film is not necessarily a statement only about the Turkish government. I think similar sinister dynamics between media and authoritarian powers exist in many places and many forms. With this consideration in mind, the film takes place in an unspecified time and place. Horror, on the other hand, is a great genre to make political statements. What you fear is one of the most defining factors of your political alignment, so horror films naturally become great candidates for having a political discourse. On top of it, it is an alternative reality; this gives you an abundance of tools to create allegories.

Has the film screened in Turkey yet? If so, how was it received?

It screened in two major film festivals in Turkey and got four awards from the Istanbul Film Festival. And it recently opened up for theatrical release. So, I could say that, so far, the reception has been great.

Talent Talk: Merawi Gerima on His Debut Feature, ‘Residue,’ Bowing on Netflix Sept. 17

As is often said, it takes a village to raise a child. In Merawi Gerima’s case, it took a robust community that included friends, family and neighbors to get his topical feature debut, Residue, off the ground.

Residue bows Sept. 17 on Netflix and in select theaters via Ava DuVernay’s Array Releasing.

Four years in the making, the film was shot over a string of summers and stolen moments to capture Gerima’s account of an aspiring filmmaker’s return to his old neighborhood in Washington, D.C. Based on Gerima’s own experience, the story pivots around Jay, played by Obinna Nwachukwu, who finds himself adrift in a familiar but alarmingly gentrified neighborhood as he seeks inspiration for his screenplay and searches for a childhood friend who has vanished.

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Residue was the only American film to compete in Venice Days, a sidebar of the 77th Venice Film Festival, which pulled off the first major in-person film event since the COVID-19 pandemic forced many to go online, including Cannes. This followed its world premiere at the Slamdance Film Festival, where it took home the festival’s Audience Award for Best Narrative Feature and the Acting Award for Nwachukwu.

“We didn’t have any expectations about ending up in Venice,” noted Gerima, whose father is celebrated Ethiopian filmmaker Haile Gerima, a renowned figure in the L.A. Rebellion film movement.

Being one of the few Americans in Venice was a singular experience. “There was a lot of buzz around the film, which sold out on its first day,” said Gerima, who lauded the stringent safety protocols of the festival.

The film has a documentary feel to it, with opening shots of actual protests and footage from his L.A. to D.C. road trip. Residue’s poetic visual style is underscored by footage taken with a diversity of cameras, including cellphones and a donated Arri Alexa camera. Employing guerilla style filmmaking meant eschewing location permits as he shot scenes at his friends’ and family’s home turf.

It boasts a cast of mostly non-actors with the exception of Nwachukwu and a few others who have had some theatrical experience. “The actors didn’t see the full script, we gave them the scenes of the day and rehearsals would often be the final take,” said Gerima, who said he gave them some free rein to improvise.

Working on a shoestring budget also meant having just enough to feed cast and crew, with his aunts doing the catering.

Lamenting the eradication of already marginalized communities from gentrification, Gerima asserted: “We felt it was necessary to tell this story.”

Isabel Sandoval Explores the Power of the Unsaid in ‘Lingua Franca’

Presented by Ava DuVernay’s Array Releasing, Lingua Franca, Isabel Sandoval’s poignant tale about a trans immigrant in New York, made cinematic history when it became the first film produced, written, directed, edited by and starring a trans woman of color to compete at the Venice International Film Festival last year.

Lingua Franca bows in select theaters in the U.S. and on Netflix on Aug. 26.

A hit in France, Cahiers du Cinema hailed the film’s blend of political impulses with true romanticism as “rare in contemporary cinema.”

Lingua Franca, which had its world premiere at the festival’s Venice Days sidebar, is Sandoval’s third film but her first to shoot in the U.S.. She made her first two films, Señorita and Apparition, in her home country, the Philippines.

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Inspired by the personal experiences of her fellow immigrants in New York, Lingua Franca pivots on an undocumented trans woman, played by Sandoval, who cares for an elderly Russian lady Olga (Lynn Cohen) as she struggles to secure a green card and sends money home. An unexpected romance with Olga’s wayward grandson Alex (Eamon Farren) compels her to face the realities of her identity, her civil rights and her immigration status.

In Lingua Franca, Sandoval explores the power of the unsaid. “Lingua Franca means bridge language, which between immigrants of different countries would most likely be English,” said Sandoval. “In the film’s case, what’s left unsaid becomes the lingua franca.”

“The quietest moments in my films tend to be the most powerful,” she mused, pointing to a signature theme in her films: “quiet, almost dialogueless scenes between two characters that are anchored in dramatic tension.”

Unsurprisingly, her oeuvre has been about the marginalized and the disempowered, more often than not in political settings.

Sandoval’s debut feature, Senorita, revolves around a trans woman, played by herself, who gets drawn into politics. Apparition is set in a convent just as then President Ferdinand Marcos begins to crack down on the opposition and declares martial law. As the outside world threatens their peace, the film reflects on the journey of the nuns in the Philippines who were transformed from their docile and subservient stance to becoming frontline leaders in the country’s people power revolution that toppled Marcos.

Sandoval ventures into a new genre in her next film, Tropical Gothic, which she hopes to shoot next year in the Philippines. Set in 16th century Philippines after the arrival of the Spanish conquistadores, Tropical Gothic turns on the haunting of a Spanish colonizer by a native priestess. “It’s a vampire story without vampires,” she quipped.

Amazon Prime’s ‘The Candidate’ A Showcase for Mexico City, Executive Producer Says

Award-winning writer/producer Peter Blake, whose credits include “House,” “Billions,” “The Practice” and “ZeroZeroZero,” trains his sights on Mexico’s narco violence and political corruption in bilingual series “El Candidato” (“The Candidate”), which bowed on Amazon Prime in July.

“When we met with Peter, we found out he spoke Spanish — aside from other languages — and gave him carte blanche to explore how he wanted to create the series,” said executive producer Juan Rendon, who noted that Blake ran the writers’ room as well as penned some of the episodes.

“He had a very good understanding of Mexican current events and politics when we first sat to discuss the project,” added Rendon, who used to run the documentary division of U.S. Hispanic TV network Univision, where he came across a number of untapped stories.

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Made under the 2018 pact forged between Mexican TV giant Televisa and Amazon Prime to produce premium TV content, “El Candidato” follows two CIA agents, one a grizzled vet played by James Purefoy (“Rome”) bent on capturing an omnipotent drug lord played by Joaquin Cosio (“The Strain,” “Narcos: Mexico”), and the other a rookie (Eréndira Ibarra of “Sense8”). The candidate in question is a mayor with presidential ambitions, played by José María de Tavira, whose TV credits include “Rosario Tijeras” and “Diablo Guardian.”

The rookie is given the unenviable mission to find out the connections between the mayor, her old flame and the drug kingpin.

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The series showcases Mexico City as the vibrant, wealthy metropolis that it is. “It’s almost a separate character in the show,” said Rendon, who applauds Blake for bringing a “well-crafted writing structure” to the series.

Shot on location between November 2018 and March 2019, “El Candidato” boasts a formidable production team led by co-directors Jaime Reynoso, who’s worked on big budget films shot in Mexico such as Neill Blomkamp’s Elysium, and Humberto Hinojosa, whose credits include “Luis Miguel: The Series” and “La Hermandad.”

Its stable of writers includes Ted Cohen (“Veep”), Max Hurwitz (“ZeroZeroZero”), Katherine Walczak (“The Flash’), Daniel Krauze (“Luis Miguel: The Series”), David Chasteen and Eva Aridjis (The Favor).

“El Candidato” also counts on the vast experience of one of Mexico’s most sought-after production managers/producers, Stacy Perskie, who has worked on a number of high-profile projects shot in Mexico, including “Narcos: Mexico,” Elysium, Godzilla: King of the Monsters and the 2015 James Bond film Spectre, noted for its astonishing Day of the Dead opening sequence in Mexico City.

While Amazon Prime does not give out viewing numbers, the reviews from Mexico have been first-rate. The show has stirred up considerable debate as it explores the extent of U.S. involvement in the country’s long painful struggle with narco violence and government corruption.

“The series discusses a lot of uncomfortable truths in Mexico,” said Rendon.

A second season has yet to be announced.

Guatemala’s Jayro Bustamante Says Making Political Horror Mash-Up ‘La Llorona’ Was ‘Stategic’

Hailed by Oscar winner Bong Joon Ho (Parasite) as one of 20 directors who will shape the cinema to come, Guatemalan filmmaker Jayro Bustamante continues his stellar career trajectory with La Llorona (The Weeping Woman), the third installment of a trilogy that kicked off with his 2015 Berlinale Silver Bear winner, Ixcanul (Volcano).

Winner of Best Film at the 2019 Venice Film Festival sidebar, Venice Days, La Llorona turns on the household of a retired general accused of spearheading the genocide of Mayan peasants decades ago, a clear reference to a similar case in Guatemala. As his wife, daughter and granddaughter take refuge with him, the house is besieged by protesters and his spooked domestic staff flees, with the exception of his devoted housekeeper. The arrival of a mysterious indigenous woman, who has answered the call for hired help, further spikes the atmosphere of dread.

La Llorona is Bustamante’s first foray into the horror genre. “Our decision to explore this genre was not so much artistic, as strategic,” said Bustamante who notes that Guatemalans are still in denial of the massacre of Mayan peasants during the government’s counterinsurgency operations in the early 1980s.

“A study revealed that Guatemalans consumed mostly horror and superhero movies, so we saw the genre as a way to bring the realities of our dark past to them,” he said. Bustamante drew on such references as Dracula, and the psychological suspense of Robert Eggers’ The Witch as well as Alejandro Amenabar’s The Others and M. Night Shyamalan’s The Sixth Sense. “I wanted the mythical figure of La Llorona to be elegant, like Dracula,” he said.

He reimagined the Latin American fable of a grieving mother seeking revenge for the death of her children to symbolize the victims of the genocide.

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“My three films represent what Guatemalans consider the three biggest insults,” said Bustamante who sees Ixcanul, which centers on a Mayan teen trying to own her sexuality and her pregnancy, embody the biggest insult you can hurl at a Guatemalan: “Indio!” Calling a Guatemalan “Indio,” despite the country’s overwhelming indigenous population, is considered a massive insult. “It just shows how we discriminate against ourselves, how low our self-esteem is,” he mused.

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His second film, Temblores (Tremors) epitomizes the slur ‘Hueco,’ which is a local derogatory term for gay. Temblores delves into the homophobia prevalent in conservative Guatemalan society as a well-to-do family seeks conversion therapy for its gay patriarch.

La Llorona embodies the third insult, “Communist,” which is a carryover of the 1950s sentiment against communism, which later devolved into accusing those advocating for human rights and for reducing Guatemala’s vast wealth gap as communists, said Bustamante.

All three films touch on social inequality, racism and the lack of opportunity in Guatemala.

La Llorona stars María Mercedes Coroy, Margarita Kénefic, Sabrina de la Hoz and Julio Díaz.

The film will be available Aug. 6 on Shudder in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom.

The Secret: Dare to Dream

DIGITAL REVIEW:

Available 7/31/20;
Lionsgate;
Drama;
$19.99 VOD;
Rated ‘PG’ for language and an injury image.
Stars Katie Holmes, Josh Lucas, Celia Weston, Jerry O’Connell, Sarah Hoffmeister, Aidan Pierce Brennan, Chloe Lee.

A timely feel-good movie for these uncertain times, director Andy Tennant’s romantic take on the self-actualization best-seller by Rhonda Byrne, The Secret: Dare to Dream stars Katie Holmes as a widowed single mother who is burdened by debt and lives in a crumbling house with her three young kids. Enter Josh Lucas’ enigmatic character, Bray, who literally collides with Holmes’ Miranda and proceeds to fix her car bumper and her roof, rousing a modicum of suspicion and jealousy from her fiancé, Tucker (Jerry O’Connell).

Bray also offers sage words of advice to Miranda and her children, which prompts one of them to ask, “Are you sure you’re not from California?” Miranda, skeptical at first, later concedes to his positive thinking philosophy when she says to him: “I think we collided for a reason.”

Byrne’s book and documentary The Secret delves into the new age belief in the Laws of Attraction: That is, think positively, and positive things will come to you.

As Byrne says: “Joy attracts more joy. Happiness attracts more happiness. Peace attracts more peace. Gratitude attracts more gratitude. Kindness attracts more kindness. Love attracts more love.  Your job is an inside one. To change your world, all you have to do is change the way you feel inside.  How easy is that?”

The movie expands this concept into a story of family, of hope and the notion that if you wish hard enough, you may just get the proverbial pony you’ve always wanted.