Istanbul director Eylem Kaftan fearlessly tackles tough subjects in her documentaries. While living in Montreal in 2005, she made the award-winning Vendetta Song, which investigated the honour killing of her aunt in Türkiye. The York University–educated Kaftan has also made films about undocumented Algerians facing deportation from Canada, match-fixing in Turkish soccer, and a Serb general who defended Sarajevo.
Her newest documentary, A Day, 365 Hours, is perhaps her most emotionally searing. Screening at the Vancouver Turkish Film Festival at 1:15 p.m. on Saturday (November 25), it focuses on three inspiring young Istanbul incest survivors seeking justice.
“It was extremely difficult for me in the beginning because I was listening to their stories in detail,” Kaftan tells Pancouver over Zoom. “I am highly empathetic. So, when somebody tells me these stories, I feel them very deeply. I feel their pain and I feel their trauma. And I felt helpless, angry, and speechless.”
Kaftan has worked as a TV presenter for TRT Belgesel and a documentary producer-director for Al Jazeera. In addition, she’s on the board of a large Turkish nongovernmental organization, the Ahbap Association. Through this connection, she met three young women in her film: Reyhan, Leyla, and Aysa, who were then between 18 and 20 years old.
The director recalls being in tears when Reyhan described the hell of being abused by her biological father over a six-year period.
“He threatened to kill her every time she tried to escape or she tried to report to the police,” Kaftan says. “Her mother was going through the Stockholm Syndrome in which she was taking the side of the father. She was in denial. So, it was an extremely difficult story to listen to.”
Kaftan impressed by the women’s strength
Yet the young woman’s spirit couldn’t be crushed. Kaftan describes Reyhan as being so beautiful that she looks like she comes from another world. Her gentleness and kindness shone forth.
Kaftan points out that some lawyers told Reyhan that nothing could be gained by going to court. “But she didn’t give up,” the director says.
Eventually, the young woman found a tough, smart lawyer who took the case. Reyhan taped a phone conversation with her mother. This helped win her legal battle and her father was sentenced to close to 30 years in prison.
“Turkish women can really be a model for the world with their strength, with their courage, with their struggles, and with their perseverance,” Kaftan says. “They are a model for modern women.”
Reyhan met a friend in a shelter named Aysa, who was also a victim of domestic abuse. The third young woman in A Day, 365 Hours is Leyla, was abused by a father who was “quite an intellectual”, according to Kaftan. Leyla was born in Istanbul but is of Bosnian ancestry.
“Reyhan told her that she should also go to court,” Kaftan says.
Kaftan’s film was nominated for best documentary at the Sarajevo Film Festival. She describes it as a heroines’ journey story in which someone hits bottom, encounters a near-death experience, and is then reborn from her ashes to conquer the world.
“This little girl that nobody took seriously put her father in prison for 30 years,” Kaftan says. “Nobody expected that. That’s extremely empowering.”
Watch the trailer for A Day, 365 Hours.
Finding relief in art
In addition to documentary work, Kaftan directs feature films, such as Keeping the Bees, which won awards at several film festivals. It’s available on Netflix.
Her newest project is about Istanbul-born artist Burhan C. Doğançay, who rose to fame in New York City in the 1960s and ’70s. The Guggenheim and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York are two of many major institutions that have displayed his works.
Kaftan concedes that filming this documentary is a positive antidote to the emotionally draining work of A Day, 365 Hours.
“After the really tough subject of abuse, this is more of a light sort of experience, ” she says. “Art is very healing. I’m a very visual person.”
The Turkish Canadian Society and SFU Woodward’s Cultural Programs are co-presenting the 10th annual Vancouver Turkish Film Festival. It will screen Eylem Kaftan’s A Day, 365 Hours at 1:15 p.m. on Saturday (November 25) at the Goldcorp Centre for the Arts at SFU Woodward’s. For tickets and information, visit the festival website.