YIDFF 2009 New Asian Currents
Death of the Poet
An Interview with Elif Ergezen (Director)

Disappearing Languages, the Desire to Inherit

Q: How does it feel for you, as a Laz, to look at your fellow Laz, Hasan Helimisi?

EE: When I first heard Hasan Helimisi’s poems and songs, recorded on to cassette tape in the Laz language in his own voice, I thought they were really amazing. He found a way to bequeath his own thoughts, feelings, and artworks, and he put this into effect, so that these works remain after his death. I think that fact in itself is amazing. After Hasan Helimisi died, I thought that I had to take on his thoughts and words.

Q: Hasan’s daughter Narima cannot understand his language, but do you think she could get a grasp of this stance or way of thinking that he had, of always facing forwards and not having regrets?

EE: Not at all, she didn’t know anything about her father. But I realized that the fact that people knew that her father had been a poet, gradually began to become important for her life. She didn’t have a way of life like that of her father, who believed simply that at any time, no matter what happened, the world would become a better place to live. Although Narima was alive, if pushed I’d say that I gradually came to realize that she was being kept alive by her father. Yet in spite of the fact that there were many things that she wanted to say to her father, he had already passed away, and she could neither understand her father, nor convey what she wanted to say to him. Although sadly it is too late for these two, for the people watching the film, and the people living now, there is still time. I want viewers to substitute themselves for Narima or Hasan, to ask themselves, what if parents get separated from their children? What if they cannot communicate because they do not have a common language? I want viewers to ask themselves what they would do if they found themselves in that kind of situation, what should they do if they are currently in that kind of situation?

Q: There are many languages in the world which, like Laz, are in the process of disappearing, while on the other hand there is the trend of converging around a language like English. What do you think of these processes?

EE: I think this liberal trend of erasing the mother tongue and conforming to a lingua franca is dangerous for today’s world. And that’s not just language, it’s the same for culture and lifestyle too. Having a mother tongue is really a wonderful thing. It means that you can express your own culture in your own language. That’s why I will continue to make documentary films. And that’s the case not just for your own mother tongue. I think it would be great if we could preserve many languages and cultures.

Q: But don’t you think that having a global language is convenient for understanding one another?

EE: At this year’s YIDFF, I’ve been able to have all kinds of conversations about the festival with people with whom I have no common language. And with my film as well, I’ve listened to the opinions of people from many countries. It’s not the language itself which is the problem, it’s whether or not we want to understand one another that’s important. I’m convinced of this.

(Compiled by Iida Yukako)

Interviewers: Iida Yukako, Kimuro Shiho / Interpreter: Arai Yuka / Translator: Oliver Dew
Photography: Ito Ayumi / Video: Ito Ayumi / 2009-10-10