Onur Karaman’s film ‘The Urban Farm’ screened at CFTF two days ago. Joseph Bibby reached the first-time feature film director from Turkish descent in Montreal, Canada over Skype and had a chat about his outstanding debut film, in which he negotiates youth perspective and the hardships of multiethnic origin in modern-day Canada.
Interview by Joseph Bibby
This was your debut feature; did you have any troubles making the leap from shorts to feature-length films?
“Nothing but troubles actually, it was quite something. It was the first professional shoot with this budget so there were a lot of things I didn’t know. Basically I got my training from scratch on this film, from the business aspect of things as well”
The film was partially funded by SODEC (Société de développement des entreprises culturelles), was it a challenge getting their backing to get the project off the ground?
“Yeah, it takes some time because you submit it and you’re competing against 40 other projects and they pick 5 or 6 depending on how good they think it is, and the first round they said it was a no-go, which as a disappointment, the second time they accepted it. The film itself was a little bit marginal, so that was the advantage of it I guess.”
How did you find the festival experience, and seeing the reactions to your work first-hand?
“It was screened at Festival du Nouveau Cinéma, that’s like basically TIFF’s (Toronto International Film Festival) little brother. It’s in Montreal in October, it’s a pretty nice festival actually. It was great, we had a diverse audience from all sorts of nationalities, so certain jokes that one group wasn’t getting, another was getting. It was really nice and interactive, and we had a full house, it was one of the best experiences so far.”
Were there any negative reactions to some of the immoral subjects the film looks at?
“As far as non-immigrants, they were a little bit shocked, like ‘Is this the kind of duality that you all go through?’ It was kind of a different experience for them, an enriching experience. The others just basically found themselves, so they saw their families in it, they saw themselves in it, they saw their own failures in it. So I think both sides connected to the story pretty well.”
Being of Turkish descent and growing up in Canada, are some of the themes of cultural identity based on your own personal experience?
“Yeah, I mean you extrapolate certain things, definitely. You grow up, especially when you’re in high school, where you don’t necessarily have that much of an identity. You basically attach to certain tags, whether it be nationalism, or religion, it’s like wearing Reebok or Nike you know? You follow those trends without really knowing what it is, and there comes a time where, as you grow up, you start to find your true self”
Are there any works that influenced you when making the film?
“Well I’m a big Scorsese fan, I can tell you that off the bat, but as far as films that influenced me a lot and had an impact on this film, either directly or indirectly, I would say Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing, or La Haine, by Mathieu Kassovitz, so those are the two main inspirations.”
When looking for actors to fill the roles you created, was there anything in particular that you wanted?
“Well, Karim (Karim Jallal), I knew beforehand that I was going to use him. I think he’s such a talented guy, and he doesn’t come from an acting background but I felt that he needed to be used in a movie, and I’m glad I did because he stunned everybody. As far as Jose (Dominic Quarré) I had an idea what I wanted, but I didn’t know that the person that I wanted was going to be pin-point like that, and as far as J-P (Raphaël Lacaille), it’s not the initial look that I wanted, but a film is a living thing right? You write it with what you have in your mind, but as you have auditions, as you’re doing rehearsals things evolve, so J-P changed throughout time, and basically I started liking this J-P more, as the smaller annoying kind of character.”
So you were pleased with the performances they gave?
“Yeah, every time I watch the movie I’m a little bit shocked, because I did my own editing as well, and sometimes I’ll be looking at their acting while they’re not even talking, and you see the gimmicks with their eyes and the way they connect, and I think they did a great job.”
The aerial shot towards the end of the film was very impressive, how did you achieve it?
“Yeah, we used a drone for that, and unfortunately it was a very, very windy day, but we managed to get that shot. We did a lot of rehearsing for it, as you could see it was all choreographed throughout the park, and of course I wanted to do even more than that, but because of the wind I had to limit myself. I wanted to go all around, the park itself was like a living thing, like a world in itself, and I wanted to visit all the various people walking by there, go into their worlds indirectly, just flying by it.”
Do you have any projects coming up in the near future?
“Yeah, I’m in pre-production for my second feature as we speak. We’re going to start shooting in September, and I would say we’ll be shooting until January, and it should be ready for next year. It still goes a little bit into the cultural aspect of things, but it also goes into the mindset of a person, and human emotions. We started our casting and so far it’s looking great. I’d like to do all sorts of different features, not always attack the same topics, and I’d like use this momentum to keep on doing as many films as I can, because you never know how long you’re here for right?”