15th TDF: Press Conference (Char...the No-Man's Land / Adieu Istanbul)

Char... the No-Man’s Land / Adieu Istanbul

Directors Sourav Sarangi (Char... the No-Man’s Land) and Dieter Sauter (Adieu Istanbul) gave a press conference on Wednesday, March 20, 2013, in the context of the 15th Thessaloniki Documentary Festival.

Following the story of a teenager, Sourav Sarangi’s documentary tells the story of the island of Char in river Ganga, between India and Bangladesh, which belongs to neither country. Mr. Sarangi explained that when India declared its independency from the UK, three post-colonial states were formed: Pakistan, India and East Bengal (present day Bangladesh). The river Ganga formed the natural border between India and Pakistan. People constructed a dam to control the flow of the river, but their efforts were not enough. When the Ganga flooded, it covered vast areas, costing many people their homes and lands. When the waters receded, a small island emerged mid-river: Char. The island is under the joint military control of India and Pakistan, but not recognized by any nation, so its inhabitants are “refugees in their own country”, as the director said. Mr. Sarangi visited the area dozens of times between 2002 and 2004 and met many islanders. He chose a teenager, who had been growing up on the island since the age of four, to be his protagonist. “This child was a teenager and an adult at the same time. At the age of 15 I was a student, whereas he is a rice smuggler. He knows about bribes and corruption and takes care of his family. He has the responsibilities of an adult”, said the director. Asked about the current whereabouts of his protagonist, he said: “The protagonist ‘follows’ you after you leave the theater, just like you follow him. Rubel is now 2,500 km. away from this ghost-island, and he is trying to rebuild his life. He is a fighter, a dynamic, positive person, who wants to explore life. His ambition is to go to university. During his smuggling days, he thought he didn’t have a choice, he would say ‘getting an education is impossible’. He made a conscious, adult decision to leave”.

German director Dieter Sauter has been living in Istanbul these past 22 years. In the TDF 13th edition, he had presented his photography exhibition “Human Landscapes”, featuring portraits of the city. This year, he returns with a documentary about the Greek population of Istanbul, Adieu Istanbul. “I felt it was impossible to understand the Istanbul of the present without knowing the city’s past and history. I realized there is no comprehensive documentary on the history of the Greeks of Istanbul, a community that influenced the course of the city and the Greek state. There are 2,000 Greeks living in Istanbul today, a community of people ignored by both Greek and Turkish history books. They get old, and at some point they will no longer be with us”, explained the filmmaker. After the Istanbul riots of 1955, the majority of Greeks left the city. According to the director, “most are unhappy -they are still living in grief”. He added that “those people are living in the fault lines of two worlds, feeling that they do not belong to their new country and knowing they cannot return to their old one”. Sauter met with some of them during the biannual film festival organized in Athens by former Istanbul residents, who told him: “We are not Greek, we are Constantinopolitan Greeks. We had been living there for 2,000 years. All our memories are still there, we have a very difficult time accepting our new home”. Asked about why he did not include the view of Turks who lived side-by-side with the Greeks in Istanbul, the director said: “It was a conscious decision. I wanted to give the Greeks of Istanbul the chance to talk, because no one had ever heard their voice. A film has time restraints and 90 minutes would not have been enough if I included Turks as well. I wanted to talk to the Greeks and then discuss the story with the Turks”. In the documentary, some young Greeks leave Greece to live in Istanbul. According to Sauter, they are an entirely new population. “Istanbul Greeks were born there and spent their entire lives in the city. This old community will inexorably disappear one day, as its population is aging”.

The films are part of the 15th TDF program, which is financed by the European Union’s Regional Development Fund for Central Macedonia, 2007-2013.