A while back, we spoke about Modern Times. The film was shot in Izmir and describes the life of an ordinary man – or, more precisely, our dependence on the internet. Mashallah News spoke to the director Aykut Alp Ersoy.
Could you tell us a little bit about yourself?
I’m 28 years old and a graduate of the Media and Communications Department at Izmir University of Economics. After many years working in graphic design, I guess I figured out what I wanted to do and decided to give my heart to cinema. At the moment, I’m working with short films, video clips and advertisements. My goal is of course longer films. And by the way, I really love electronic music and the sea.
Generally, artists prefer to live in Istanbul. Why are you living in Izmir?
This was both a conscious and an unconscious choice. I mean, it wasn’t like, “Everybody’s in Istanbul, so why don’t I just live in Izmir.” – I’ve spent my whole life in Izmir: elementary school, high school and university. So Izmir occupies a very important place in my life but, to be honest, this choice I’ve made is a little bit like the competition between Hollywood and New York because, like everything else, the heart of cinema in Turkey is in Istanbul. Izmir is an incredibly beautiful Aegean city, but for artistic genres that require a large budget, like cinema, it’s a rather small and slow place. In any case, once I’ve made use of all the existing possibilities here, I’ll go to Istanbul too, one way or another.
The original Modern Times/Modern Zamanlar was a Charlie Chaplin film. Why did you choose this title?
There are two basic reasons for my choice of the title. The first is the way the movie was filmed. As everyone knows, the important thing in cinema is that the subject at hand must be described as much as possible through images and without sound, voice, or music. It’s important but it’s a really difficult thing. We chose to describe this subject as much as possible in the same formal manner as observed in Chaplin films such as Modern Times and other films of the period — as plainly as possible, as reliant on the image as possible, and without including much dialogue or camera movement.
As for the other point, Chaplin’s legendary film criticised industrial society. Remember the scene where he’s stuck turning again and again among all those gears? The technological innovations of that time turned human beings into robots; today’s society, through a variety of gadgets, also transforms humans into robots.
In fact, not much has changed. Maybe our clothes have changed, or perhaps the toys we use have been made a little more pleasing to the eye, but fundamentally, not much has really changed. In this sense, our film could be seen as a criticism of the information age. But of course – as someone who spends a large part of his time in front of a computer making use of all its blessings, I don’t have anything against the internet. When used correctly, it’s a powerful force and the future’s biggest vehicle for civilisation. Turning your back on such a concept is nothing short of ignorance.
Modern Times depicts the lonely life of a working man. How did you create the story? Where did it come from?
That man is both everybody and nobody. I mean, he could be you, me, or anyone else. The location is not so important either, because we shot the film as much as possible with an equation that had no specific cultural element but, in a more universal sense, possessed the common points of urban life anywhere. So I didn’t really have any trouble creating the idea stage of the film. Just go outside and have a look at your environment on the subway, or on the bus, or in a restaurant. There are so many guys like him out there. It’s impossible not to notice a majority like that.
So when you consider this, it would be unthinkable for a filmmaker to ignore such a large mass of people in his immediate environment. But let me add this: the film’s topic already sufficiently belongs to mass culture. It was also for that reason that I deliberately made that long and boring scene of him going to work at the beginning, so that it wouldn’t become just another pop culture film. Just like Nuri Bilge Ceylan did for his film Once Upon a Time in Anatolia. He said, ‘I deliberately made the first part boring, so that people who get bored would leave as soon as possible.’ In other words, one of the things I wanted most was that it not be a mass culture film and for the weight of cinema to be felt.
The main character takes an ironic photograph. In your opinion, does new technology imprison us within ourselves while we remain unaware of our plight?
As I pointed out above, that man is actually a symbol of all of us. While shooting this film, I couldn’t separate myself from him either. In the end, in one way or another, we all take the stage through the platform of the internet and we all love, in the most basic way, to see that red light in the top left corner (Facebook notification). And this is not just an issue with Facebook, of course. It includes Twitter, Tumblr, all of them, because human beings are still hungry for attention. Human beings are still trying to sate their egos. It’s just that with the internet, this has all become more visible.
A book came out a few years ago in Turkey called Facebook: I Am Seen, Therefore I Am. It talks about this. People are now in a rush – not necessarily to go somewhere, but to show that they have gone somewhere. That’s our film exactly. The man is struggling to derive some success from the internet by photographing a work called ‘I Want My Life Back’ made up of the logos of the leading internet companies.
At this point, are we imprisoning ourselves? It has everything to do with the way you use it. For example, I read the other day that it would take five hundred years to watch all the videos on the net. So within the wide parameters of this concept, if you focus on the videos, it should come as no surprise that you become “imprisoned.” However, if your focus is on the flow of knowledge and the “exchange-of-ideas” aspect of internet use it, then you will manage it rather than it managing you.
Ultimately, your film’s ending is ironic but also a little pessimistic. Does this describe you as well?
The ending of the movie is important, yes. It’s a little bit cynical. It might be interesting to laugh again at the end with some smile-provoking music. I’m not a pessimist, but there are billions of people who have to be pessimistic. And the reason? The entire film is explaining that very thing.
Translated from Turkish by Jeffrey Gibbs, edited by Angela Häkkilä and Laïla von Alvensleben.