BASKIN: Pushing Boundaries, Interview with Director Can Evrenol

Although Baskin marks Can Evrenol's first feature film he has been behind the camera for many years. He has made several short films including To My Mother and Father (2010) which won The H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival Special Jury Award for Most Disturbing Film. In 2013 he wrote and directed the short Baskin which was the genesis for the feature length movie. As well as the controversial Don't Text PSA The Pencil. I recently had the opportunity to speak with Can. -- Robert A. Mitchell

You have said that the idea of Baskin came from Cthulhu are you at liberty to elaborate upon that answer?
I'm like Eric Zahn. Ideas come to me while I sit by my window at Rue d'Auseil

You have made several short films, and have a successful commercial career. How steep was the learning curve as you took Baskin from the short film into a feature? Could you share some insight into what you have learned?

It's like almost two different valuable schools for the short films and the commercial work. My short films were where I experimented with every aspect of filmmaking on it's most basic form. Production, scheduling, editing, pasting, sound design, foley, you name it... I was on my own with everything, but I was good at finding a couple amazing friends to collaborate on each project. With each short film I was setting a bigger task for myself, slowly increasing the scale of things. It was more like a hobby or a game to me. On my 5th short film, To My Mother and Father, my producers James & Russ (Neer Do Well) + prod designer Sara Sensoy + D.O.P. Stephen Murphy have set up this amazing guerrilla set in the storage room of in a secret Central London location. It looked and felt like an actual film set! It was one of the best weekends I ever had in my life. At some point in our 2nd day of shoot, looking at the beautiful blue set lights in awe, I suddenly had this very happy and confident feeling that if can run this set, then I could very well run a music video or commercial video set too. There I decided I would be a film director for the rest of my life.
Being a commercial filmmaker, I later found out, is more about human relations, and practicality. (Of course I can only speak for the industry in Istanbul, which is big, but lately too formulaic) Mostly I was the most inexperienced person on the commercial sets. Yet everybody had to treat me with respect. Every Day 1 morning was a test for me to gain the trust of the set. I just treated everyone as I would treat my friends in my short films. And luckily, nearly all my sets were very fun. It was like being a systems manager, as Seth Brundle puts it. You have a team of artists and crafts people who are better at their job than you are; and you manage to collaborate them into a single goal which you shape in your head. It was through 3 years of TV commercials, I met with many people on sets, and built up a like-minded and very talented crew to shoot my first feature film. It was the best formula. Indy attitude, with a commercial discipline.

Baskin has the distinction of being the first film from Turkey in the 27 years of the Midnight Madness program. Can you talk about the current state of film making in the country? Censorship seems to be a major issue, has this affected your film making in Turkey?

If you watch First Blood on Turkish TV today, -even in pay per view- when Rambo stitches his own arm, the wound will be pixelated. If you're watching True Detective, the beer bottles and cigarettes will be blurred. It's out right Orwellian, North Korea style bonkers. Unfortunately it has been a slow but sure decline in the freedom speech in Turkish media, which I fully witnessed.
When I was 7, it was a single government channel in late 80's Turkey. It was a bit fascist, but also liberal. Every Sunday morning it was 2 hours of classical Western orchestra. Unthinkable today. The whole nation had only one option to watch and it was 2 hours of classical Western orchestra. It has become a kind of joke really. And it was a good example of how out of touch with the general public, yet intellectual the authorities were at the time. With the Gulf War, suddenly we had private TV and cable. Everything was colorful with the arrival of Transformers, GI Joe, MTV, Eurosport, and crazy game shows. It was an era where TV and entertainment industry went crazy. No foundation, but tons of Western stuff to copy from. The result was pure craziness. Soon after, when I was 10, we had Playboy TV, Tutti-Frutti (Italian Striptease game show), Batman, The Fly, Tremors and all the box office movies uncut and all kinds of other good and bad craziness on prime time TV. There was no regulations. We had these crazy domestic crime shows (eg. Sicagi Sicagina) where a news crew would enter a crime scene before the police and put a microphone on a crying kid's face whose father has just been murdered by knife.
So things got ugly and degenerated extremely quickly. It was a premature pop culture. And soon after, following a huge economic crisis, the religious conservative party took over and day by day things started to get censored. I stopped watching films on TV a long time ago. Nowadays my wife and I don't even watch TV at home. Only dvd, bluray or YouTube.

Censorship in Turkish cinema is much better for now, although cinema culture in this country completely changed in the last decade. Ultra shallow and ultra popular native TV shows completeşy took over. The only box office hits are silly comedies, religious exploitation so-called-horror films, and other shallow garbage.
There is a huge gap between a handful of very talented filmmakers whose slow paste Tarkovsky-influenced films get negligible distribution (but get significant recognition at top international film festivals) and the garbage at the box office. I am extremely curious about how Baskin will be received by Turkish audiences. We are at the brink of war with Syria. Just last night 60 soldiers were killed in a terrorist attack. Traumatizing. It will be a coincide of real life horrors and fantasy, when Baskin gets a cinematic release in Turkey in 2 months.

You are no stranger to pushing the boundaries as your 2012 Fright Fest Don't Text PSA The Pencil can attest to. How important is it for an artist to push boundaries. What is like to encounter the firestorm of criticism that can accompany pushing the envelope?

What's the point if you don't push any boundaries? I hope I can always afford to just close my ears to that type of criticism, and go about my own work. When The Pencil played at Empire Cinema at Leicester Square, right before Film 4 Fright Fest's midnight screening of Maniac, the 1200+ audience had such a strong positive reaction that I couldn't believe my ears. Even when it was over and opening credits of Maniac began, the laughing and giggling in the audience has still not died out. I am shocked that with all the communication and social media and the horrors of war and life is ominous, people still can get shocked with films like Human Centipede and Pencil. I honestly don't get that.

Baskin is already being described as a visceral cinematic horror experience on par with a film like Martyrs. How do you feel about the comparison? What cinematic experience awaits the Midnight Madness audience?
I would say it's more like a glimpse of Frontiers, than Martyrs. I wanted to make a film that begins like a modern low-budget Turkish/European art-house festival film, which then slowly becomes a dark and cold urban fairy tale. I hope enough people dig it. It's a slow burner. It's best if you watch it without knowing anything about it.

BASKIN screens:
Fri, Sept 11, 11:59 PM RYERSON
Sun, Sept 13, 4:00 PM SCOTIABANK
Thu, Sept 17, 6:00 PM SCOTIABANK

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