Once Upon A Time in Anatolia director and Golden Tulip jury head Nuri Bilge Ceylan talks about what it takes to be a director, influences including Chekhov and his next project, during an Istanbul Film Festival masterclass.

Renowned Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan was the subject for a packed masterclass at the Istanbul International Film Festival yesterday afternoon.

The media-shy director, who is heading the international feature jury at the festival, talked mostly about his working methods and his most recent film, Once Upon A Time in Anatolia, which won the Grand Jury Prize at Cannes last year.

Ceylan was enigmatic at times: “Film is a complete void”, he began tentatively. “I am learning all the time.”  “Directing actors is a complete mystery to me,” he also conceded.

However, as in his films, amid seeming indecipherability and scepticism the director flashed moments of brilliant lucidity and illumination: “I am interested in the dark, the abysmal, the uncanny aspects of human nature. I force myself to understand them…I am not philosophical in my films. I reflect portions of reality. We need to create an audience that is adjusted to a presentation of semi-reality and leave the rest to imagination. When we read books we leave a lot to the imagination. Through a type of vagueness in film we are able to achieve the same result.”

In response to a question about what it takes to be a director, Ceylan said: “Artists need to step beyond expectations.” And of structure, he said: “Form makes a story credible.”

Ceylan cited Antonioni as an influence, but singled out Russian writer Chekhov for particular praise and impact on his career. He described Chekhov’s short stories as “superhuman”: “The way I look at detail is influenced by Chekhov. The banality of the everyday can become important.” 

He also stressed the importance for the director to understand every technical element of the filmmaking process and to be as informed as his crew about the many moving parts that go into getting a film made: “I wish I wasn’t so curious. But I am. I need to know. The director needs to understand all technical elements. He controls everything.”

The director was coy about the subject of his next film [“I am not trustworthy with my ideas,” he said] but did reveal that he has already written a script and that it will shoot this coming winter.