Between Illusion And Reality: Ahmet Uluçay
Ahmet Uluçay is someone who turned his dreams into reality on the silver screen. The lights he stroked up in his village now illumlnates the paths of many young cinematographers.
Ahmet opened his eyes the world in the Tepecik village of the Tavşanlı borough of Kütahya. He created a universe of imagination that was enlivened by the shadows that were reflected on the walls of the poor house of this small village which was yet to get acquainted with electricity, the stories told by grannies, genies and fairies. And he was truly engrossed in this universe. Childhood was Uluçay's homeland, and in his adulthood he wanted to dwell in that universe of imagination and to share it with others -he believed that the best way of doing that was making cinema. Albeit it being meagre, cinema still offered the chance to defy time which seems to slip through our fingers. All those that we've lost may continue to exist in cinema... But, for Uluçay, who had spent almost all his life in his village and destitute, making his dreams come true, that is to say to make cinema, was not be that easy. And just like his love of cinema, a malignant tumor was also growing in his brain. In his own words, there was always a weird asymmetry, a hitch in his life. In his childhood, he had an affectionate mother,on one side, and a father he feared and he did not want to come face to face, on the other. Step grandmothers, on one side, and biological ones on the other... And when he grew up, he had the movies he could not shoot but always dreamed of doing, on one side, and the tumor in his brain which made him homebound, on the other.
From being a shepherd becoming a director
When he graduated from primary school, Ahmet Uluçay worked as a shepherd for a long time, then as a construction worker, a truck driver, and later took up poultry husbandry -whatever job allowed him to bring home his daily bread. But he had always one thing on his mind: shooting movies. He had started dreaming of this in primary school. A traveling cinema had arrived in the village. Children had filled up a room, the projector had started running, and the movie played on the wall. Loving to draw, Ahmet Uluçay dreamed of his drawings getting animated. When the projector worked, he was amazed to see that pictures were moving on the wall of the school -the thing the had always dreamed of was staring him right in the face. This was the turning point of Uluçay's life and he decided to become a cinematographer then and there. Fortunately, he had a friend in the village that he could share his dream with: İsmail Mutlu who would become a mechanical engineer. The two friends decided to make a cinema machine together and despite the dire circumstances they managed to do so. Devoting loads of effort and time, they brought together the bits and bobs they'd gathered from their surroundings and run the device they’d assembled. They collected the film strips they’d picked up from the trash cans of the neighboring movie theaters, and binding these together held screenings in the village. That was how “Arkadaş Cinema Group” was established in the 1970s in Tepecik village. Expressing how he loved cinema at every opportunity, in an interview, Uluçay said, “If Lumiére Brothers were somehow delayed, it would certainly be İsmail and I who would have invented cinema. It would have been invented in our village.” And in a sense, it was... Years passed, Uluçay was married with children but his mind was still wrapped up in cinema. In 1993, he bought a camera on installments from one of the gastarbeiters visiting their village. It was quşte a primitive device that ran on electricity below 220 volts. Still, İsmail Mutlu and Ahmet Uluçay were excited, for they were very close for shooting movies for the first time. At the begining, they made a device that converted electric currency to 220 volts with the help of a power supply, and that’s how they got the chance to shoot outdoors. In these conditions, it was only possible to shoot with no panning, veritably without budging an inch. They took this tecnique a step further by pouring some water in between two pieces of glass, sticking them together and wrapping aluminum around it they made a lens. The issue of making a voice recording contrivance for this machine that ran on the engine of a sewing machine, would, once again, be solved by the engineering ingennuity of İsmail Mutlu. The two friends, who no longer had any obstacles before them., short their first short movie that year entitled Optical Illusions (1993). Taking life in the village and his conditions into consideration, it was not hard to imagine that their out-of-the-ordinary ethusiasm was not really understood and accepted by those around them. Uluçay was expected to have a job and be the breadwinner just like everyone else. However Uluçay’s mind was engulfed in cinema once again. Despite being quite a brillant student he had not gratuated from secondary school. On the other hand, he had such a cultural craving that he would devoured the world’s classics, poems, story books and all resources he could find on painting and cinema. He continued to be interested in painting; for instance, he made reproductions of famous paintings. He was constantly warned as a child about his areas of interest and when he became an adult he was margianialized. This did not change even the movies he shot recieved awards in the prominent festivals within the country and abroad. In the village, he was not taken seriously since none of these accolades remedied the poverty they lived in.
This was also the case with his later work; Uluçay’s first shots movie featured village roads transforming from shape to shape with light and shadow plays, images that got a new lease on life as the film strip ran, black trains whose origins and destination he did not know, genies, fairies and demons passing across his childhood memories...
Just like the author character in his first movie said, Uluçay was in some sense of the word Alaaddin who had lost his magic lamp but who was about to find it.
Uluçay shot short movies one after the other: Making Wings out of Crutches (1994), Dreaming in a Miniature Cosmos (1995), The Pearl Deep Down in the Sea (1996), The Image of Feature-Lenght (1999), Bayram Morning in Our Village (1999), Exorcise (2000), and Accident (2000). These movies recieved many awards. Uluçay’s movies in which he meld reality and illusion without compromising on candor show traces of his strong ties with his homeland, which in turn makes his cinema special. In festivals, the audience watching yjese movies full of rich imagery like eyes staring out of eggs, the dead inhaling and exhaling, dervishes, and entombed saints, failed to hide their amazement and admiration when they heard under which condition they were shot. Just like he says in his diaries, these short films actually were aimed at one thing only: to be abke to shoot feature-lenght movies. Despite coming and going to İstanbul over and over again, all the door that were shut in his face and all those days of despondency, he finally shot ‘Making Boats out of Watermelon Rinds’ in 2003. As was the case for this short movies, his main source of inspiration for this movie was again his childhood memories. The movie is about the adventures of two kids in an Anatolian town that was to make cinema. As in the movie ‘gımıldak’ that is to say unexposed film, was finally reflected onto the screen. The movie recieved a lot of acclaim; it recieved, among others, the Best Movie Awards at the 23. International İstanbul Film Festival and the 16. Ankara International Festival, and the Jury Special Award in the 52. San Sebastian International Film Festival. Uluçay had many more stories to tell; all characters the incorporated in these movies were around him, he felt their breath, heard their voices, and talked to them all the time. Howewer, the tumor in his brain made life difficult for him. On the one hand, he was besieged with attacks, crises and fears and, on the other, with hope and excitement... Without losing any more time, he turned to ‘Seashell in the Steppe’, the script of which he had already penned and was working on for a long time. In 2007, he started shooting, but unfortunately his health problems did not permit him to finish this movie. After a long and solemn process of hospitalization, he passed away in 2009.
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