An Oscar Contender Exorcises His Childhood Demons of Violence in Turkey

“This is my way to express myself and fight against violence," said "Where the Fire Burns" director Ismail Gunes at TheWrap screening series

"Where the Fire Burns" director Ismail Gunes is exorcizing his childhood demons.

“All my childhood was all in violence, and I am from a period where at least 10 people were murdered in Turkey a day,” Gunes said during a Q&A following a showing of the film Thursday night at L.A.’s Landmark Theatre, part of TheWrap’s Awards Screening Series. “This is my way to express myself and fight against violence."

Getty ImagesThe movie, Turkey’s Oscar entry for Best Foreign Film, is based on a real-life event that took place in the southeast part of Turkey in 2003, when a 17-year-old girl got pregnant out of wedlock. Feeling enormous shame from her actions, her father poisoned her.

Arrested for the murder, he felt no remorse. “He even said that he’d do the same thing over and over if his other daughters deserved it,” Gunes said. 

But here is where Gunes’ fictionalized version differs from real life. In his movie, the father also gives his daughter poison — but doesn’t know she also already has taken an overdose of pills. When she dies, he suffers immensely.

“I wanted to show regret and what would happen,” Gunes told TheWrap's Awards Editor Steve Pond, who moderated the Q&A, through a translator.

Gunes spoke of the daily horrors faced in his part of the world.  “I wanted to tell this story so that things like this won’t happen anymore," he said. "I told it in a different way. To feel regret is the main thing I wanted to express. I wanted to put a tremendous regret feeling once the dad poisons his daughter.”

Gunes said he broke the film into three parts. “In our part of the world,” he said, “they don’t have problems living with their children at all; so if something happens, like an emergency surgery, they’d really do anything to help them live. So the first section of the movie is about that.”

In the second part of the film, he wanted to show how everything changes if a child does something to bring shame to the family. “They then want to kill the child. Unfortunately, there is some sort of a sociological problem still going on that’s not solved, almost like a sociological mandate, and there’s no place in society for that child anymore."

In the third part, though, he wanted to bring a message of hope. People, he said, are born with love and passion. “That’s where we see a little light come to the surface and come to life. The last section is all about living — and I wanted to stress that.”

“Where the Fire Burns” is Gunes’ final film in a trilogy of violence. The first film, 1999's "Where the Rose Wilted," was about government violence against an individual and what the government can do to a person. The second, 2007's "Nothing Else Left to Be Said," was about the individual where money changes the person. “The money he makes comes back to him and changes him.”

“Where the Fire Burns,” he said, is about the nuclear family. “This is about how within the family violence takes place and is against an individual.”

The film’s producer, Baran Seyhan, who also took part in the Q&A, said he was touched by the huge press coverage about this film in Turkey. “It’s a sign that this matter is being discussed among the community,” he said.

Indeed, Gunes said, since 2003 there have been many changes in regards to the attitudes about these so-called honor killings.

“Three years ago a ministry of women’s rights and affairs was established,” he said. “The incidents didn’t stop, but now the women can go to places and make a claim, and there are very serious penalties now for these crimes.”