Rendezvous with Directors 7: Pelin Esmer


February 6-16, 2020

Istanbul Modern Cinema is celebrating the seventh year of its series “Rendezvous with Directors” which features directors who stand out for their artistic identity and original approach on the map of contemporary cinema in Turkey. Pelin Esmer is the guest for this year’s program, which focuses on auteur cinema and centers on the dynamics of present-day cinema and directors’ productions from their own standpoint.

Pelin Esmer had her first experience in film production while studying sociology at Boğaziçi University when she worked as a camera, sound, and production assistant for American filmmaker Jeanne Finley’s Conversations Across the Bosphorus (1995), a documentary made by a two-person crew. After graduating from university, Pelin Esmer attended Yavuz Özkan’s Z1 Film Workshop. Her first time on a feature film set was a behind-the-scenes job in Özkan’s The Anatomy of a Man. After completing the workshop, she worked for some time as an assistant to documentary filmmaker Enis Rıza, and later as assistant director in Ziya Öztan’s film The Republic (Cumhuriyet, 1998). She continued to work as assistant director until she produced, directed, and did the camerawork for her first film The Collector (Koleksiyoncu, 2002), a 46-minute-long documentary in which she follows her real-life uncle, Mithat Esmer, who collected all kinds of items. Seven years later, this personal story evolved into 10 To 11 (11’e 10 Kala, 2009), a fiction film in which this same collector (Mithat Esmer) crosses paths with the concierge of the building where he lives (Nejat İşler). She started writing the script during her residency at the Cannes Film Festival’s Cinéfondation where she was invited in 2007. The film had its international premiere at the San Sebastian Film Festival.

Pelin Esmer’s first feature-length film was a documentary titled The Play (Oyun, 2006) which follows the creation and staging of a theater play called The Outcry of Women! (Kadının Feryadı!), written and performed by nine women who live in a village in the Taurus Mountains and spend their days working in the fields, on construction sites, or at home. 13 years later, the director met up with these women again and filmed Queen Lear (Kraliçe Lear, 2019), which is in a sense a sequel to The Play. The second feature-length film in Pelin Esmer’s career as a director who zigzags between documentary and fiction is Watchtower (Gözetleme Kulesi, 2012), a story about conscience told once again through the encounter between two different characters. After having its international premieres in Toronto and Rotterdam, the film won five awards including the award for “Best Director” at the Adana Golden Boll Film Festival. This was followed by Something Useful (İşe Yarar Bir Şey, 2017), a film she co-scripted with author Barış Bıçakçı about literature and death, set during a train journey where two women cross paths. “It is in the ‘in-between’ness of fiction and documentary that I feel I would like to stand” says Pelin Esmer whose cinema creatively uses that ambiguous space between documentary and fiction. Through her larger-than life characters, cinema’s relationship with reality is put to the test anew in each film. The director’s 20-year career in cinema can be described as a journey paved with unrepeatable documentaries and meandering through different fictions. A journey that calls into question the usefulness not only of art but also of life, and is concerned as much with the encounters between its characters as the characters themselves.

Besides the six productions in Esmer’s filmography, the program also features special screenings of some of the milestones in her career, including the short film Snow (Kar, 2000) which was her first film, as well as Anatomy of a Man (Bir Erkeğin Anatomisi, 1997) directed by Yavuz Özkan whose crew she worked for after attending the Z1 Film Workshop. 


Thursday, February 13, 19.00

Moderator: Müge Turan, Film critic

The conversation held within the scope of the program focuses on Pelin Esmer’s cinema and her direction.

The event is free of charge. Seating capacity is limited.

Click for tickets and further information

Anatomy of a Man
10 to 11
The Collector
Queen Lear
The Play
Something Useful


Turkey | DCP, Color, 84' | Turkish

Director: Pelin Esmer

14 years after her documentary The Play (Oyun), Pelin Esmer revisits the women of Arslanköylü in the Taurus Mountains. In The Play, Behiye, Cennet, Fatma, Ümmü and Zeynep had acted out their own life stories. This time, they have tried their hand at an adaptation of one of Shakespeare’s classic plays, King Lear, and go on tour to the mountain villages of Mersin. We witness these five wonderful women throughout the sharp turns they take on the dirt roads that run along the edges of cliffs during their journey to the remote villages they are trying to reach. We watch the troupe alongside the inhabitants of the highland villages where they go, as the play King Lear gradually transforms into Queen Lear.



Turkey, France, The Netherlands, Germany | DCP, Color, 104' | Turkish

Director: Pelin Esmer

Cast: Başak Köklükaya, Öykü Karayel, Yiğit Özşener

Two strangers meet on the night train. The poet Leyla is on her way to meet her high school friends after many years. Canan is on the way to a nursing “job.” Leyla is intrigued by Canan from the moment she steps on board the train. After Leyla bombards her with never-ending questions, the young nurse Canan reveals her reasons for being on this train, and a one-way journey for the two begins.  Co-written with Barış Bıçakçı, Something Useful has received several awards from this year’s film festivals with its directorial finesse and outstanding acting.



Turkey, France, Germany | DCP, Color, 96’ | Turkish

Director: Pelin Esmer

Cast: Olgun Şimşek, Nilay Erdönmez, Menderes Samancılar, Laçin Ceylan, Kadir Çermik, Rıza Akın

Pelin Esmer now tells the story of the meeting of two people who avoid others. Nihat has sought refuge as a guard in a watchtower at the top of a remote forest and Seher, in a bus station by the highway in Tosya. Both are in a battle with themselves. These two people, whose paths collide at an unexpected time, will henceforth have to fight their battle against guilt together.


10 TO 11 (11’E 10 KALA), 2009

Turkey, France, Germany | HDD, Color, 110’ | Turkish

Director: Pelin Esmer

Cast: Nejat İşler, Mithat Esmer, Tayanç Ayaydın, Laçin Ceylan

Mithat Bey has succeeded in protecting his collections, accumulated over the years, against all kinds of risks. Every item he looks for to ensure the continuity of his collection takes Mithat Bey to different corners of Istanbul. While for Mithat Bey Istanbul is as boundless as his collection, for Ali it consists only of the area surrounding the building of which he is the concierge. When the residents, worried about an eventual earthquake, decide to have the building demolished, the two men’s struggle begins; Mithat Bey to save his collections and Ali to safeguard his life.



Turkey | HDD, Color, 70' | Turkish

DirectorPelin Esmer

When Pelin Esmer learned that nine women from the village of Arslanköylü in the Taurus Mountains were coming together to write and perform a theater play about their own lives, she went straight to Arslanköylü with hopes of making a film out of it. She thus met Behiye, Cennet, Fatma F., Fatma K., Nesime, Saniye, Ümmü, Ümmüye and Zeynep, and, together with these nine wonderful women, decided to bring on screen the transformation of the women of Arslanköylü who had turned to theater to ease the burden of their endless daily tasks and duties. Treading the thin line between documentary and fiction, the film chronicles the change that these women went through as they developed their play, which they called “The Outcry of Women” (Kadının Feryadı).



Turkey | HDD, Color, 46| Turkish

DirectorPelin Esmer

Cast: Mithat Esmer

This first documentary by Pelin Esmer is a documentary which she completed in a total of three months. She not only directed it, but also produced it and did the camerawork herself. In the film, she paints an intimate portrait of her real-life uncle, Mithat Esmer, who, since his childhood, had been collecting objects that he found interesting, and acquired not just one, but two of everything. The director shot this film to get to better know this intriguing character and take a closer look at his hobby, which he placed at the center of his life. The film follows Mithat Esmer as he looks for new items for his collection every day in the most crowded and busy parts of Istanbul such as the Polish Market and the Grand Bazaar, and the neighborhoods of Kadıköy, Fener, and Galata. The film participated in many national and international festivals and won the “Best Documentary Award” at the 3rd Rome Independent Film Festival.


SNOW (KAR), 2002

Pelin Esmer’s very first film is a kind of short video clip. Inspired by the snow outside which was falling nonstop, Esmer used a Hi8 camera to capture images reflecting what the music of Arvo Pärt evoked in her. Esmer’s impressions about that day are as follows: “What I remember most clearly from that day is the darkness inside me that persisted as if to spite the blinding whiteness outside, and also certain images that kept appearing and disappearing behind the falling snow.”



Turkey | HDD, Color, 99' | Turkish

DirectorYavuz Özkan

Cast: Uğur Polat, Ayda Aksel, Deniz Uğur

Helmed by veteran director Yavuz Özkan, who passed away last year, The Anatomy of a Man was Pelin Esmer’s first set experience, where she was a part of the team making the behind the scenes videoafter she had been his student at the Z1 Film Workshop. Set in Turkey in the 1990s, the film conveys the intolerance and suppression that prevailed in the country, through the upheavals in the work and private life of Taner, an ambitious lawyer who is trying to save his marriage while also having an affair. His life soon turns upside down when one of his clients entrusts him with top-secret documents relating to the connection between the mafia and the government. Starring such talented actors as Uğur Polat, Tilbe Saran, and İştar Gökseven, the film is also where actor Taner Birsel played his first on-screen role.