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Interview: Alumna Mediha Didem Türemen, Executive Producer of Turkey's Oscar Entry "About Dry Grasses"

Nov 14, 2023

It was in 2011, when she was selected for Talents Sarajevo, that Mediha Didem Türemen first shared a comman space with Nuri Bilge Ceylan in 2011, though at a distance. Mediha was attending the Talents programme as an actor, and Nuri Bilge Ceylan was presenting his award-winning "Once Upon a Time in Anatolia" at the festival. 
Twelve years later and that distance is long gone; Mediha acted as executive producer on the director's latest work, "About Dry Grasses", which had its world premiere in Competition at Cannes in May. The film has since gone on to screen at Toronto International Film Festival and Busan International Film Festival among many others. Now, officially submitted as Turkey's entry for the 96th Academy Awards for the Best International Feature Film, there could be an Oscar in sight.

We caught up with Mediha to hear all about the process of working on the film, what lead to it, and her career trajectory since her time at Berlinale Talents.

Mediha Didem Turemen
Mediha Didem Turemen

Your role has changed and evolved since you began your career. What drew you to the different aspects of filmmaking?

Right after graduating from university, in 2007, I was the production designer on the first film I worked on. This was a debut film and had a very, very small crew and budget. We were calling it a "No Budget" film. During production, I took on many roles on top of production design, including art direction, international relations and acting like a producer, as the circumstances required it. It was very difficult but I'm glad it happened. After the film was completed, I undertook international relations. I sent the film to the Venice Film Festival 2008, and it was selected for Critics’ Week, where the debut films competed. That international journey convinced me that the role of producer could be carried out with "creativity" and "versatility". I realized that I couldn't stay at one stage of making a film; I was interested in being involved in every stage and so interested to learn more.

Being able to personally participate in the stages of a work of art, to witness its formation and journey, to use all the creativity to make it happen, and then finally witnessing completely different geographies and cultures experiencing it as it transcends boundaries, is so important to me. There are many stories to tell, and the limitless, timeless form of filmmaking can change lives. This inspired me to try my hand at many aspects of filmmaking; being an ambassador for the formation of an idea, I see myself as part of filmmaking in an unlimited way.

Mediha Didem Turemen at Berlinale Talents 2018 © David Ausserhofer, Berlinale 2018
Mediha Didem Turemen at Berlinale Talents 2018 © David Ausserhofer, Berlinale 2018

Can you tell us a little bit about your time at Berlinale Talents and your progress after it?

I attended Talents Sarajevo first, in 2011 when I joined as an actor, and then in 2018 I attended Berlinale Talents as a production designer. Both experiences were great, horizon broadening experiences for me. I understood how priceless it is to share experiences and to obtain information from sector professionals. Berlinale Talents taught me that an idea can be looked at from completely different perspectives while building worlds, how to design the path of the journey, and made me realize that the journey itself is as important as the film.
One of the moments I'll never forget was the day we had a Masterclass with Wim Wenders at Talents Sarajevo 2011. I met him and learned a lot from his words. It was an important opportunity and an incredible experience. The same year Nuri Bilge Ceylan was also in Sarajevo. There was such a professional distance between us at the time, but it was my dream to work with him. Years later, I attended Cannes 2023 as the producer of Nuri Bilge Ceylan's latest work in the Competition, and one of the other films in Competition was "Perfect Days" directed by another auteur Wim Wenders. On the night of the Cannes award ceremony, it was an extraordinary memory for me to talk about this with Wenders in the after party, while celebrating the award as one of Ceylan's crew.

What made you pivot to your current role as executive producer?

I am also a photographer and engraving artist, so as an artist, both in my own works and in the film projects I worked on, I try to see all the stages of creating as a whole, to look at what may happen in its emergence, before and after its journey. Taking part in every stage from project planning to development stages always attracted me. The shift occurred spontaneously, born from my curiosity, because I love the adventure of delivering a work beyond borders, far away from my own environment and country; it is a big motivation for me. Therefore, production was always a task that existed in the background, I guess I just didn't name it, or maybe I didn't want to limit it to a single field.

How did the opportunity arise to work with Nuri Bilge Ceylan?

It happened so suddenly, but perhaps everything I did until that day prepared me for this responsibility. At the time, I was preparing for my documentary project that I would shoot in different countries, and I was in the script development stage of a fiction film project. My projects on photography and engraving were continuing.
I was already taken on the responsibility of shooting behind-the-scenes footage of "About Dry Grasses" and was very excited because I knew that it would be a long challenging journey lasting the whole snowy winter and warmest days of summer. When I heard that Ceylan was looking for a new producer and meeting with people, my first thought was, "May God make it easy for the new person, their job is so difficult." Suddenly I heard that he wanted to meet with me. I went to the meeting that same day. The meeting was short and despite all my fears, I did not hesitate and jumped into that unknown ocean. That night, I read Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s longest and perhaps most challenging script and I had already begun the journey, it was the first night of my sleepless days. Maybe he saw in me the "light" of endurance that could bear this difficult responsibility, I don't know.

Mediha & Nuri Bilge Ceylan on set.
Mediha & Nuri Bilge Ceylan on set.

How was the experience?

This is the type of experience that cannot be learned from any school; moreover, it was with a masterpiece by Nuri Bilge Ceylan and not only as the executive producer but with the additional responsibility of shooting the 'making-of' documentation.
The shoots were very challenging at every stage. From minus 33 degrees in winter, up to 55 degrees in summer; then in the midst of Covid-19, a snow-free sunny winter and a summer with sudden heavy rainfalls. It was long and intense, in a high altitude village in the east of Turkey, with a crowded crew, crowded cast, full of indescribable challenges, multinational co-production with many film funds and cooperation; an altogether challenging experience.
That said, it was so incredible to see the world created for the film; the international structure being established, how the film crew was formed, how the decor was set, the locations scouted, the casting, shooting of every scene, hearing every word of the director, the editing, the world premiere process and then the festivals, meeting with the audience, theatrical releases and now the prospect of the Oscar journey.

Behind-the-scenes with cast & crew on
Behind-the-scenes with cast & crew on "About Dry Grasses"

What was your favourite part of working on this project?

All the external shoots were my favourite, and of course the day of the world premiere in Cannes. Moreover, it was exciting to witness the whole process of the characters beginning to take form, moving from the pages of the script to how they physically talk, behave. From when I first read the script, until the first time I saw the rough cut, to hearing the reactions of the audience to those characters, it was completely fascinating.

Mediha shooting the \'Making-Of\' footage on
Mediha shooting the 'Making-Of' footage on "About Dry Grasses"

"About Dry Grasses" was selected for Cannes Competition, Toronto, New York and has been announced as Turkey’s entry for Best International Feature. What makes you proudest about the film itself?

That the film can say something to the geographies we cannot reach physically, and to people we cannot meet; that the film can leave a mark on people. Both of these aspects make me proud to be a part of such an artwork. It was worth all the sleepless nights, and I would do it all again without hesitation.

"About Dry Grasses" poster, Designed by Le Cercle Noir / Fidelio