Emre, a young and dedicated prosecutor, is newly appointed to a small town hit by a water crisis and political scandals. After an initial welcome, he experiences an increasing number of tense interactions and is reluctantly dragged into local politics. When Emre forms a bond with the owner of the local newspaper pressure escalates under heated rumours.
Emin Alper was born in 1974 in Ermenek, Karaman. Trained in economics and history at Bogazici University-Istanbul, Alper holds a PhD in Turkish Modern History. His first feature, BEYOND THE HILL (2012), received numerous awards including the Caligari Film Prize at Berlinale Forum and Best Film at Asia Pacific Awards. His second feature FRENZY (2015) premiered at 72nd Venice Film Festival's in Official Selection's competition and received Jury Special Prize. His third feature A TALE OF THREE SISTERS (2019) premiered at Berlin Film Festival’s main competition, and received many awards in several festivals. Aside from his filmmaking career, Emin Alper works as the artistic programmer of the newly found Istanbul Cinemateque since February 2021.
1/ How did you come up with the plot of Burning Days? Were some parts of the story drawn from real events?
The initial idea was to depict a lonely and idealistic person fighting against the corrupted elite of a small town. Of course, the idea was inspired from the recent political experiences of my country. You can always have the courage and drive to fight against corrupt and authoritarian politicians, but when you see that these people are popular and are elected again and again, you feel desperate, alone and isolated. And then after a while, you feel that you should overcome your depression and start fighting again – until the next failure. We have been stuck in such a vicious cycle these last years. Not only here in Turkey, but also other numerous countries have had similar experiences. So, I decided to write a story to depict this almost universal case and to convey the loneliness of people who are appalled by the rise of authoritarian populists.
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2/ Is Yaniklar a fictional town?
Yes, Yaniklar is a completely fictional town and I aimed to create a microcosm of Turkey. To create the story I wanted to tell, I realized that I had to place it in a microcosm like Ibsen did in “An Enemy of the People”. This play, which was written almost one and a half centuries ago, was one of my main inspirations.
3/ Is the water issue a real issue in some parts of Turkey? The mayor is controlling the town’s inhabitants through water. Do you believe this to be analogous with other means of control in other populist governances?
The water shortage is increasingly becoming an issue and the sinkholes are a real problem in central Anatolia. With the disappearance of ground water, the number of sinkholes is rapidly increasing and creating a real danger and despite this, the overconsumption of water is still going on. The populists thrive in such environments because they always find the most easily exploitable needs of the people. They propose fake short-term solutions and take advantage of the naivety of people and their prejudices. The water issue of Yaniklar as a fictional town could as easily be the land acquired by destroying Amazon rainforests, oil which was supposedly going to make everyone rich, or immigrants who are allegedly the source of all problems.
4/ How did you go about incorporating elements from the thriller genre?
It was not something I’d really intended at the very beginning. After sketching the frame (i.e. the story of the water shortage), I needed to create extra elements which would enrich the plot and deepen the character of the prosecutor. I thought that it should be something within the framework of crime fiction - not only because this sets up the film for suspenseful stories, but also because it always astonishes me to see that people can easily ignore the criminal acts of their beloved populist leaders.
5/ The dinner in the mayor’s garden is an important and long scene, at first funny – the actor playing the dentist is amazing – then disturbing. How did you work on that scene?
I really like long scenes of banquets. In almost all of my films, there is such a scene. They are really suited to elaborating on the tensions beneath the surface. Most of the dialogue was written in the script. We had many rehearsals, and during the rehearsals I let the actors improvise to a degree. I noted down some improvisations I liked and added them. When we were then on set, the scene was almost ready but we shot it over the course of four nights, so the biggest challenge was to keep the crew and actors’ emotional investment the same on different shooting days.
6/ Emre is trying to remember what happened on that night: are the parts he progressively recalls real memories or hypothesis?
It is a mixture of real memories, hypothesis and even wishful thinking. I did not want to depict a straightforward process of his progressively recalling things which at the end reveals the truth. It would be too classic. There is no definitive truth revealed for the audience at the end. The memories sometimes contradict each other. Some of them can be real, some of them are most probably shaped by the prosecutor’s mind according to the stories he was told. Some of them are maybe changed in the way the prosecutor wished to recall them.
6/ Murat’s character is ambiguous: is he helping Emre or manipulating him? Can you be more precise about what happened during his youth?
For me, one of the important themes of the film is that you cannot remain completely pure and moral whilst fighting against evil. Murat is a person fighting against corruption, however he has been living in this corrupt environment since childhood - it is incomprehensible that he can remain innocent in such a place. So yes, he is manipulative. But he is also sincere in his cause at the same time. I didn’t want to put him in a place that was either black or white. He really believes that the extinction of the ground water is dangerous, however he can be very manipulative to reach his goals. Probably because he thinks he cannot succeed otherwise.
The past of Murat is really ambiguous but it is implied that he was the male prostitute of the town when he was young. This issue was important for me to stress the hypocrisy of the conservative townspeople. It is usual for men to have homosexual encounters in such towns, however it is considered taboo to be gay or a prostitute and Murat’s sexual ambivalence was a narrative tool for me to reveal these double standards.
There is one more mystery in Murat’s past. Is he adopted by the ex-mayor for sexual exploitation or with the intention of real protection? It is also ambiguous, although the harsh reaction of Murat to Emre at the lake implies the latter.
7/ What is the spectator supposed to believe at the end the film: is it that Emre is innocent and has been trapped?
Not really. This is not a story between good and evil, but “less good” and “evil”. Pure good can only be found in fairy tales. As I mentioned earlier, fighting against evil can turn you into an evil character as well, or at least reveal your dark side. First of all, Emre never carries out a fully honest investigation. He probably manipulates Pekmez’s testimony to reach the conclusion he desires. He hides proof. However, he is brave and honest enough to continue the investigation although he realizes that he is drawn into the case.
Secondly, Emre is never sure about that night. As a man full of unexplored desires, he suspects that even he could be a potential rapist. What makes Emre virtuous at the end, despite all his defects, is that he continues fighting whatever the outcome might be. The most convenient way forward for him would be to drop the case, but he never does – he is not fully innocent at the end, but at least tries to hold onto some good within himself. This makes him fall into a trap which isn’t a well-conceived conspiracy, but the miscalculation of his own power against the grip the corrupt local politicians have on the town.
8/ The film opens with a spectacular wild boar hunt. At the end, Emre and Murat are the prey. Is homophobia a strong feeling in Turkey?
Unfortunately, yes. Moreover, it has become a part of government policy in the last few years. Until recently, despite the reigning homophobia among the common people, the LGBTİ+ community had gained serious visibility and become vocal in Turkey. However, a few years ago, the government started a crusade against the public representation of LGBTİ+ people and started provoking homophobia among the public. It is almost a universal case amongst right-wing populists. Just remember Putin and Orban.
9/ Is the quick formation of those huge pits a known geological phenomenon? In the film, those pits have a symbolic dimension: can you describe it?
Yes, it a known phenomenon in central Anatolia. As in the film, the main cause of those sinkholes is disappearing ground water due to overconsumption and it is really dangerous. Apart from that, those sinkholes symbolize the pits that the populists draw us into. They propose fake answers moreover completely wrong answers which are very harmful to people in the long run. Almost all populist politicians drag their people into pits of misery in the end, such as poverty, war, and economic crisis.
10/ Is Burning Days a struggle between tradition and modernity?
Not really, or only partially. Yes, Emre is a city boy and quite modern. The very first tensions he encounters appear when he clashes with traditional life; however, the problem is more complicated. The mayor and his son are only traditional to the degree that Le Pen, Orban or Putin are traditional. Populist leaders usually like to appear traditional and close to the people. They have a tendency to appeal to traditional, conservative values. However, these are generally manipulative tools for them. We should keep in mind that authoritarian populism is a modern phenomenon.
Selahattin Paşalı was born on February 2, 1990 in Muğla, Bodrum. Selahattin Paşalı completed his undergraduate education in Budapest, studied Art Management. Then she returned to Turkey and studied acting at Craft Atelier. He started his first acting career with the "Kalp Atışı" series. In 2020, Paşalı became widely known by portraying the character of "Osman Demirkan" in the Netflix series Aşk 101. In 2022, he took the lead role with the character of Halit in the "Midnight at the Pera Palace" series, which was also broadcast on Netflix. In the same year, thesingle-plan feature film called "Mukavemet", in which he shared the lead role with Ece Çeşmioğlu, was premiered at the International İstanbul Film Festival.
Ekin Koç, born in Alanya in 1992, started his acting career with his prominent role in the TV series "Sana Bir Sır Vereceğim". Besides studying Sociology at Anadolu University, he also studied at Stella Adler Studio of Acting.
He took part in many TV series and feature films with his leading role.
Selin Yeninci was born on January 16, 1988 in Izmir. The actress joined TRT Izmir Radio at the age of six and took part in many children's programs in TRT for 12 years as a presenter and voice actor. She also joined Karsiyaka Municipal Theater the same year she started hosting at TRT and took part in children plays as well as other plays until 2003. She graduated from 9 Eylül University, Faculty of Fine Arts, Department of Acting, Theater Department. During her time at the university, she was nominated for the Sadri Alışık ‘Female Comedy Musical Actress’ award in 2011 for her role in Haluk Bilginer's play Don Juan, which she performed at Oyun Atölyesi. Between 2013 and 2018, she toured in more than fifty cities with the plays 'Bezirgan‘ and ’Alevli Günler‘ of the Istanbul Public Theater, where she played and gave acting lessons. Her movie acting career started in 2014 with Nesimi Yetik's film ‘Toz Ruhu’. Yeninci starred in Ercan Kesal's ‘Nasipse Adayız’ in 2020, and played ‘Azize‘ in Cannes Award-winning Rezan Yeşilbaş's latest film ’Uçuk Köfteci' in 2022. Lately she took part in Emin Alper's ''Kurak Günler'' movie. The actress, who has appeared in many TV series, is currently playing ‘Meryem’ character in the TV series ‘Annenin Sırrıdır Çocuk’.
Erol Babaoğlu graduated from Istanbul University, Faculty of Communication, Department of Public Relations. Between 1996-1999, he studied "Theater and Acting" at Studio Actors under the direction of Şahika Tekand. Between 1999 and 2002, he acted in Istanbul City Theater and Theater Research Laboratory. He took the stage in various festivals, especially the 4th International Theater Olympics, Epidauros Festival, and the International Istanbul Theater Festival. He worked for many years with directors such as Beklan Algan and Ayla Algan, as well as Mehmet Ulusoy, Kenan Işık, Theodoros Terzopoulos. The actor, who also took part in cinema and television projects, also continued his studies at the Theater Research Laboratory (TAL) as a manager and educator. He plays in the Monologues Museum project and gives acting lessons at the "Istanbul Drama Art Academy".
Original title: Kurak Günler