Sometimes chocolate speaks of geopolitics. It does just that in Turkish director Derya Durmaz’s film “Ziazan,” part of the D.C. Shorts Film Festival.
In the 15-minute movie — which has screening dates through Sept. 15 — a 4-year-old Armenian girl stows away in the enormous suitcase of her uncle, a traveling merchant who has brought her Turkish chocolate in the past. She is greedy for more. International tensions turn Ziazan’s surreptitious journey into a pint-size version of “The Odyssey.”
Because of a closed border between Armenia and Turkey (which have a history of troubled relations), her uncle regularly has to take 36-hour detour through another country, Georgia, to obtain his Turkish merchandise. This time, even that strategy may falter.
Speaking by phone from Istanbul, where she’s based, actress-turned-filmmaker Durmaz, 41, recalls reading a 2011 news report about a circuitous trans-Georgia route that was de rigueur for vendors traveling between Armenia and Turkey. “I thought this was very ironic and absurd,” she says. After all, “if you go to eastern Turkey and stand close to the border and yell,” you can be heard in Armenia.
These reflections eventually generated “Ziazan,” which is “a short film for those who believe in a world without borders,” she remarks in a post-interview e-mail.
She developed the film project with assistance from the Armenia-Turkey Cinema Platform, an organization that was launched by cinema lovers in the two nations and whose aims include promoting mutual understanding.
All the “Ziazan” filming was done in Armenia, and Durmaz’s partners in that country helped set up kindergarten visits so that she could scout for likely young actors. (Chubby-cheeked Emy Vardanian eventually landed the title role.) Her Armenian colleagues also translated her script (which she had written in English) into Armenian; she created Turkish subtitles for Turkish-speaking audiences.
The shoot, in the summer of 2013, coincided with protests over plans to raze a park in Istanbul — protests that tested the government of then-Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is now Turkey’s president. A police crackdown on the demonstrators turned violent.
The Turkish nationals involved in the “Ziazan” film were all too aware of those events. “It was very emotional for us to be away from Istanbul, being at the set all day, then coming home late at night to follow, on social media, the violent crackdown on protests,” Durmaz says.
International cooperation on the movie didn’t end with the Armenia shoot. At the age of 18, as an exchange student in the United States, Durmaz had made friends with people from around the world. When she wanted to submit “Ziazan” to a Spanish festival and needed subtitles in Spanish, a plea for help via social media resulted in contacts she has in the Dominican Republic, Spain, Venezuela and elsewhere crowdsourcing the project.
“There is this quote of my favorite novelist, Tom Robbins: ‘Our similarities bring us to a common ground; our differences allow us to be fascinated by each other,’ ” says Durmaz, who is scheduled to be Washington when the film is screened. “Even when we think we are so different from each other, we experience so many similar things in this life. And, yes, I really do agree that our differences bring such richness of perspective into each other’s lives.”
The “Ziazan” screenings join an array of offerings scheduled for Turkish Cultural Heritage Month, a celebration organized by the American Turkish Association of Washington, D.C., in partnership with other entities. Also on the lineup for the month: Turkish Heritage Weekend at the Plaza at Tysons Corner Center in Northern Virginia (Sept. 12-14) and the 12th D.C. Turkish Festival on Sept. 28 on Pennsylvania Avenue. By the way, that chocolate theme in “Ziazan”? It may have something to do with Durmaz’s own sweet tooth. “I’m a fan of all sorts of desserts,” she confesses.
“It’s a synesthesia experience.”
That’s one phrase Erik Spangler, a Baltimore composer and electronic musician, uses to describe his collaboration with Austrian artist Astrid Rieder. On Sept. 24, at the Austrian Cultural Forum, they will stage an example of the performance genre Rieder calls “Trans Art.”
Using electronic instruments, such as a Kaoss Pad, Spangler (a.k.a. DJ Dubble8) will improvise a score that draws on some of his past compositions. Rieder will draw abstract images with various pens, pencils or colored crayons, depending on the music. Each artist will respond to the other in real time.
Trans Art consists of “interplay between contemporary art forms, which results in an intensified overall experience for the audience,” Rieder explains in an e-mail.
Spangler, speaking by phone from Baltimore, says: “Sound and image are being organically connected and moving together, [yet] at the same time responding to each other and creating an immersive landscape for the audience. Hopefully, it’s a contemplative act for Astrid and I, and for the audience as well.”(Baltimore is scheduled to host a Rieder-Spangler performance Sept. 25; the two artists will also take their act to New York, for performances Sept. 27 and 28.)
Rieder, who is based in Salzburg, has been working in Trans Art’s boundary-crossing vein since 1993, when she started drawing to the sounds of John Cage and Morton Feldman in a workshop run by Wolfgang Seierl, a Vienna-born composer, musician and visual artist.
Her goal —“inspired only by contemporary music,” she says — is to move audiences beyond conventional ways of thinking about and pigeonholing art. Audiences at past concerts, she says, have told her, “When I see you drawing, I better understand these sounds!”
She hastens to note that she is far from the only artist to marry brands of creativity in this way. “But almost no one sticks to it as incessantly as I do!” she says.
D.C. Shorts Film Festival. Various locations, Sept. 11-21. Visit www.festival.dcshorts.com.
“Trans Art.” Sept. 24 at the Austrian Cultural Forum, 3524 International Pl. NW. Also, Sept. 25 at Gallery 788, 3602 Hickory Avenue, Baltimore. Visit www.acfdc.org.
Wren is a freelance writer.