In 2008, a young, openly gay Turkish man named Ahmet Yildiz was fatally shot as he was leaving a café in Istabul. The suspect was Yildiz’s own father; according to friends of the 26-year-old victim, Yildiz had been under pressure from his family to seek a "cure" for being gay. He was slain after attending a GLBT conference in San Francisco. His father became a fugitive, and is still sought by police.
Yildiz was a friend of filmmakers M. Caner Alper and Mehmet Binay, who were making a documentary about male belly dancers (the Turkish word is "zenne") at the time of his death. Alper and Binay regrouped and decided to make a feature film instead, based both on the world of zenne dancers and on what has come to be regarded as Turkey’s first known "gay honor killing."
The result is "Zenne Dancer," in which a fictionalized version of Yildiz (played by Erkan Avci) and a zenne dancer named Can (Kerem Can) are close friends, both gay but from very different families.
Can (who also works as a fortune teller) is blessed to have understanding parents who fear for his safety, but aren’t a threat to him themselves. His older brother has returned to Turkey in a state of profound trauma after completing his military service; he drinks heavily, haunted by having had to kill in the line of duty. As much as they fear their younger son coming to harm on the streets, Can’s parents are even more worried that his impending military service will scar him in similar ways.
Ahmet, as portrayed in this film, comes from a religiously conservative family. His mother is "an angry woman," and his father cannot stand up to her; it’s the mother who presses the idea of the honor killing. Suspecting what her reaction will be, Ahmet attempts to keep his secret for as long as he is able, though he is hounded by a blackmailer.
A German photojournalist named Daniel (Giovanni Arvaneh) completes the picture. He’s come to Istanbul in the aftermath of a tragedy in Afghanistan, where he saw several children die. When Daniel approaches Can about photographing him as part of a project to document zenne, Ahmet tags along--and he and Daniel fall in love.
The three characters are complex, and they bounce off one another in complex ways. This is a rewarding film and it has been embraced by Turkish audiences, as well as picking up about half a dozen awards.
The film also offers a moving score, inventive choreography, and gorgeous cinematography. It’s bound to be one of the best entries on this year’s gay film festival circuit.
This article is part of our "Philadelphia Qfest 2013" series. Want to read more?
Here's the full list»