Kutlug Ataman:Journey to the Moon
Kutlug Ataman is known for video work that uses interviews to explore desire, subjectivity and the effects of cultural politics. His work typically offers multivalent expressions of experience and narratives of self that expand the notion of documentary into fiction through the telling: the performative self as becoming. Absent in his feature-length film Journey to the Moon, 2008, however, is the close scrutiny of a subject that has, up until now, defined his oeuvre. Instead, this film takes his work into the realms of history-making to reflect on the present. Such narrative strategies, particularly that of juxtaposing the historical and the contemporary, herald a new mood. In the same way, the formal devices set up important disjunctions, such as the interplay of black and white and colour, still film shots, shifting speeds and talking heads that constitute the kind of complex subject that is usual with Ataman through the different modes of address.
Ostensibly, the narrator tells the story of an incident in a village in the isolated region of Eastern Anatolia in the late 1950s. A chauffeur-driven car breaks down there one day and the stranger, who is an engineer (and also a politician), takes advantage of this delay, and a captive audience, by delivering a speech about progress on behalf of his party. In passing, he mentions the Russian space programme. This event sets off a chain reaction that culminates in a small group of villagers using the minaret from the local mosque as a rocket to fly to the moon. The people who drive this escape represent the forms of oppression that tradition often produces. They also represent the restlessness that curiosity and education can instil: the young woman who runs off to the city library to read every week; the poor shepherd who dresses up in a skirt and dances in the field to an audience of sheep; and the disenchanted mechanic who had studied in the recently defunct Village Institute.
The depiction of the village can be seen as a metaphor here for the wider society, just as the rocket is the critical metaphor that encapsulates the necessity of competing with the modern world--even more than the desire to escape the confines of the village (a life exemplified by petty gossip and religion). These three want more than the village can offer and they seize the opportunity to leave.
Journey to the Moon is a film that ruminates on the tensions between modernity and tradition through an exploration along different time frames. The film sets up a narrator telling the story of a village, in black and white, with film stills: a format popularised through Chris Marker, a currently fashionable choice of progenitor. Ataman then adds another layer, of contemporary academics and pundits, as talking heads. Shot in colour, they comment on the narrated film stills, offering an expert view on the Zeitgeist of 1950s Turkey, during the era of the cold war, the space race and the modernisers who set up widespread programmes like the Village Institute to educate villagers on technological progress where before there had only been religious schools. Through the device of the explaining expert from Istanbul University (although not all were from that particular institution), Ataman puts a self-reflexive gloss on the exoticising gaze. …