The Story of a Shepherd Who Challenged Nature

İstanbul University Faculty of Communication, Department of Radio Television and Cinema Research Assistant Yunus Emre Ökmen made a new documentary film. In the documentary “Tren Ali (Train Ali): The Story of a Shepherd”, the information that could not be obtained by scientific means in the modern age is experienced and presented to the audience through the story of a shepherd. The documentary makes important contributions to social memory and oral culture.

The urban life that emerged with industrialization and modernization brought significant transformations on traditional forms of production and consumption. The shepherd profession, which continues its existence by resisting new forms and difficult conditions of nature, is not only an occupation. It also gives us many clues about traditional values. “Tren Ali” reveals all this cultural memory with the delicacy of the art of cinema and tells us much more than the story of a shepherd.

A Comparison Between Traditional and Modern Life

Research Assistant Yunus Emre Ökmen made statements about the idea phase of Tren Ali documentary, which he had directed. Yunus Emre Ökmen stated that he decided to shoot this documentary based on his personal experience. When he was living in İstanbul, he decided to move to Isparta for a while and when he moved from the metropolis to a small city, he had the opportunity to observe and compare the difference between the two cities. Ökmen said that transformations which occur with modernization on traditional phenomena were a subject that he focused on while carrying out his scientific studies: “I was observing serious differences between the forms of production and consumption in the traditional period and the forms of production and consumption in the modern period. As an academic at Radio, Television and Cinema Department; I thought of and searched about the ways to express all of these concepts visually and auditory. As a result; I was always reaching out to nature, to the people who made their living from nature. All these descriptions led me to describe the occupation of shepherds who were not infected with the cities of the modern era”.

The Story of the Nickname “The Train: Tren Ali”

Isparta was a very convenient place for this subject, as it has clean air, green areas, low level of industrialization and it is still an area where the profession of a shepherd continues. Ökmen emphasized that the role, identity and observations of the researcher in social sciences are very important. As a result of Ökmen’s individual relations in Isparta, the people he knew from the Provincial Directorate of Agriculture and the shepherds provided the emergence of this documentary. Ökmen said that Tren Ali was one of the shepherds in the documentary. He said: “One of the most important shepherds in Isparta and the main character in our documentary, Shepherd Ali is known by his nickname ‘Tren’ in the region where he lives. This nickname comes from Ali’s father, Abdullah. One day, when Abdullah escapes from the military and arrives in his hometown of Isparta, he jumps off the train to get off early. Some people saw him while he was jumping off the train. From that day on, the whole village called him as, Abdullah who jumped off the train. Later, the family was called as ‘The Trains’ in the village of Hacılar. This is where the character of our documentary, Shepherd Ali, takes his nickname; Tren Ali”.

“I Cannot Stand Being in the City Center”

“What does a shepherd do? How does he live? How does a nomad adapt himself to a life pattern in summer, winter and spring? It is possible to find the answer to all these questions in the documentary. Despite many of the comfort features of urban life; the difficult conditions and the obstacles related to living a healthy life in the city lead people to complain”. Ökmen emphasized that none of these areas are seen in the life of a shepherd, and shepherds adapt to nature in a much better way than people living in cities, even though they live in very difficult conditions where there is no electricity, water or road. Shepherds who must cope with an altitude of 2,500 meters continue their lives by challenging nature. Ökmen continued: “This is what we asked Shepherd Ali: We wondered if he ever went to the city, what he was doing when he went there. The answer was: ‘I cannot be peaceful when I go to the city, I cannot stand to stay in the city center of Isparta’. He told us that he has children who are officials, who work in different branches of business and they live in the city. He told me that his children could live in the city, but he could not. We wanted to highlight this in our documentary and to reveal the difference between traditional and modern life. We tried to explain that the modern era and cities destroyed many values. We aimed to show the importance of shepherd profession, which resisted modernization, and that occupation of shepherd is now beginning to end”.

Challenging Shooting Process of the Documentary

Research Assistant Yunus Emre Ökmen said that documentary’s script phase began in January-February 2019, while the shooting process took place in June-July. “We also carried out the process of obtaining permits during the scenario phase. We held our meetings with the Governor of Isparta, the Municipality of Isparta, Suleyman Demirel University, the Provincial Directorate of Agriculture and Ovine Breeding Cooperative Association in a synchronized manner. Since we were in Isparta, we used the equipment of Suleyman Demirel University in our shootings. The students of the Department of Radio, Television,and Cinema supported us voluntarily. I think it adds a lot to students’ ability to practice in the field in this way by going outside of their theoretical education. The people of the region, especially our character Shepherd Ali, were very hospitable. We express our thanks to all the people and institutions providing assistance”. Research Assistant Ökmen said that they did the shooting in difficult conditions, at Davraz Ski Center with 2,500 meters of altitude. The shooting of the documentary finished at the end of July. Ökmen added that after the end of shooting and 2-3 months of editing process, they finally had the final version of the documentary.

“As an Academic, I Should Have Had the Experience of Directing”

Yunus Emre Ökmen also evaluated the festival process about the documentary. He said that they started to send the film to competitions; they sent it to Kar Film Festival and TRT documentary awards competition. He said: “We will continue to send our film to festivals of public institutions or similar institutions, but we will not participate in every festival. Because the festival is not all we care about. I think that our intention and purpose will not be fully understood in the platforms where there are very large productions”. Ökmen also added: “As an academic in the Department of Radio, Television and Cinema; I thought that I should not talk about a film or a documentary without directing it”. Ökmen emphasized that he assumed such responsibility for this reason.

Ultimate Technological Equipment Was Used in the Filming

Another feature of Tren Ali is that the shooting was done with equipments suitable for the digital age. Research Assistant Ökmen stated that they applied new narrative languages and new shooting techniques in the documentary. Ökmen said that Harun Aslan and Armagan Abanuz are the image directors and the editing of the documentary was done by Harun Aslan. Yunus Emre Ökmen said: “We also did important studies in terms of audio, camera and light by the distrubition of tasks with the team. I think we did a good job in terms of production. Today, new shooting techniques are being developed. The images are now produced with the equipment such as drone and gimbal which deliver fast, moving, impressive results. So, we avoided falling behind the technology. We did not want to use cameras that were old and that were not full frame. We preferred equipment that captured digitisation and modernization. As can be seen in our documentary, we have 4K video recording cameras, drone images, actual images taken with ultimate art equipment. In this sense, we have a nice and high-quality content”.

“We Gained Experiences that We Cannot Have in Urban Life”

We gained very important knowledge while filming the Tren Ali documentary and we also gained great experiences from the observations by being alone with nature. In addition to the accepted scientific knowledge, the information that cannot be learned in this way is very important. Ökmen drew attention to this point with the following statements: “We saw an example of the concept of ‘pattern perception’ in our Shepherd Ali. It is very often discussed at our age. We understood how important it is to be able to understand logical reasoning and to be able to solve the language of nature with observations when you are alone in the nature; in the absence of even very basic things like electricity, water, the internet and the road. We also had the chance to get a lot of information about shepherds, from their clothing to eating habits, from the language they speak to the words they use, from their social lives to their private lives. We saw that we need to make it easier for the shepherds who work in very difficult conditions for the shepherd profession not to disappear. In Anatolia for example, families do not approve of their daughters’ marriage to a shepherd. Even getting married is a problem. They say: ‘This is a shepherd; he does not ever stop, and he does not know where he is going’. We observed the characteristics of animals, we watched how hundreds of animals that spread out into nature at the same time returned to their own stables when it got dark. We witnessed the problems between shepherds and foresters, and we realized that there must be a solution to these problems. We also met our character, Ali’s wife; we saw a female figure who is independent, strong and able to overcome many challenges by giving all kinds of support. We learned to predict the weather by looking at the sky. These were some experiences we would never have in city life. We are very happy about that. We aim to contribute to the social memory and oral history of Isparta. We hope that this documentary highlights the need to preserve our traditional values while keeping up with the age”.

News: Tuğçe AYÇİN
Translation: Yasemin UĞURLU
İU Department of Corporate Communication

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