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Do It Now: Berkeley Cineaste Steps Up
by Doniphan Blair
Kayalar, going all out, also did a poster and publicity campaign for his activist short, '99%'. photo: courtesy C. Kayalar
Berkeley filmmaker Celik Kayalar put his money where his mouth is by leaping into the election fray, the Occupy story and the economic debacle with his tightly -acted and -produced 22-minute short, "
Starring recognizable actors and personages like Carl Lumbly and Noam Chomsky, "99%" makes its points crisply and strikingly.
"This is not a propaganda movie," Kayalar told me recently, when we met behind the Pixar campus at his Emeryville edit suite in Illumina-Studios. "When one passes a certain age, one realizes there is not a whole lot of time to waste. If you want to say something, do it now."
The director/writer of "Moonlight Sonata" (a noir feature, 2009), and director of the acting school Film Acting Bay Area (Emeryville), Kayalar finished "99%" last week and is getting it professionally publicized in an attempt to go viral on YouTube before the impending November 6th decision day. To help that effort, click here: "
Although it cost him some serious scratch, Kayalar also leapt into the realms of high profile/lower budgeted filmmaking by recruiting his old friends Noam Chomsky, who appears as himself, and Carl Lumbly. A Berkeley resident as well as a talented Hollywood actor, Lumbly has done a lot of film and television work, playing characters in "Alias" (2001-6) and "Justice League" (2001-6) and appearing in "Trauma" (2010) and "Grey's Anatomy" (2008).
"I was compelled as a filmmaker to do something about the growing economic inequality in America," explained Kayalar. "I think it is unethical and cannot be sustained. This is my way of saying something."
Celik Kayalar, scientist, writer/director and now activist, behind Pixar Studios in Emeryville. photo: courtesy C. Kayalar
"Last October, when I became aware of the Occupy movement, it reminded me of how much I care about [this issue]. Professor Chomsky has being saying this for so long and, just like every thing in his life, he has been vindicated."
Kayalar quickly moved into writing a 15 page script and casting: "I was already casting in my mind as I was writing." He approached the story through an ordinary person, an apolitical young schoolteacher who falls on hard times, played by another good friend, Jessiqa Pace.
A veritable shapeshifter, Pace also stars as an entirely different type in the new feature "Falling Uphill" (see
) and has a part in Woody Allen's recent San Francisco project.
When Lumbly read the script, he immediately agreed to do it. "That was the first time someone of his stature has agreed to do a short. 'I believe in it,' Lumbly said, 'Pay is no issue, I want to do it,'" Kayalar told me.
"It could have been a feature but that takes a lot of time and money. By the time it is out, two years have passed and who knows where we are in America. I am not a documentary filmmaker—a lot of good people will be making that film I am sure. But I could make a dramatic narrative film of 15 to 20 minutes and get it out there through the Internet."
"Maybe later, I will go through the festivals but I don't want to wait around. Do it, get it done, put it out. In my mind the deadline was the elections. I am not naive enough to think a movie by an unknown director would affect the result—that is not the point. If the message makes a positive contribution—if nothing else to bring the vote out—I would be a happy man."
Chomsky is brought in "via satellite," in a "Charlie Rose"-style talk show, allowing
Kayalar to save money by filming with a pickup crew in Boston. Kayalar has
known Chomsky since doing his molecular biology postdoctorate at MIT in the '70s. As well as attending his lectures, Kayalar was introduced to Chomsky by Nobel laureate Salvador Luria, Kayalar's mentor in the biology department and a politically-active scientist.
"I had the great fortune to be introduced to Professor Chomsky. I was a fan of his, reading his books, but now I was in close proximity, hanging on every word, going to all his seminars. Many years later, I am still following Professor Chomsky, although we didn't have an ongoing communication since my MIT years. Yet, about a year ago, when I thought about this film, I found that he is 100% behind the Occupy Movement, so I contacted him."
Kayalar with old friend Noam Chomsky who stars in his film. photo: courtesy C. Kayalar
"To my pleasant surprise, he said, 'Celik, this could work.' But he said, 'I am not an actor, so don't expect me to perform.' When you read the script, everything is scripted, but when it came to Professor Chomsky, it was blank—whatever he wanted to say. We get to hear in the film what Chomsky thinks about this movement."
For a 20 minute short, it turned out to be a longer process than Kayalar had hoped, taking seven days shooting locally, another day in Cambridge, and a couple of months of editing.
"I had never been physically to an Occupy rally, I read about it and followed it. I think I have a fair understanding of the issues. I am using in this film the rather
spectacular movements and clashes with the Oakland police " which he obtained from documentary shooters on the scene (courtesy of the SF Bay Guardian).
Kayalar was assisted in the editing by the dedicated Ryan Smith with whom he "had a good time, a lot of laughs. When you work eight to ten hours a day for a few months, you get close. This is the end but it could be the beginning. It will probably have a part two, "99% Part II". I enjoyed the process very much."
Kayalar founded and runs the Film Acting Bay Area, which works out of Expression College in Emeryville, the former president of which, Spencer Nilsen, did the score and sound track. The setting is Oakland-Berkeley with Lumbly playing an idealistic economy professor in a fictitious school called Berkeley College. He inspires the struggling teacher played by Jessiqa Pace as well as other parties which leads to an unexpected climax.
"I come from a very political family," Kayalar explained. "My father, uncles and other family members were all somehow involved, either as statesmen or parliamentarians in Turkish politics. My father spent five years in jail as a political prisoner in Turkey between 1960 and 65."
"In one of [the Turkish Army's] coup d'etat s, my father was in the parliament. The next thing you know, he and his fellow parliamentarians are put through a kangaroo trial and HE spends five years in jail." The family used to visit him in jail almost weekly, creating an intense impression on the young Kayalar.
Assistant Editor Ryan Smith and Kayalar finetune the cut as they race to get their short out in time for the November election. photo: courtesy C. Kayalar
"Politics was in the family. And when we talk about politics in Turkey, we mean business, not like the Republicans and Democrats in this country, which are pretty similar. When two parties clash in Turkey, or three or four, for that matter, there are a lot of sparks."
"My mother comes from another political family. Her father and brother all worked for Ataturk and they supported the statist government. My father was from the new wave of capitalists, so you can imagine the arguments at the dinner table."
"Ataturk created modern Turkey and wanted to take it away from the East and Islamic influence, which doesn't come too easily. He had to do it in spite of the majority—he led and people had to follow. But, as Turkey opened up to more democracy, you started bringing in the voices that had been largely silenced and repressed, mainly the Islamic voices—nothing wrong with that, I have great respect for everyone's religion."
"But, at the end of the day, I personally come from the tradition of Ataturk's
secularism. It served Turkey and the World well. I hope a harmonious compromise is possible, as in my family."
Of course, Kayalar choose not politics or social sciences. He went first with hard science, becoming a biochemist and working in a lab that won a Nobel Prize, and then turned to the arts, first painting and then filmmaking. Now Kayalar has the opportunity to blend the two in equal proportion and if he pulls off the alchemical golden mean of form and content, "99%" will have its intended affect and we can hope to see a part two and perhaps more hard hitting dramatic political films out his cohort of Berkeley actors and filmmakers.
You can watch "99%" free at the
Posted on Oct 29, 2012 - 10:16 PM