Palme d’or-winning unfinished “YOL” is 35 years later still Turkey’s most important film and with its topics more contemporary than ever. Finally, it has been restored and completed for the occasion of Yılmaz Güney’s 80th birthday 2017.
“YOL – The Full Version” honors what the great actor, author, director, producer and prisoner wasn’t free to complete during his lifetime. It presents on the screen the entire content of the script that Yılmaz Güney wrote in prison. Thanks to intense research, film material that was thought lost was found, digitised and edited according to Yılmaz Güney’s original editing plan. Image and sound have been accurately restored to their authentic condition. “YOL – The Full Version” recounts, as in Yılmaz Güney’s original script, six, rather than five stories about Turkish and Kurdish prisoners. Each of them attempts to get his life back on track during a week’s leave from prison. For 35 years, the fate of these men and their wives have moved audiences around the world. “YOL – The Full Version” is a piece of Turkish-Kurdish film history that is more contemporary than ever. The work is a timeless portrait of an archaic society whose concepts of honor and moral compass are the downfall of men and women alike.
COMMENTS FROM PRODUCER Donat F. Keusch
Since 1982, Yılmaz Güney’s film “YOL” has only existed as 35mm film prints and illegal DVDs etc., all of poor technical quality. They are all drawn from the version that was shortened for Cannes in 1982, and are thus incomplete. This was put together with undue haste, and in the process both picture quality, and, moreover, sound quality, suffered. The version defaces this most important Turkish-Kurdish film and fails to do justice to its significance. For years I assumed that the poor picture quality was the work of the cameraman. A test-scan of the original negative in 2012 made apparent that Erdogan Engin’s camerawork was very good given the circumstances. The unsightly copies of the film were the result of unsatisfactory work in the laboratory.
In 2016, work began on the restoration and digitisation of “YOL” based on Yılmaz Güney’s script, the English translation of the revised version of the script, and the original, 1982 editing plan. In May, 2017, restoration work was successfully completed. The film has at last been finalised and “YOL – The Full Version” could be seen in its originally planned form for the first time at Cannes Classics 2017.
HOW IT BEGAN
It was during the cold winter of 1979 at the Berlin International Film Festival when the head of my company’s world sales department, Eliane Stutterheim, asked me to go and see a Turkish film. The screening was held in the old Cinema Arsenal, one of the worst theatres in the city of Berlin: ugly, dirty, ageing seats, bad air conditioning and terrible picture and sound quality. I nearly went blind in my left eye that day. The theatre was sold out and I had to sit on my small suitcase. All these inconveniences were forgotten once the screening had begun and I was watching SÜRÜ (The Herd), the best Turkish film ever made. The print was diabolical, the subtitles incomplete and of terrible quality. But none of this could impinge on the profound truth and power of that incredible film.
FIRST CONTACT WITH YILMAZ GÜNEY
In the summer of 1979, I went to Istanbul to meet Yılmaz Güney. He had a day’s release from Imralı Island Prison, where he was being held at the time. We had a sincere conversation about SÜRÜ (The Herd) and some political issues. As it drew to an end, I told him he would never be released. The leaders of the Turkish Army were too afraid of his influence on the Turkish and Kurdish peoples. He was convinced an amnesty would be declared in 1980 and that he would be set free. Instead, there was a military coup that year.
STORY OF YOL
At that time, we were already discussing the next project, with the working title of BAYRAM. Yılmaz was still in prison, and following SÜRÜ (The Herd) and DÜŞMAN, (The Enemy), this was to be the third script he wrote in prison. Yılmaz’ idea for BAYRAM involved ten prisoners being granted leave from prison for the Bayram holidays. It would have been a script for a monumental movie about Turkey comparable to Bertolucci’s 1900 on Italy. We at Cactus Film had no idea how to finance such a huge project. I proposed to cut it down by half of the protagonists and half of the stories. I still had doubts that a movie in episodes could be a success in the theatres. But Yılmaz’ script, with its stories of six detainees, contained a very strong, very human, and universal theme that ran through all the stories: it illustrated most of the important facets of imprisonment, of being imprisoned, and the eternal thirst for freedom.
Instead of an amnesty, there was a military coup in 1980, and the incarcerated Yılmaz had to resign himself to leaving his beloved land. He convinced Şerif Gören to take over as director on the set of “YOL”. Şerif himself had just been released from prison, and had to be briefed by Yılmaz on Imralı Prison Island. Line producers on set were the experienced Armenian, Kerim L. Puldi, and his helpful colleagues. Elizabeth Waelchli was good at maintaining professionalism in editing and collaborated closely with Yılmaz Güney. The filmed material we received from Turkey was terrible. Almost all the shots were too short and there was a great lack of variations in length and angle. I still don’t know what the hell they did with those 25,000 metres of Fuji negative.
In the end, when I was already in a panic because we’d spent all the budget, Yılmaz and Elizabeth saved this film on the editing table. During post-production, we accepted Yılmaz’ proposition for the film to be called “YOL”. At the same time, I managed to sign a co-financing contract with a German company and a pre-sales contract with Swiss Television.
Because of Elizabeth Waelchli’s positive influence during the editing of Yılmaz’ film DÜŞMAN, (The Enemy, 1980, dir. Zeki Ökten) it went without saying that she would edit “YOL”, too. Yılmaz agreed, but we were worried about how they would communicate; she did not speak Turkish, Yılmaz spoke and understood very little English, French or German. Editing began in Zürich in the summer of 1981 while Yılmaz was still incarcerated, by now in the prison of Isparta. In mid-October, 1981, I organised his escape and we successfully reached France, where he was welcomed with open arms. In late October, 1981, he began to edit the film in Divonne.
After the editing of “YOL”, Yılmaz wanted to reedit all of his films. From my favourite, SÜRÜ, (The Herd) we planned to cut fifteen minutes. And we agreed to finish “YOL” after the Cannes Film Festival by editing out some of the repetition and removing a host of minor mistakes. Furthermore, we discussed re-mixing the sound. But Yılmaz had his health to take care of. His stomach cancer became increasingly life-threatening in 1982.
YILMAZ GÜNEY (1937–1984)
“YOL” (1982) and “YOL – The Full Version” (2017) is a film by Yılmaz Güney which Şerif Gören, his long-term assistant, was in charge of shooting. During this process, Yılmaz Güney – like the protagonists of his film – was imprisoned on the island of Imralı and then in Isparta: he could not direct the film himself. He had been condemned to lifelong imprisonment on a politically-motivated charge of murder. Yılmaz Güney convinced the only recently released Şerif Gören to take over directing in his stead.
Thanks to the planning, and with the dedicated assistance of people from Turkey, France, Germany and Switzerland, Yılmaz Güney managed to flee his military-run homeland. In France he was granted political asylum. In Zürich and Divonne, the empathetic Elizabeth Waelchli edited with Yılmaz Güney the material filmed by Şerif Gören. “YOL” is living proof that it is not a director who makes a film, but rather a team. It is a collective work whose spirit reaches from the stormy 1980s right up to the current day with its origin in Yılmaz Güney’s life and the script he created. The film could only be made with the help of Güney’s friends and companions. It was directed by Şerif Gören and a dedicated team, and produced by Cactus Film, which had its origin in the Filmkollektiv Zürich. It was with the latter’s collective spirit, and strictly according to the specifications of
Yılmaz Güney, that the hastily assembled work could be entirely restored, supplemented and completed. For it to participate in the Cannes competition in 1982, twenty-seven minutes had to be edited out almost overnight. Thirty-five years after “YOL” won the Palme d’Or, and in the year that Yılmaz Güney would have turned eighty, “YOL – The Full Version” returned to the Cannes Film Festival in 2017.
- DUVAR THE WALL | 1984
- YOL THE WAY (Şerif Gören) | 1982
- DÜŞMAN THE ENEMY (Zeki Ökten) | 1980
- SÜRÜ THE HERD (Zeki Ökten) | 1979
- ZAVALLILAR THE POOR ONES | 1975
- ARKADAŞ FRIEND | 1974
- ENDIŞE ANXIETY | 1973
- AĞIT ELEGY | 1972
- BABA THE FATHER | 1971
- UMUT HOPE | 1970
- AÇ KURTLAR THE HUNGRY WOLVES | 1969
- SEYYIT HAN BRIDE OF THE EARTH | 1968
and many more
- AMERIKALI THE AMERICAN | 1993
- POLIZEI POLICE | 1988
- ON KADİN TEN WOMEN | 1987
- SEN TÜRKÜLERİNİ SÖYLE | 1986
- UMUT SOKAGİ | 1986
- KAN THE BLOOD | 1985
- FİRAR THE ESCAPE | 1984
- DERMAN | 1983
- TOMRUK | 1982
- YOL THE WAY | 1982
- HERHANGİ BİR KADIN | 1981
- ALMANYA ACI VATAN (Zeki Ökten) | 1979
and many more