Serdar Kökçeoğlu's Mimaroğlu: The Robinson of Manhattan Island is playing on MUBI in Turkey starting January 27, 2021.
1. The first scene is the story of the film’s genesis. It’s a hot day in 2015, and I’m sitting in front of a fan in an advertising agency in İstanbul, thinking of the content marketing articles I have to write within the day. I have a headphone in one ear, and an album by the English electronic music duo Autechre is playing. Despite my film education, I had never concentrated on making films until then, as I was afraid of film sets. Sweating, I tell myself, “this can’t be harder than life,” and I decide to make a film.
2. I’m on the streets of İstanbul, to make a short film before my feature film Mimaroğlu. It is a few months after the big decision. I have understood by then that what motivates me to make films is my interest in experimental music and sound. My composer friend Erdem Helvacıoğlu is recording sounds on the streets of İstanbul, for inspiration, or for using directly in his work, and I’m following him. I edit the footage, and it ends up as the short film Listening Through İstanbul. I feel rejuvenated to have left the office environment.
3. I’m on the phone, about to call Güngör Mimaroğlu, the soulmate of İlhan Mimaroğlu, who is among the pioneering composers of electronic music. İlhan Mimaroğlu died in 2012, and his wife Güngör lived alone in New York at the time. After the short film, Erdem and I want to take up something bigger! I get on the call with excitement, and it ends up being a long conversation, of great importance for the documentary. I say, “If only someone made a documentary on İlhan...” Güngör challenges me: “Don’t wait for others to do it. You say you make films, so don’t be lazy, you do it. I’ll support you.” She’s a strong woman, and I leave the phone conversation impressed.
4. It is 2017, and I’m teaching film in a high school of arts. Me and my director friend Levent, who teaches at the same school, are climbing up the hill that leads to the school. My plans to make a documentary on Mimaroğlu a year ago were spoiled by family problems. But now, I’m ready to make a film, and I ask Levent to recommend me a producer to make a radical documentary with. Levent introduces me to my primary producer Dilek. The Mimaroğlu project makes a big step towards realization that day.
5. We are in an apartment in Moda, one of İstanbul’s most beautiful neighborhoods. We’re in luck, as Güngör Mimaroğlu has now moved to İstanbul, where she was born and raised, after fifty years of living in New York. We begin preparations for the documentary, our researcher Elif and I will visit her every week for a long time. We eat, drink coffee, watch films together. Fellini’s Satyricon features the music of İlhan Mimaroğlu, and the voice of Güngör Mimaroğlu. Watching the film with her is a one-of-a-kind experience. Güngör impresses us, and we feel ourselves, and the project, change as we listen to her. Already careful not to instrumentalize her in the documentary, I now decide to foreground her side of the story even more.
6. I’m writing the first synopsis for a funding application: “The love story of İlhan, who worked in electronic music studios in the early ‘60s to change music, and Güngör, who demonstrated on the streets to change the world, the film is also the love story of avant-garde art and radical politics.” Such is my definition of the project, and I send the synopsis to a film festival. In time, I go on to write a treatment, where I decide to tell the story in three parts. But what ties all the parts, all the stories together is a love story that spanned more than fifty years.
7. It is early 2018, and we are at the historic Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center in New York. We are visiting the center, which is now called the Computer Music Center, on a trip funded by development support from the Antalya Film Forum, and planned by our United States producer Esin. This is somewhat of a sacred site for enthusiasts of electronic music. I close my eyes and imagine the struggle and enthusiasm it took to synthesize a “beep” sound in this room sixty years ago. This is fascinating.
8. This scene is a flashback. It is the mid-‘90s, and I’m working as a radio host in İzmir, the city I was raised in. I do my best to play new and alternative material in my program. Recordings of İlhan Mimaroğlu’s music are hard to find. Perhaps it was easier in bigger cities like İstanbul. The coastal town of İzmir is small, but with my friend Murat, we collect a nice archive of recordings. Years later, Murat will be an advisor for the film. Collecting the archives of sound, film and video footage filmed by İlhan Mimaroğlu, whose recordings I couldn’t find at the time, is an experience like no other.
9. The archive has been put together, the filming is complete. We are in Berlin, editing the film with our editor, Eytan, in the hot summer of 2019, working in an apartment close to the famous club Berghain. We play the music over and over in loud volume. The neighbors must be mistaking us for yet another of Berlin’s electronic music producer duos. We edit the sound tracks first, putting in place the commentary and music, and complete the interim sound design, which will be revised later. Working on the editing around the clock, we can see little of Berlin, but it is inspiring to be there. I manage to catch a performance by AMM, the renowned trio of free improvisers, at Exploratorium Berlin, after which I can’t wait to get back home and work.
10. The final scene is somewhat sad. As I mentioned above, we paid regular visits to Güngör’s apartment every week during the production of the film. Now, I witness her loneliness, her longing for İlhan. During the same period, I was also supporting my father, who was trying to hold on to life on his own after the loss of my mother. My time with Güngör helped me understand my father better, and my experience with my father in his later days helped me understand her better. In mid-2020, the documentary was completed, and it began its festival journey. Around the same time, at the start of the pandemic, my father passed away. As I packed up his belongings, I was giving remote interviews for the documentary during lockdown. I strived to make Mimaroğlu a creative documentary, an audio-visual experience, but for me, the production of the film itself ended up being an unforgettable, extraordinary experience.