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Documentary about woman who died fleeing Turkish gov’t crackdown premieres at Cannes

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Bünyamin Tekin

“Homeland: A Song for Refugees,” a documentary about a woman who fled Turkey due to a government-led crackdown and died in Greece, premiered at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival on Monday.

The film highlights the escalating global refugee crisis and aims to shift negative perceptions associated with displaced individuals.

The Turquoise Harmony Institute, a non-profit organization fostering peace and understanding among diverse cultures and faiths, spearheaded the documentary. The film features the life story of Esma Uludağ, a Turkish mother of three who died of a heart attack in Greece while waiting to join her husband in Germany.

Thousands of people had to flee Turkey in the aftermath of a coup attempt in July 2016, following which Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) launched a widespread crackdown on non-loyalist citizens under the pretext of an anti-coup fight. These people, some of whom had to flee the country illegally by way of the Aegean Sea or Evros River land border because their passports had been canceled under state of emergency measures taken by the government, applied for asylum in European and other countries.

Her death became emblematic of the numerous Turks fleeing their homeland.

The film was directed by South African filmmakers Firdoze Bulbulia and Faith Isiakpere, with music composed by Neil Solomon. The filmmakers and the composer used evocative narratives and music to craft a powerful counterpoint to xenophobia, underscoring the resilience, strength and shared humanity of refugees.

“This film stands as a tribute to those undertaking uncertain journeys in search of safety and opportunity,” Solomon was quoted as saying in a press release by the Turquoise Harmony Institute. The film featured music by Yvonne Chaka Chaka, Sipho “Hotstix” Mabuse, Grammy Award recipient Wouter Kellerman, Pops Mohamed, Cindy Alter, Kutlwano Masote and Emmy Award-winning JB Arthur, among others.

“Homeland: A Song for Refugees” was well-received at Cannes and has been invited to be shown at film festivals in California, Toronto and Cameroon. The Turquoise Harmony Institute envisions the documentary as more than an art piece: It’s intended as an educational tool and catalyst for critical discussions on migration, displacement and acceptance.

“In post-apartheid South Africa, as we grapple with our history and identity, ‘Homeland: A Song for Refugees’ provides a vital platform for understanding and dialogue around refugees, immigration and migration,” the Turquoise Harmony Institute stated. The institute further emphasized the role of art and music in upholding human dignity and fostering a society that embraces everyone.

The film’s screening was followed by a panel featuring the directors, the composer, Esma Uludağ’s husband, Mehmet Ali Uludağ, and the director of the Turquoise Harmony Institute, Ayhan Çetin. Mehmet Ali Uludağ voiced a desire for no more deaths like his wife’s and expressed gratitude for the artists’ contributions.

“If you feel pain, you’re alive. If you feel other people’s pain, you’re a human being,” Uludağ told Turkish Minute, quoting Russian author Leo Tolstoy. Uludağ stated that everyone has a right to live a dignified life and stressed that he was touched by the efforts of the South African artists.

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