Amid a society of cookie-cutter Hollywood blockbusters, writer, director, and filmmaker Deniz Demirer captures moments of intimacy woven into our day-to-day human experience. Demirer, a Resident Minister at USF, is an accredited cinematographer and actor, and he has written and directed five feature films that drop viewers into the heart of life’s various circumstances. His feature film “American Mongrel” (2014) was accepted into the Lewiston-Auburn Film Festival. He both invites the audience to view transformation on the screen and experience it in themselves. In each film, Demirer defies the limits of labeled emotions in pursuit of the transience and variance of each moment.
Before college, Demirer never saw film as something accessible. It was only after an experimental video course that Demirer saw the power of moving images as a means of philosophical and metaphysical expression. He struggled to find direction after college, unsure of where to find the immersive experiences he had encountered in his experimental video class which featured works of acclaimed video artist Bill Viola and film artist Stan Brakhage. He wanted more than a “career” in film, he wanted something more personal. “When you fall in love with someone, you don’t fall in love with someone and think they will become your career. You fall in love with someone and experience growth and healing—this is what comes of healthy relationships. That is how I felt about filmmaking,” Demirer says, “there is a possibility for meaningful encounter.”
After moving to the Bay Area, Demirer became the apprentice of filmmaker Rob Nilsson, and his transformation began. Nilsson invited Demirer to join the Tenderloin yGroup, an improvisational acting workshop in which technicians, professional actors, and individuals off the streets engage in the dramatic arts much like a jazz ensemble plays music. “It was all about seeking the truth in the moment and hearty improvisation. It was about silence, slowness, about intimate connections between strangers and deep human longing. This started to entice my artistic curiosity.”
“Rob was pushing form, style, and all of us to go beyond what we ever thought we could do,” Demirer said. He began to hone his skills as an actor, editor, and cameraman. But most importantly, he found a source of the touching, personal art he had struggled to find in Hollywood’s weak artistic culture. He took root as a filmmaker and as a person.
As an immigrant from Poland, Demirer has always explored the issue of belonging and what it meant to be a “double exile”—both as an artist and as an immigrant. “The longing inside of me was for a connection. As a kid growing up in America unable to speak the language, I wanted to be heard and understood—and heard well—and eventually I discovered filmmaking.”
After moving to the United States, Demirer spent his teenage years watching Hollywood films. The relationship Demirer had with Hollywood was not one of mutual respect, but of abuse; one in which Hollywood would offer its audiences an emotionally euphoric (or devastating) feeling and then spend no time grappling over the deeper meaning of serious subject material. The letdown was unbearable time and time again. “There is no such thing as ‘suspending disbelief’ for me. Here I am flesh and blood and you expect me to let some film just rummage around in my soul? If there was a death, I wanted to know how to make death and suffering meaningful,” Demirer said. Where Hollywood only dabbled, Demirer wanted total submersion.
“I hate that emotional ride without any spiritual or intellectual fortification to walk away with,” he said. “I admire films that meet you in a place that is respectful of the fact that you are sitting there taking in sounds and images in a really concentrated way. I admire filmmakers who contrast the nuances of emotion throughout the entire film—sadness and laughter, loss and gain, emptiness and longing, one after the other, films after which you feel as though you’ve lived another life through the actors.”
Demirer breaks away from Hollywood’s contrived three-act arc. His scenes drop into the heart of the moment. “Once you are in it, you’re in it” he said. His inspiration comes from the people in his life. “It comes from the wanderings of my own heart when I’m falling asleep or when I wake up too early in the morning and am forced to endure an endless stream of thoughts.” He surveys the world around him, grapples with his emotions, and considers whether others may be feeling the same way. The concepts he explores are challenging—he aims to be both a clear and complex communicator.
To be present in the moments that Demirer creates for his actors, they need only the body, the voice, the ears, and the eyes…raw impulse, instinct. “I am learning Rob Nilsson’s style of killing the abstraction, being in your body, and taking a direct approach, away from the personal bureaucracies in your mind” he said. When Demirer works with actors in their portrayal of complex, emotional roles, many feel uncomfortable leaving their classical training behind. Their performance is determined by whether or not the philosophy resonates with them. “I tell them to go straight into their hearts. I don’t want to see any gimmicks, any cleverness. That art will not last. A gimmick is a gimmick, that is all it is.”
Ultimately, Demirer wants to offer insight that the viewer can walk away with and dwell on. “Even if it is an intense, gut wrenching experience—as in Elem Klimov’s film “Come and See,” for example—it will give you some form of catharsis worth having sat through for 2 hours,” he said. He aims to initiate a process of learning, involving experiences that lead to other experiences that lead to a newfound openness, a level of patience, and a level of probing and attention.
“I’m not doing this to make a profit or to be ‘successful.’ No, I’m doing it because it is one of the most meaningful things in my life. This is truly a pilgrimage of discovery.”
Deniz Demirer was the cinematographer for the short film “Forest Born” (2015), which won the Audience Award for Best Short Film at the Portland Film Festival. There will be a viewing of “Forest Born” at USF (McLaren Conference Center) on Dec. 3, 2015 at 7PM.
For more information visit demirerfilm.com
Photo courtesy of Deniz Demirer