Embracing the flow of the natural world in Our Seeds
Embracing the flow of the natural world in Our Seeds

Embracing the flow of the natural world in Our Seeds

IDFA Bertha Fund
Friday, May 3
By Roxy Merrell

This In the spotlight article: Erhan Arik and Meryem Yavuz – Our Seeds was published in the IDFA Bertha Fund Activity Report 2023.

As the economic and ecological landscape changes, Turkish director-producer team Erhan Arık and Meryem Yavuz’s project Our Seeds follows a family working hard to keep the century-old wheat tradition alive. Pitching at IDFA Forum this year, the filmmakers set out to preserve the story of this precious source of life and heritage, as “seeds that are not planted will not survive.”

There’s a very special type of wheat that’s been grown in north-eastern Turkey, sewn from seeds that have been in the region for generations. “This documentary film tells the story of a farmer couple determined to keep the seed alive, which they see as the source of life,” filmmaker Arık explains. “It follows them as they try to cope with the anxiety of being alone—both their loneliness in continuing a tradition and their physical and spiritual loneliness over time—and the climate and economic crisis they face as they get older.”

Seeds that are not planted will not survive.
— Erhan Arık

The seeds of the project—and sense of ecological urgency—lie close to home for filmmaker Erhan Arık. “I was born in north-eastern Turkey, the ninth and last child of a farming family,” Arık recounts. “The windows of our house opened to wide fields. My family was growing this special wheat from a centuries-old seed in our fields. Over the years, we all left the village for different reasons. One of my elder brothers returned to the village after retiring. In the few years he stayed in the village, he used up all the seeds my father left in the cellar. When I heard this, I felt I had lost my roots. Our family wheat was gone forever.” Arık wanted to turn this deeply personal and uprooting experience into a film.

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Photo: director Erhan Arik and producer Meryem Yavuz pitching the project Our Seeds at IDFA Forum 2023

When searching to find another of the few families who cultivate this century-old and local grain, Arık encountered protagonists Oruç and Güneş. “I searched for the wisdom of the seed and the soil, a universe where multiple generations come together, an interconnection to all life.” The bond between them was instantaneous. “We visited Oruç and Güneş for the first time on a very cold and harshly windy winter day,” producer Yavuz recalls. “After a long conversation, they did not want to let us return to the hotel that evening. We took our belongings and equipment and settled into their house the next day.” The footage now spans two years, capturing a close connection to one another and the cycles of life.

“In the geography where the story takes place, winters are very cold and harsh, and summers are very hot and dry.” Both in form and approach, the project boldly prioritises aligning the narrative with the flow of the natural world. “We are trying to make a film that is atmospheric and focuses on emotions. The flow and elements of nature are a very powerful tool in transferring these raw emotions to the image,” Arık says.

The black and white images are a depiction of timelessness. Past, future and present are intertwined in this story.
— Erhan Arık

Reflecting on the choice to shoot the film entirely in black and white, Yavuz muses: “The black and white images are a depiction of timelessness. Past, future and present are intertwined in this story. Black and white images are also a natural response to the contrast that humanity carries within itself. The instinct to survive and the attitude of leaving things behind easily come together.”

Arık elaborates: “There is also a contrast between the speed at which we live in our time and the cycle of nature—a mismatch. The camera’s insistence on staying still, where it is at that moment—as if it were a rock or a tree on the edge or a slowly rising sun—seems to reflect the family’s resistance.” The theme of resistance trickles through every element of the film, in an outspoken tribute to cherishing generational tradition.

Their distinct creative and cinematographic choice has proven highly evocative, as became evident during the team’s time at IDFA Project Space 2022. Arık recounts: “It was a great chance for us to come out of our shell and see the impact the story was having.” Closely followed by an IDFA Bertha Fund grant, which provided both resources to continue shooting and international prestige.

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Photo: director Erhan Arik and producer Meryem Yavuz (right corner) pitching the project Our Seeds at IDFA Forum 2023

Reflecting on their experience presenting their project during IDFA Forum 2023, Arık recounts the immense value of a safe space to express yourself freely. “As our beloved mentor Gitte Hansen said, ‘IDFA is a very fertile field where sprouted projects flourish.’ Indeed, a breath of fresh air in the harsh and divisive political climate of the world these days. IDFA Forum enabled us to spread the seeds we cultivated at IDFA, our home, to the world.”

Pitching an outspoken and distinct film left the team feeling hopeful. Yavuz reflects: “We knew that Our Seeds, due to its structure, would not appeal to every audience and buyer. But it was a great experience and a pleasant surprise to have funds which did not accept us previously invited us to re-apply, and a great opportunity to speak directly to industry professionals spanning from the Far East to Canada.” Reflecting on the challenge of pitching a contemplative project at IDFA Forum, Yavuz said: “We realized there may slowly be room for change. We returned home with hope and the idea that the world's belief in diversity is increasing.”

This In the spotlight article was published in the IDFA Bertha Fund Activity Report 2023. Discover the stories and impact of the Fund using the button below.