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ACROSS THE SEA (Deniz Seviyesi), a Turkish story of life, loving, and living was a hands-down audience favorite winning the Slamdance 2015 Audience Award for Narrative Feature. The logline reads: Damla is a Turkish immigrant estranged from her homeland; she lives in New York City with her husband Kevin, expecting their first child. But Damla is still haunted by memories of her first love and when she returns to Turkey with Kevin she has to confront a troubling secret from her past.
The title in Turkish Deniz Seviyesi means “sea level” defined as the level of the sea’s surface from which heights such as elevations may be measured. The story opens with the aloneness of a stranger in a strange land making a life commitment to fit in and find happiness yet enduring the overshadowing weight of homesickness still anchored to the distant shores of her birth. How can a heart be measured against the longing of an unresolved past life and past love? It’s all about motive and movement.
The graphic design for ACROSS THE SEA is a heart split in half, the inner outline on the left reveals the North American coastline, and the right is the Turkish coastline. Geographically, the Turkish coastline is 8,333 km long and bordered by four different seas (Mediterranean Sea, Black Sea, Aegean Sea, and the Marmara Sea), all very different from each other in their physical structure and characteristics– one being currents. In their first narrative feature, these natural occurrences that become driving forces in an emotionally eloquent interpretation are deftly handled by co-writers and directors, Nisan Dag and Esra Saydam.
Some currents are swift, such as surface currents found in the warmer waters closer to the surface just as the way reunited family conversations turn into revelations where bits and pieces of swirling eddies jog memories that open up internal boxes of secrets once thought safely locked away. Further, into the story, deep currents are found in the cooler waters closer to the sea bed and are quite slow-moving. It is said, “if a ship enters the wrong deep current, it can be trapped in the current for over two thousand years before it can reach the sunlight.” The same could be said for first loves, past loves, unrequited loves. Then there are those left teetering on the periphery or individuals directly involved who find may themselves in a tangled net– a relationship with someone who has unresolved personal issues– thus feeling like a fish out of water.
Their own painful realization becomes apparent when their relationship is in peril forcing them to wait an excruciating time until a decision is made and the personal issue resolved. Finally, whirlpools are natural forces of disasters that form a sinkhole in the water which can draw nearly anything into its depths. Dangerously destructive they affect everyone involved, some dragged against their will, and how it turns out can be anybody’s guess. The brilliance of this story is where the spotlight hits not only on Damla’s turmoil but on the two men in her life and the effect they have on her.
ACROSS THE SEA is a sophisticated and beautifully made story of human relationships surviving and adjusting to the forces of nature. Just as coastlines are vulnerable to many currents, tides, sea-level rise, and storm surges, so are the loves and bonds people share through truths and consequences. Although there can be problems for long-term coastal management as they can become for any love relationship, denials generally minimize the vigilance for their protection and nurturing for their safety. Choices are made that allow for future changes and life realignments.
SLAMDANCE 2015 is their North American premiere. Other festivals include Raindance Film Festival, Warsaw Film Festival, and the Istanbul Film Festival. The film features Turkish television star, Damla Sönmez, and Ahmet Rıfat Şungar, who was in Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s Cannes winning film, THREE MONKEYS.
Esra Saydam (DIRECTOR/SCREENWRITER) is an award-winning filmmaker born and raised in Istanbul and later moved to the USA for her filmmaking career. She directed two short films that screened at Seattle Film Festival, in Istanbul and broadcast on NYC TV. During her study at Columbia University’s Graduate Film Program, she produced films including I AM JOHN WAYNE, which won the Grand Jury Prize at Slamdance in 2012. She founded Sand & Snow Films in New York and Karlakum Film in Istanbul and currently has two international projects in development. ACROSS THE SEA is her first narrative feature.
Nisan Dag (DIRECTOR/SCREENWRITER) is an award-winning writer/director based in New York and Istanbul. She is a graduate of Columbia University’s Graduate Film Program and a Fulbright Scholar. Her animated and narrative shorts were selected by festivals around the world including Cinequest, Indie Memphis, and Thessaloniki Film Festival. Her first feature, ACROSS THE SEA, was funded in part by the Turkish Ministry of Culture and had its theatrical release in Turkey. Nisan recently directed an episode for an MTV series and is currently developing several feature projects.
Production Team: Esra Saydam (Co-Director/Co-Writer) Nisan Dag (Co-Director/Co-Writer) Ozcan Vardar (Editor) (Previous credits: TEPENIN ARDI, SEABURNERS) Gerry Kim (Producer) (Previous credits: TO BE TAKEI, THE HOUSE OF SUH) Mayuran Tiruchelvam (Co-Producer) (Previous credits: TO BE TAKEI, THE GIRL IS IN TROUBLE) Alvaro R. Valente (Producer) Robert Lavenstein (Producer) John Wakayama Carey (Cinematographer) (Previous credits: CHILDEATER, ABOVE THE SEA)