In old Istanbul, women led the way - Turkish filmmaker

Turkish women were bold, sophisticated and fearless in the 1960's, travelling alone and even wearing bikinis before the Italians did, Turkish-Italian filmmaker Ferzan Özpetek told the South China Morning Post, recalling "a magical, lost Istanbul".

Best known for the 1997 film Hamam, Özpetek was born in February 1959, on Istanbul's Asian side, in "an elegant neighbourhood that poets and singers would write about, with incredible houses that had been built by architects from all over the world and an old tram that would run roofless in summer," he said. 

He painted a vision of Istanbul and Turkey that today sounds like a far-off dream, in which women were trailblazers and men behind the times. His grandmother and mother were adventurous and open-minded. Both married twice, and the women of his family were against religious teaching, "something that I have carried with me my whole life," he said.

"Women played a fundamental role in my upbringing," he explained. "One of my aunts was related to the poet Nâzim Hikmet, another was the first female pilot in Turkey. Aunt Betulla used to interrupt me while I was doing my homework: 'Come on, let me teach you how to build a kite. You will never make a woman happy if you cannot do that, or make her laugh.'"

Özpetek was an avid reader, yet loved to listen to all the characters that hung out at his mother’s apartment. "My mum’s stories have also influenced my life: she would travel to Rome for shopping, art tours, even parties," he recalled. "Her descrip­tions of life in Rome, the joy and carefree atmosphere she felt – as a tourist, of course – led me to move there when I was 17."

Contrast this with the filmmaker's father, who enrolled his son in a top film school in Los Angeles. "At the last minute, I decided it had to be Rome," said Özpetek. "Despite my father’s opposition, I landed in the Italian capital in 1976."

A proud man, Özpetek's father never approved of the son's life choices, though he did secretly follow his career. "He used to cut out newspaper clippings about me and my movies," said the director. "But I found this out only after his death, in 2001."