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Opening Scenes: Elif Gönen, aka FORLUCK

Elif Gönen

A couple of weeks ago, visual artist Elif Gönen, aka FORLUCK, whose latest documentary Please Be Happy appeared at BFI Future Film Festival 2024, sat down with STRAND to discuss what filmmaking means to her, and how the visual arts can be used as a force for change.

Firstly, where did the alias FORLUCK come from?

It comes from the sentence that I kept hearing on set "Should we get one more for luck?". Usually said by the crew, to get that one last take of the scene or that last take before wrap. I love those last takes because everyone is doing their best one more time; they usually end up being my favourite takes. I’m also a big believer in how "luck" plays into finding your path, so it was the perfect fit for me.

What are you working on at the moment?

I am writing a script for my first fiction [film] at the moment, themed around a teenage girl’s experience with her first period. I have a short documentary idea in mind that I want to shoot in Turkey, my homeland, about how patriarchy affects women, how they come together and support each other, and about that sisterhood that bonds them.

The all-important (if slightly over-egged) question: who/what inspired you to get into filmmaking, and who remains an inspiration to you today?

No one in my family did anything related to art, so it was a very natural gravitation for me, but my dad had a massive DVD collection, and I watched all of those films when I was younger, so I guess that influenced me in some ways.

I would say right now, my biggest inspiration is my niece who is 11 months old at the moment. I filmed her birth last year which was an insane experience, and just watching her grow brought a whole new perspective on my family. I want to do a project around that footage of the birth; I recommend to anyone to go and watch a birth if they can.

Where do you see your creative career going in the future?

I want to continue shooting films for sure, I would love to do my first feature in the near future. I want to explore womanhood, sisterhood, queerness, being an immigrant, religion, family, all of these topics that are very personal and I have a personal relation to, and I want to connect with people who have had similar experiences—that is the main goal. 

I’m very interested in politics, and I love documentary for that because you can actually change people’s minds, and tell them real stories from real people. I think that’s really important. I also want to be a multi-disciplinary artist, and continue taking pictures, and editing, I play drums (I’ve been wanting to play on my own film soundtrack for so long). I feel like these are all different ways of telling stories that all feed into each other, so I’d like to continue being an all-round artist.

Elif Gönen
Please Be Happy (2024); image courtesy of Elif Gönen

How have you found navigating the film industry/creative industry in London?

[Turkey] is much more like “old heads,” there are not really many young creatives that are willing to do something different because they are trying to play it safe, much more than in London. But obviously both in Turkey and here there are some wonderful people, a younger generation who want to co-operate and help each other. I made my doc with lots of favours, and I’ve found my own little community in film, which is again the best way to go about it: find your people, find your collaborators. You can’t make a film by yourself, you need a whole team to help with that. I would say that is important to me in navigating my career.

Where do you think young people stand in this industry? Do you think enough space is being made for them?

I think there are some great opportunities, the BFI Future Film Festival is an example. There are collectives and different festivals that help young people. But at the same time, there are already budget cuts in the UK’s film industry, which scares me. I think we should move forward and fund the arts even more so, as this will affect future opportunities for young filmmakers. I think we kind of look out for each other, most young filmmakers are incredibly lovely and willing to learn from and help each other. I think we just need to protect that community and give to each other in the best way we can.

Elif Gönen
Please Be Happy (2024); image courtesy of Elif Gönen

Do you have any advice for young people wanting to start out in filmmaking?

My advice would be to stop overthinking and just shoot and create. I should listen to my own advice because I’m a massive overthinker, and I get overwhelmed by all the different paths an idea can go. Other than that, practice is essential in any form of art in my opinion, and it’s not something you can obtain without taking that action, finishing that project or script. Also, planning is key. You should always allow your projects to go in their natural direction for happy accidents to happen but at the same time, overall you should plan for what you want to achieve.

Did you find in Please Be Happy, which has a very observational mode, that you were doing that a lot? Was there anything you wanted to include but didn’t?

My plan for Please Be Happy was that I had a dozen questions, but they were obviously questions that came out of our conversations. I was like [to the subjects]: “We are going to come to your house, and one location you go to every week to your kids.” They all gave me a location that we went to. I had some stuff that I definitely wanted to get like them cooking or eating together, but other than that it was us following each other, I was like “Can you show me your room?”, “What do you think about this situation in your family?”, that kind of conversation. We were very close with the kids, we showed them the cameras and how we shoot, I feel like we really bonded, which I couldn’t have done if we had a script that we needed to follow.

What do you do, or where do you go, when you have writer’s block?

I personally think just walking anywhere is the best cure for my block, I found that to be the best way to free up my mind. When I go somewhere and just sit, I sometimes get overwhelmed, but walking is more meditative; you can walk for hours and just keep a pace going, which I think really helps my creativity.

To see some of Elif’s work, go to her website, or follow her on Instagram to keep up to date with her newest projects.



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