Cayan Demirel: Prison Nr. 5 1980-84

The director of the banned film ”38” (see below) touches upon another black spot in newer Turkish history with this enormously touching documentation of the horrible atrocities that took place in the Diyarbakir prison in the military coup period 1980-84. In this case he constructs his story by letting witnesses tell what they experienced as inmates who were subject to torture and all kind of humiliations. Men and women. Kurdish people but also socialists oppposed to the regime. It is actually talking faces from beginning till end, with time-for-reflection nature images and elegic music, or tableaux of shadows of prisoners on a wall or drawings made by one of the survivors. Some lawyers comment as well on the absurd prosecutions, and again pathos is the word to characterize the director’s ambition to document and interpret the emotions of the witnesses, and honour the many who were killed due to the torture, or by own hands through death fasts or burning. Let me end this strong recommendation of a film document by quoting one of the survivors (via the English subtitles):

”I was asked… did you like our guest house? At that moment you might think to say, ”yes it was great, Sir! Thank you!” And then just go away. However your honour doesn’t let you do that. I said: We were brought up in this country, we studied in this country. Before I came to this prison I was saying my country, but I could not ever think that I would live such horror in my own country. You are calling this ”a guest house”, you put us through such horrible situations that even animals should not be put in! Forget you identity, you destroyed our personalities… I have become an enemy to this state as I am leaving this place now.”

Many (this is not in the film) think that what happened in the Diyarbakır prison in 1980-84 gave the fundament to PKK. The government plans to close the prison, many think it should be kept as a museum. The torturers and their superiors have not been prosecuted. 

Turkey, 2009, 97 mins.

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Tue Steen Müller
Tue Steen Müller

Müller, Tue Steen
Documentary Consultant and Critic, DENMARK

Worked with documentary films for more than 20 years at the Danish Film Board, as press officer, festival representative and film consultant/commissioner. Co-founder of Balticum Film and TV Festival, Filmkontakt Nord, Documentary of the EU and EDN (European Documentary Network).
Awards: 2004 the Danish Roos Prize for his contribution to the Danish and European documentary culture. 2006 an award for promoting Portuguese documentaries. 2014 he received the EDN Award “for an outstanding contribution to the development of the European documentary culture”. 2016 The Cross of the Knight of the Order for Merits to Lithuania. 2019 a Big Stamp at the 15th edition of ZagrebDox. 2021 receipt of the highest state decoration, Order of the Three Stars, Fourth Class, for the significant contribution to the development and promotion of Latvian documentary cinema outside Latvia. In 2022 he received an honorary award at DocsBarcelona’s 25th edition having served as organizer and programmer since the start of the festival.
From 1996 until 2005 he was the first director of EDN (European Documentary Network). From 2006 a freelance consultant and teacher in workshops like Ex Oriente, DocsBarcelona, Archidoc, Documentary Campus, Storydoc, Baltic Sea Forum, Black Sea DocStories, Caucadoc, CinéDOC Tbilisi, Docudays Kiev, Dealing With the Past Sarajevo FF as well as programme consultant for the festivals Magnificent7 in Belgrade, DOCSBarcelona, Verzio Budapest, Message2Man in St. Petersburg and DOKLeipzig. Teaches at the Zelig Documentary School in Bolzano Italy.

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