From beauty contest to border: story of a journey

The process of creating a story is very likely to surprise. The key thing is the attitude towards such a surprise. Accepting it and including it in the story’s editing process or assuming it never happened? What does all this say about you and the audience you want to speak to?

The story of Mr. Gay Syria

There are too many stories in Turkey. I say this in a negative way; because it means there is too much injustice.

These are the words of Ayşe Toprak, director and story collector, who was our first guest for the Project Zoom talk series. Yes, there are many stories in Turkey. These stories are sometimes hidden, invisible, overlooked. If you believe that you have sighted eyes, these stories will somehow come to you or you will chase them instead. Having lived in many places around the world — Doha, New York, and London, among others — Ayşe Toprak developed an interest in shedding light on social issues such as gender, immigration, identity and ethnicity.

While working for Al Jazeera, a Syrian guide was telling her the stories of those refugee children who were living and going to school near the border. But that connection with her guide opened up a new door. Willing to participate in a world gay beauty contest, Mahmud moved from Hatay to Istanbul and, after experiencing life as part of the LGBTI+ refugee community, fled to Berlin. But Mahmud and Ayşe did not break their connection and started to turn this story into a movie. Being more engaged with the local LGBTI+ community, Ayşe decided to build this story around Hussein. However, Hussein’s effort to participate in the beauty contest did not work out and Mahmud joined the contest instead. Such an unexpected incident might have made Ayşe feel the ‘burden’ of impact-oriented production on her shoulders.

Film festivals, NGOs and even high-school institutes screened Mr. Gay Syria, which thus went well beyond the boundaries of a movie and had more to say about the refugee, LGBTI community, as well as social and national policies. As Ayşe stated,

I very much believe in the power of visuality and the power of storytelling. In some countries, there are even documentaries and movies that are able to change policies and laws.

Offering a different perspective: why should I tell a story?

This question is about searching and trying to find a bit of ourselves in the stories we come across with. The society we live in makes us grow with stories and provides us with experiences and perspectives — being something to listen to, to read, to look at. The stories we want to tell with any vehicle we choose are based on our past, possibly our current journey, or maybe on the issues we feel close to. The product that follows the editing process can potentially evolve into impact and into a possible change. In this context, impact-oriented storytelling is about being a good storyteller and reaching out to the target audiences. The latter can change in relation to many factors such, as the power of the story, the possibility of obtaining funding and the ability to use the right strategies. This is where Project Zoom programme comes into play, as an important opportunity for storytellers.

Ayşe Toprak now plans to make a film that includes a bit of her story too and it about a young female journalist in Turkey. As a jury member in the programme, she hopes to see stories that have not been addressed before. Wouldn’t you like to also have the opportunity to become a narrator for those stories?

Written by

Impact Journalism Grant Programme // Medyada Değişim Yaratanlar İçin Hibe Programı

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