• Golden Globe Awards

Hive (Turkey): Interview with Aylem Kaftan

Hive, written and directed by Eylem Kaftan, is based on a documentary series Urban Farmers. The true story focuses on a female beekeeper, Ayse (Meryem Uzerli) and her fight with nature to protect her mother’s hives. Ayse returns from Berlin to her hometown in northeast Turkey to see her ailing mother Cemile. Before she dies Cemile’s last wish is that Ayse stay in the village to take care of the family beekeeping business. Ayse prefers city life and knows nothing about beekeeping. The film stars Meryem Uzerli, Hakan Karsak, Burcu Salihoglu, Feyyaz Duman, Sennur Nogaylat. It is director Eylem Kaftan’s first feature film.
What inspired you for this story?
I was inspired by a woman I met in a documentary I was directing about “urban farmers.” Increasing numbers of well-educated people are leaving big cities to live in nature. I call these people ‘urban farmers’. Urban farmers believe they can somehow find peace and utopia in nature but soon they may find out first they need to learn the language of nature and sometimes the hard way. Locals who live with nature for generations know that the modern individual don’t necessarily know the essence of nature. In fact, the individual often becomes an outcast in the countryside. I was instantly intrigued by the story of (the) beekeeper woman and found an opportunity to tell a story of returning and healing in mother nature.
Talk about the screenwriting process. How long did it take? Where did the idea come from?
As I said, the moment this beekeeper (…) told me her story about killing the bear to protect her hives and then confessed that she profoundly regretted it, I instantly fell in love with this story. The fact that she had this strong feeling of guilt and that she was haunted by the moaning of the dying bear was my major source of inspiration. Then she randomly told me another story about losing all her bees due to a swarm in the bee yard because of another mistake she made. She was devastated. And finally, another random story she told me about the queen bee forming a new hive after honey was produced made me realize what the message of this story was. This was almost a miracle as the queen bee doesn’t produce a new colony after the season of production of the honey. For me this was a symbol of nature giving her hope, that miracles were possible. All these disconnected bits and pieces of stories made a meaningful story of ‘karma’, that you reap what you sow. Your present actions definitely shape future consequences. Mother nature can give you gifts and miracles but also destroy everything you have. You just have to surrender to the process and take your life lessons. After I had my main story set, it was a matter of creating some side stories and writing dialogues. I put a side story based on my relationship with my sister. It took me two years to write the story (on and off). Eventually it was a script everybody was falling in love with when they read it.
Hive is your first film. Talk about shooting a feature film for the first time?
Other than the difficulties of working with real bees and bears, the biggest obstacle I had to overcome making Hive was the fear of failure, as it is my first feature. I don’t know if it gets easier in your second or tenth feature, but I must say I was very scared. I was very good at scaring myself, having nightmares about making a bad film and a lot of things going wrong.  I had a lot of anxiety of not fulfilling my own expectations. But one sunny morning, I woke up feeling an enormous power, a tranquility, a calmness which had no reason to occur. Precisely after that moment when I felt calm and strong, things started to proceed very nicely. I found a crew, locations and cast beyond my dreams. I feel blessed to work with Meryem Uzerli as the lead actress playing Ayse. Today, I feel the anxiety is healthy to some extent as you know you have to obsess on every single detail to make a perfect film. My coproducers, my crew, my actors eventually made me feel I am not alone, believed in me and the story of Hive. We all felt we were faced with something quite profound, a film that will have an impact on the world for years to come. I feel extremely blessed to see that it got the reaction, awards, and recognition that it deserved. More importantly the message of bees touched the hearts of people. A lot of people were interested in beekeeping after watching Hive. Some told me they decided to do beekeeping. There was a news article about a young woman who lost her job in pandemic process and started to do beekeeping. The title of the article was ‘Hive movie became real. A hairdresser woman became a beekeeper.’ All of this made everything so worthwhile.
What were your criteria for casting?
I wanted to work with people with whom I can be friends and rely on, but also, they had to be very talented. Since it is my first film, working with actors was the part that I was most nervous about. I feel very lucky that my actors were extremely talented, positive and laid back. The supporting actor Hakan Karsak was also a gift for me in the role of traditional beekeeper was a very important role. Hakan spent time with beekeepers for one week before we started shooting. When he came back, he acted like he was a beekeeper since a hundred years. His realism in acting and his interaction with bees was so natural to the extent that he was almost happy when he was stung. He had an almost symbiotic relationship which contributed to the beauty and natural aura of the film. I told my actors that the conditions will be very harsh, that we will be in a mountain village for one month without any comfort, which doesn’t have any hotel. I told all of them that they need to isolate themselves in the set, that they will be leaving their comfort zone. They were all enthusiastic about the challenge and never disappointed me despite limitless difficulties. I am happy I worked with actors who never forgot the message of the film and lived accordingly.
Was it challenging to shoot with nature? Can you talk about difficulties?
When people read the story, they said ‘this is a great story but how are you going shoot it?’ They tell young filmmakers not to work with animals and nature in first films. Because these are other levels of difficulty. We had child, goats, nature, bees and bears. A big challenge for a first feature. Working with bears and bees was dangerous and we always had to be careful when around them. We worked in a bear sanctuary in the middle of a forest. There were about 100 wild bears and they could attack at any time. The bees were even more dangerous. Many of our crew members were stung, sometimes several times in one scene. My lead actress, Meryem Uzerli, was very scared of the bees. But she also saw this as a challenge. We built her fear into the character. Sometimes the bees would be anxious or nervous. Because they are very sensitive creatures. You have to have a good, calm vibration around them. We had to be very quiet. Filming with them was almost like being in a retreat. Filming in the rain, fog and then bright sunshine, presented us with lighting difficulties, but ultimately the changing weather brought great visual depth, so it was all worth it. But I think each time, I had to face a challenge I believed that mother nature helped me because I had a good message to share with the world.
How did you decide on the location?
The atmosphere was very important for me, so I travelled to the region several times looking for the best location corresponding to what I dreamt of. I fell in love with Macael, a biosphere reserve area with scenery which left me speechless. I felt that was the perfect backdrop for the mystical atmosphere I had in mind. The thick forest, and several valleys created a dreamy setting which complemented my characters.
How long did you shoot for?
We shot for almost a month. We spent months scouting locations. With my core crew I travelled there several months. I did immense research. I worked with beekeepers as an assistant/intern beekeeper.
Talk about Meryem Uzerli’s character Ayse and her reconnecting with her hometown and mother?
Ayse (Meryem Uzerli) returns from Germany, where she had been living, to her family home in the eastern wilderness of Turkey’s Black Sea region to share the last moments of her ailing mother’s life. It is her mother’s dying wish that Ayse stays to take care of the family business, beekeeping. But Ayse is actually terrified of bees and has no plan to live in a mountain village. However, she agrees to stay on – for a while. Having been separated from her sister Mine (Burcu Salihoglu) when she was very young had a negative impact on both women. They have an unspoken tension, an envy for what they each lack. Under the guidance of the family beekeeper Ahmet (Hakan Karsak) Ayse starts to overcome her fears and gradually learns the craft. However, she brings her urban methods and doesn’t really respect the traditional beekeeping. They build an electrical fence, do night watch but the bear continues her attacks. The attacks become her biggest challenge as her imminent failure pushes her to exclusion from the community. But this is eventually also an opportunity to connect with locals, once she shares her fragility. When mother nature shows signs of helping Ayse after many difficulties, a miracle happens which gives everybody hope. To everyone’s astonishment, bees have returned. As İlker, her love interest, later says, “Beekeepers do not choose the bees. It is the bees who choose the beekeeper.” This hope restores Ayse’s faith and reminds her why she returned in the first place, to fulfill her mother’s legacy. There are three mothers in the story. Ayse’s mother, mother bear and queen bee. We can also add motherland and mother nature to these three mothers. Ultimately Ayse realizes that she returned to something she escaped from, which will be also the cure to her despair: her childhood and motherland.