Filmmaker adopts unique tactic with 'Cloud'

Mike Leigh-style of direction adds style to Turkish TIFF entry

TORONTO -- For an American in Istanbul, making a Turkish-language movie at the crossroads of the ancient East is hardly exotic.

"The Turkish people love conspiracy. It's always the system is corrupt, everything and everyone is against us," Theron Patterson, who studied filmmaking at the California Institute of the Arts before moving to Istanbul a decade ago, said while screening his first feature, "Dark Cloud" ("Bahti Kara"), at the Toronto International Film Festival.

A case in point is the Bursa International Silk Road Film Festival, a Turkish festival where Patterson's black comedy, made with a local cast and crew, earned three awards in Patterson's adopted homeland, including best film.

But that hat-trick was immediately greeted with howls of alleged collusion between Patterson's film and the head of the competition jury.

Such high drama permeates "Dark Cloud," a family dramedy about a a middle-aged man, played by Reha Ozcan, who can't move on from the death of his wife, and his teenage son (Kamer Celenk) who needs him to wake up.

If the film about an overly grieving husband was made in the U.S., Patterson insists, a brother-in-law before long would urge the main protagonist to pull it together.

Not in Turkey, where the extended family quickly noses their way into the family drama, reveling in the pity, resentment, humor and empathy that surrounds the grieving process, Patterson explains.

"Dark Cloud," unspooling in Toronto as part of its City-to-City sidebar of films made in and about Istanbul, also relies heavily on improvisational acting.

In effect, the American ex-pat never let his Turkish cast read the film's entire script before shooting began. Instead, director and cast had six weeks of free-flow rehearsal to help the actors flesh out their characters.

But not their dialogue, as is the case with British director Mike Leigh's method of improvisation.

Patterson kept very closely to a script when filming "Dark Cloud." He just didn't let his cast in on its contents.

"I didn't show the script to the actors, but we shot the script," Patterson said paradoxically.

And Patterson worked only individually with actors during initial rehearsals, never as a group.

The aim, says Patterson, was to capture the first moment of surprise and reaction in an actors' performance when they come freshly to a scene in the movie.

"They were terrified, bribing the crews to get a glimpse of the script," the filmmaker said of the cast's initial reaction to this Mike Leigh-style of direction.

But, in time, trust was restored on set.

Now, with his TIFF debut, Patterson must consider an after-life for his debut foreign-language feature.

He foresees a theatrical release in Germany, which has a large Turkish population. And then broadcast sales is the likely direction "Dark Cloud" will take.

Patterson's Turkish picture will have public screenings in Toronto on Wednesday and Friday.

The Toronto International Film Festival runs through to Sunday.
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