Editing and releasing COUP in America

I figured that if we were going to spend months in front of computers editing the film, we didn’t need an expensive apartment in New York City to do so. We drove up Interstate 87 until we found something we loved, and we ended up in the small village of Athens, NY, north of Woodstock, in a house on 7 acres. Editing took nine months, far longer than we expected. The biggest obstacle was our equipment. We had to edit over 120 hours of footage (on dozens of DVCAM tapes) using Adobe Premiere and a RAID of hard drives totalling 80 Gigabytes. Our powerhouse Mac G-3 running at 350MHz arrived DOA, unable to power up. It was maddening. Despite the claims of Promax, the turnkey reseller, neither Adobe Premiere nor our system were able to handle what we were trying to do. We’d import footage at high compression, catalogue them, create edit decision lists, reimport them at higher quality, output those to DVCAM, and so on. At one point the hard drive failed, wiping out a week of work plus the week it took the computer to go back and forth across the country. Our files were too large to fit onto ZIP disk. We had to work on the film in pieces, since the footage would start stuttering if we did more than 15 minutes at a time. Every time we would build a small section, we would have to render it, which would take a half-hour.

In addition to the technical challenge, we also had to present a complex history of four different military coups in a way that would be neither overly reductive nor as long as “Berlin Alexanderplatz.” After our speaker Kislali got murdered, we wanted to capture what the speakers were saying and form a coherent story without imposing voice-over narration or simulated footage onto their thoughts.

We ended up with a 158-minute cut in four parts, a beautiful work. Because its length and style made it the anti-Ken Burns film, it was difficult to program. We’ve turned down requests for distribution because of the sensitive nature of the work. We did accept a $500 payment from Boyut, who signed a contract to produce a VCD/book package and then literally chickened out. We met with Aydan Zenturk, a former TV news producer, but he wanted to “cheese it up,” saying Turkish people were like children – that their tastes and Iq’s were lower than their American counterparts. In the end, COUP played at some festivals to strong reviews and continues to sell well on the Internet. It’s a film true to our intention, true to our speakers, true to the story, and I’m proud to have created it with Elif, who did an incredible job filming and assembling it.

Besides the reviews of the film, a couple of interesting items of note:

1. Google’s cache of http://www.kurdishmedia.com/news/news11_07.htm.

AKIN Office Ransacked: The Police Does Not Rule Out Hate Crime
AKIN – July 11, 2000
For Immediate Release (# 48)

The American Kurdish Information Network (AKIN), an advocacy office for Kurdish political rights in Washington, DC, was found ransacked this morning. Kani Xulam, the director of AKIN, who arrived at the scene of crime at 8:52 a.m., reported the break-in immediately. The Washington police who showed up at about 9:12 a.m. undertook a through investigation. After about an hour, the police officers questioned Kani Xulam about the possibility of a hate crime and wanted to know if he had ever been threatened…The police officers noted that the burglars usually go for the valuables, but here, there seems to be open hatred directed towards the property. He went on to say, “The broken door and destroyed book shelves certainly give one this impression. In addition, thrashing the place in this manner is not the way intruders who seek valuables operate.”…One of the missing items was a VCR with a copy of videotape called COUP. “Last night, I had watched it, a documentary about the Turkish military’s perennial take-over in Turkey by the Turkish filmmaker, Elif Savas. The film felt like a horror story. In the morning, to my utter dismay, I discovered that its horror had hit AKIN as well. It felt surreal.”

2. From the KOREA TIMES:
Sample TOEFIL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) question:

You can ((a) imply) from the biography of Elif Savas, the ((b) Turkish) soprano opera singer, that she ((c) is) a multi-talented person.

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