In May 2015, 19-year-old aspiring Kurdish singer Mutlu Kaya was shot in the head by a man whose marriage proposal she turned down. The femicide attempt came after dozens of death threats related to the young woman’s successful participation in the Turkish equivalent of Got Talent, which brought her national fame.
Co-directed by BAFTA- and Emmy-nominated Nick Read (Bolshoi Babylon, The Condemned) and Consulting Executive Producer Ayse Toprak (Mr. Escape From ISIS) – has its world premiere on April 12 November at IDFA as part of the festival’s Frontlight section. October Films is the primary producer, while Red Zed Films is the co-producer and Autlook Filmsales handles worldwide distribution.
The story follows Mutlu’s rise as an activist and TikTok star following the femicide of her sister and a close neighbor. Via the social media platform, where she has over a million followers, the pop star finds a way to get justice for her sister and regain a sense of independence.
The festival’s frontlight section is described as a place for “truth-seeking filmmakers who do not compromise on stylistic integrity”. Among the 22 tracks joining “My Name Is Happy” are Giulia Giapponesi’s “Bella Ciao,” which explores the connections between Italian song and fascist movements; Ander Iriarte’s personal reflection on the trauma left by the conflict in Spain’s Basque country, “Blue Files”; and Richard Misek’s deep dive into the idea of the public domain, A History of the World, according to Getty Images.
Watch an exclusive trailer of My Name Is Happy below, and read on for an interview with directors Nick Read and Ayse Toprak:
When did you first come across Mutlu’s story?
Nick: I first read about Mutlu after she was shot. My first contact with her was through our wonderful producer in Turkey in 2016, midway through her rehabilitation journey. She and her family were warm and interested in talking further, but we soon realized it was too early to engage with them as filmmakers. In 2020, when I read about Pınar Gültekin, the victim of a genocide whose body was dumped in forests and burned – a truly shocking case that led to a series of demonstrations in Turkey – I was reminded of the case and got in touch again Mutlu on . It was also at this point that we learned of the tragic murder of Mutlu’s sister, so we thought we had a story that deserved a film for an international audience. We got together and went into production in February.
Ayse: I knew the story because I had been involved in the women’s movement since I was a teenager, marching through the streets of Istanbul. I knew she was a big deal because she was a finalist at that competition in Turkey and she was strikingly beautiful and had an amazing voice and then she became one of the many victims in Turkey’s headlines.
And when did you find each other and decide to work on the film together?
Nick: I shot a film in Southeastern Anatolia in 2012, but that was at a time when the BBC picked one up and we arrived as outsiders and turned the lens on the locals. It was deeply rooted in our culture. So it was a very early decision that I didn’t want to do this film alone. I tried to find someone with relevant experience and there aren’t many Turkish women who have done documentaries before but Ayse has this amazing film Mr the person I wanted to work with.
This is interesting and also ties in with the fact that you both mentioned having an almost all female crew to provide a safer environment for Mutlu and her family.
Ayse: Mutlu was very enthusiastic about this film. She made it her own. She has tried to be vocal about the situation of herself and her sister and she understood early on that a film like this would help her make a difference when it comes to violence against women in the world. I think that was one of the strengths of the story. We became very close to the characters, they became part of the family. We had a very small crew who loved them very much and we loved them back.
The film revolves around a very emotional topic. What was it like for you to approach it so intensely?
Ayse: It was very difficult to interview the characters and get to know their history and witness their heartbreak because it was very new to me in that for the first time in my life I got really close to a family with two women affected by violence against women. It’s very different than being emotionally affected by marching the streets for the cause because you get the human connection. So it was difficult at first, but there was also this weird normalization: “Okay, we lived like this, but life goes on and we will keep fighting for it.” It allows the perspective of doing something for the better together. Of course there is grief, but how can we move forward?
It is established early on in the film that Mutlu and her family live in an area steeped in traditionalism. Were you concerned about their protection when collaborating?
Nick: The experiences they have had and their passion to find justice for Mutlu, Dilek and other women around them trumps any other reflection on fear. They’re quite a strong, resilient family, and they’re not going to step down. They have occasionally experienced hostility or alienation from their neighbors and community and we have spoken to them about it, both on and off camera, but I think they are very determined to seek justice and Mutlu is very determined to stand up for themselves to articulate as a modern woman Turkey who desperately cares about women’s rights.
Now that My Name Is Happy is out into the world, are you already thinking about what’s next?
Nick: I’ll say something that might surprise Ayse [laughs]. This was my first time and I’ve had quite a few miles in this industry that I’ve co-directed. I think for us filmmakers the spirit of collaboration needs to be encouraged. I think there is a tendency in our industry for a single person to build a film and I disagree with that. A film is made by a team, so I’m very interested in continuing to work together the way Ayse and I have done.
https://variety.com/2022/film/global/idfa-my-name-is-happy-1235431144/ IDFA documentary on Turkish femicide survivors ‘My Name Is Happy’ unveils first trailer