Ataturk’s early years on film

In Thessaloniki, 1881, in the Turkish quarter of Islahane, Zubeyde Hanim is shown with her newborn son Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, later the founder of modern Turkey, in her embrace. Another scene shows Kemal’s mother, an imposing figure, donning a headscarf, pacing from her room to the misafir odasi, the guest room inside the three-story house. These scenes are from a new documentary about Ataturk’s early life in Thessaloniki, where he lived until the age of 20. The household’s tranquil family life was shaken by the death of Hanim’s husband, Ali Riza Efendi, who died when the future statesman was just 7 years old. The three-story traditional house (now a museum), surrounded by a blossomed rose garden of the Turkish Consul in the complex on Aghiou Dimitriou Street, opened its doors to Can Dundar, a well-known Turkish journalist, columnist and documentarian – the man behind this project – and his crew. They were in Thessaloniki earlier this month to shoot scenes inside the very house where Kemal grew up. The multiethnic, multilingual, multicultural and multireligious character of this cosmopolitan city, at that time under Ottoman rule, went on to deeply influence the young Kemal, whose name, incidentally, means maturity and perfection. Plenty of attention is being given to the finer nuances in the making of this documentary, a production of NTV, a nationwide television news channel. For instance, the shooting of a short scene inside the guest room took hours to complete, as the production team worked on getting the lights right to capture a shot of Kemal’s mother, sitting on a brass bed, as convincingly as possible. Interestingly, the original plan entailed shooting this particular scene of Zubeyde, the mother, in Istanbul, not Thessaloniki. But a female employee at the Turkish Consul in the northern Greek city looked so much like Kemal’s mother that the producer spontaneously changed plans. An experienced documentary filmmaker, Dundar has made a number of films about political figures and events. In this latest venture, Dundar is seeking to approach the life of Ataturk in Thessaloniki, where he lived until 1912, when the Balkan Wars forced his family to move to Constantinople. «I’m trying to shoot a warm and human film about a politician who loved and always remembered Thessaloniki. At the same time, however, I will attempt to also provide the period’s political and social climate that shaped the imposing and charismatic personality of this leader,» Dundar told Kathimerini. The documentary will include accounts by Thessaloniki residents about Ataturk, as well as important landmarks and events during his life there. Locations include an uncle’s farm outside Thessaloniki, where Ataturk’s mother briefly relocated with her children after her husband’s death, and the Ottoman Empire’s administrative center, which today houses the Macedonia-Thrace Ministry. The documentary, to run 90 minutes, is scheduled to be screened at Turkish cinemas in October. It will also be screened as a six-part series on NTV. Plans are also being made for screenings of the Ataturk documentary in Thessaloniki.