Last month, New Zealand based creative director Justin Heaney shared a travel video he shot recently titled “In Search of Peace and Chaos in Bangkok.” If you aren’t familiar with his gritty, visceral style that captures the true authenticity of a destination, here’s another chance to get inspired below. Shot on two separate trips to Turkey where he spent time in Cappadocia (central Anatolia region) and Istanbul, Justin creates another visual masterpiece that transports viewers straight into the heart of this beautiful country.
What about Istanbul inspired you to make this film?
The assault on the senses…I remember being mesmerized as a young teenager
by the film Midnight Express, and distinctly recall the bustling Istanbul street and market scenes from the movie and the overall charm and mystery of those scenes. I wanted to experience that if possible in a modern context and hopefully capture it in a unique way. I hope (as always) to capture the street level reality. The mundane, the odd splash of drama, and hopefully catch a glimpse of the human condition.
Why did you decide to call this film “Istanbul with My Eyes Closed?”
Wherever I pointed my camera something interesting was happening, like I didn’t need to try, and could just close my eyes and film. My partner knew some work of the Turkish poet Orhan Veli who wrote a poem called I AM LISTENING TO ISTANBUL. She mentioned a line in the poem that reads: “I am listening to Istanbul, intent, my eyes closed.” So that kind of fit perfectly with my initial thought.
Did you have any challenges making this film? What was the biggest struggle and what part was the most fun to film?
The main challenges were cultural, not knowing the lay of the land so to speak. At one point I was caught up in a fight that broke out in one of the city’s mosques. It was a dispute over male/female segregation issues. The fact that I was a Westerner filming that altercation sparked some hostility and I had to retreat pretty quickly. But overall I found the Turkish people to be very gracious, generous and understanding, and have made friends there that I am still in contact with.
The most fun part to film was without a doubt in central Turkey, floating high above Cappadochia’s fairy chimneys at sunrise in one of eighty or so hot air balloons. (can be seen at the start of the film). The pre-history of this area is fascinating and magical to visit.
Your film showcases numerous different scenes night to day all throughout Istanbul, what was your thought process on deciding what to shoot and how long did it take to plan all your setups? (Was everything just impromptu?)
Mostly impromptu with lots of roaming on foot. There were a few planned moments though. The Whirling Dervish shoot was planned and filmed during an evening performance we attended at the original home of Dede Efendi, an 18th century Turkish classical composer. There was a full Sufi band accompanying the performance in a very intimate setting. Highly recommend!
Walk us through how you start to plan a shoot when you first arrive in a country? What do you do to prepare and do you shoot everything on your own?
Nothing is planned really except for preparing equipment that is manageable and as lightweight as possible. My partner and I travel together on these holidays and when I’m filming she is taking photos and spotting opportunities as well. We work well together in this respect.
You have some amazing scenes that you captured that are really intimate (locals at a mosque, playing cards, in a bath house etc.) How did you capture those without feeling like you are intruding?
It was very difficult at times to gauge what was invasive vs what was respectful. I always stop filming if I am aware that it is upsetting anyone. We introduced ourselves to the men playing cards and they were more than happy for me to film them. The mosque was a little more under the radar, and the bathhouse gentlemen were agreeable (for the most part). It is fair to say I push boundaries though .
Your films always seem to capture the true essence of the country, whether it be the good or bad. Explain how authenticity is important to you and why make an effort to show all sides of the story.
It has to be real. I’m not interested in making a tourism spot. More of an antithesis to tourism. This can polarise people though, and there was a fair amount of heat in Turkish social media when the film was picked up on some of their media sites. Some locals felt my focus was directed too far toward marginalised aspects of Istanbul society, without showing the more progressive and modern aspects of the culture. From my perspective, I shoot what I see.
You have some great shots that seem like you use a macro lens, what gear do you use to capture those? What gear did you use for this trip?
This was shot on the Canon C300 and a Canon 70-200mm F2.8. There were a couple of shots using the Tokina 11-16mm 2.8, but I prefer to shoot up close and personal. The macro look is achieved by getting as close as possible to the subject on the longest end of the zoom without breaching the minimum focus distance.
The editing in this film was pretty masterful, did you have a specific goal in mind when you were piecing everything together?
For me the edit is always painstaking and never an easy process. The main goal here was to create an immersive experience that someone watching could connect with. It takes a while to shape a final cut.
Tell us a bit more about the music choices/sound effects for this film.
Some music was recorded on location from a live Sufi band, but most was stock music. I went for a kind of old western feel with some of the music, and the underpinning sound effects were designed to echo the tumultuous history of the city over the centuries of both Byzantine & Ottoman rule (such as swords clashing and hooves of horses in battle during the Hagia Sofia scene)
Out of all the locations you shot in, what were some of your favorite spots?
There are many, but I have listed a few below:
Hagia Sofia – The famous greek orthodox basilica turned mosque, turned museum
Balat – The traditional jewish quarter lined with colorful 2-3 storey homes and not many tourists
Galata – The famous bridge that connects the asian side of Istanbul with the european side. It’s always bustling with fisherman by day and transforms into a stealth market by night.
Grand Bazaar – Massive maze like network of traders (great Turkish coffee and apple tea there as well)
The House of Dede Efendi – An intimate whirling dervish and sufi band performance