Berlin based project space bi’bak, offers programs that are after the reflection of migration and global movements in art. And whilst the function and future of cinema is at stake during the pandemic, they opened a cinema: Sinema Transtopia.
Some in Istanbul might remember them by the exhibition with Depo in 2018 that was entitled "Bitter Things" which still continues to move around, now in Romania.
For the ones that have not encountered with bi'bak before, I met the founders, artist and curators Can Sungu ve Malve Lippmann a few weeks ago online. They joined me from their project space in Berlin. Our interview was cut a few times with their cat moving the camera and a passer-by on the street asking for someone they do not know. Even these give an idea of bi'bak's space. Let's hear more from them.
It has been an interview on conversation with some other interviews on the independent cinemas. Here you could check the related interviews.
As You Take A Deeper Look You See Something Else
S: Tell me the story behind the name of your project, bi’bak?
M: We rented this place as a studio space first.
There is a big window opening to the street and when we moved here everybody was looking through the window, asking “What are you doing?” Then we transformed it to a concept, saying “come in, look in” and now we say “take a closer look”, to historical context, to memory culture.
And maybe also look from another perspective than the usual main discourses, transported by the main media.
C: As you take a deeper look you see something else. It works very well actually here in Wedding, this neighbourhood that we are in has a big migrant population and Turkish is like a second language.
M: In the last years a lot of young people also moved into this area, the rents were comparably cheap still. They are raising also.
C: There is also a new migration from Turkey to Berlin, in the last few years young people are coming to live here.
Göçün Kültürdeki İzi
S: What is your main focus at bi’bak?
C: In our programme we focus on transnational narratives. That includes different types of topics like migration history, global mobilities, but also all the popular culture around that and their aesthetic dimensions:
How do we see the traces of migration in the urban culture, popular culture? As in a city like Berlin which is very much shaped by migrant communities and their cultures.
This is the main line that we follow everything we do here since five years.
This transnational approach traces alternative perspectives to an Euro-centric point of view which still dominates the field of arts and culture.
We feel the main discourse here, in Europe and in Germany, is very much defined by white German perspective. Still non-white perspectives are very much marginalized or excluded as cultural actor, policymakers and players in the field. That’s why we mainly give space to non-European perspectives.
Everything that we do e.g. the film programme, workshops, discussions, we follow this line. This also brings us the possibility to work together with communities.
M: Each project, also the experts that we invite; they reach out to their communities. For example for the Thai Film Festival we had a huge Asian community attracted by this and it mixes with other communities.
C: This transnational approach also brings these communities together. We bring different groups together to discuss their perspectives, experiences and strategies e.g. linked to their work dealing with rascism or colonialism. This collaborative work with the communities aims to offer alternative perspectives within the cultural field.
It is Important that Culture is Accessible for Everybody
S: It makes it much more interesting to have this broader perspective. Let’s come to Sinema Transtopia. To open a cinema at the times we are passing through seems courageous. How did you decide to do it?
M: We planned it already a long time ago. We have been doing our film programme in the former space of bi’bak since 2015. But the technical conditions were not very convenient. Even before the pandemic we were thinking about moving to another space. For this reason we were working with Herkes için Mimarlık with students from Germany and Turkey to develop ideas of what a cinema space could look like, already in 2018. And since then we were continuously thinking about it.
In Berlin as the rents are going up the space for culture is always getting narrower. It is very difficult to find an affordable space.
There is this initiative Haus der Statistik, right on Alexanderplatz. They developed an alternative usage concept for a huge formerly GDR administration building of 600.000 square meters. We quickly decided to move and renovated a space on the ground floor to a cinema. But our contract is not long term. Already this year the renovation of the whole building will start and continue until 2025. After that, there will be a possibility to come back to the house.
C: We have been doing this film programme since 5 years at bi’bak, in our space that we use as our office today. We wanted to dedicate our own space and better conditions to the film programme or everything related to the film.
M: We want to make a statement for another type of cinema that we want to stand for. Here in Germany all the cinemas are mainly depending on the ticket sale.
Since we are coming from the cultural sector, we think that to make a curated programme and has not necessarily need to be dependent on ticket sales or this economic circle.
We think that cinemas should also be seen like theaters, operas. In Germany these are state funded. So a theater would never be able to run without these state funds. Somehow cinema did not make into this funding structure as it was always seen as part of the entertainment sector.
S: What is the solution you find for the moment?
C: bi’bak is a publicly funded non-profit organization. Our programme was for a long time free of charge, some events incl. workshops are still free. At the cinema we are selling tickets for a symbolic price of 5 Euros. I would say that is a fair contribution.
M: We think it is important that culture is accessible for everybody.
S: What is the role of the cinema in your perspective, what is the role you want Sinema Transtopia to play?
C: We think cinema is a social space to come together, encounters, exchange, solidarity. It should be a space not just to see movies but to discuss them, to get some educational offers. It is a social and discursive space around film.
That is why we don’t necessarily show brand new films but we focus on curated programmes and invite programmers, film curators to develop a programme for us. The discussions after the screenings are an integral part of our programme. We are offering film workshops for children and adults. We try to include analogue film as much as possible to our program and that’s why we also work a lot with film archives, and digging out films that are impossible to receive in a digital format.
M: For 2021 we also planned a programme which expanded cinema, beyond the screen, mixture of performances, we invited people who experiment with cinema machines, projection performance.
C: What are the possibilities of a cinema space? What can we do beyond the screen, bringing together cross-media formats, readings, screenings,experimental formats that are experimenting with the possibilities of the cinema space beyond the screen. This is in the center of the program Sinema +++ which we also planned for this year.
S: I want to mention your recent publication before we wrap up:Please Rewind. Please tell me about it.
C: We did it in two editions, Turkish and English. It is a long term project that we have been working on. Since I moved to Berlin, the Turkish video culture in Germany has been an issue that I have been interested in. Twelve years ago there were still some of the Turkish video stores in Berlin, now almost all of them are closed. I discovered that there is a huge culture of video cassettes, Turkish films on videotapes and some of them especially made for the German market.
Already in the 60s, some migrants from Turkey were renting the cinemas for a certain seance to show some Turkish films. In the beginning of 1980s the video technology had arisen and video stores started to open one after another, even in the small cities in Germany. You could also find videotapes in Turkish supermarkets. The so-called video evenings were alternative social events that brought together families and neighbours to watch at least a couple of videotapes each evening accompanied by a lot of black tea.
The book project is focusing on this Turkish video culture in Germany based on a field research in Berlin. We had the chance to interview some professionals like video store owners but also contemporary witnesses of this video boom. There is also this niche of video films dealing with migration experience in Germany which are very unknown in Turkey. These films were produced in the late 1980’s especially for the Turkish migrant community in Germany. The book can be ordered online by email (available only in Germany).
S: If you were to pick one film from this project which one would that be?
C: Oğlum Osman is an interesting phenomena, you can find it on YouTube, it is a film by Yücel Çakmaklı who was the pioneer of the Islamic conservative film movement. The film was also very popular on the videotape amongst the conservative circles here and were shown for example during Ramazan as an “ibretlik film”, so to warn the children that they do not end up like Osman in the film.
M: As an education tool for the second generation kids, so that they don’t lose their identity, bonds to Turkish culture. Like a warning, it is dangerous. What was interesting these films were not accessible for the non-Turkish speaking people. They went viral in all these communities. As a German I have never imagined that there were such perspectives on Germany or the Germans. Some of these films were really interesting for me to see.
S: Thank you very much for this interview.
C+M: Thank you, too.