At the end of every summer, Hasanpasa, a village in the Burdur district of southwestern Turkey, holds a traditional shepherding contest. The contest involves shepherds herding their entire herd of sheep, one by one, through a pool of water. First prize goes to the shepherd who negotiates the pool fastest and with least hesitation. An elderly shepherd known by the nickname ‘Takmaz’ has been reigning champion for the last eight years.
Takmaz and the village’s younger shepherds are sifting fragments of local red rock to obtain a powder dye. They use this to dye the fleeces of the sheep red for the shepherding contest. But it seems as though getting hold of the red rock will be problematic in years to come. The reason is that a large mining company has opened a vast marble quarry on the site of the rock deposits just outside the village. One of the younger shepherds, Ali, buys some readymade red powder dye from a hardware shop in the city and the villagers use this to colour their sheep for the contest the following year. Ali, a competitive man, fails yet again to win a prize in the contest. Fed up with shepherding, he finds another job as a driver in the nearby marble quarry.
Ali goes deer stalking with his young boss from the quarry. His boss shoots a deer and takes away the antlers as his trophy, leaving behind the carcass. Ali is upset by this and makes a pair of wooden antlers, believing that this will allow the animal to be born again whole. He takes the carved antlers to the deer’s carcass and leaves them there. On his way back, he stumbles across an undiscovered bed of red rock. This rock will provide the dye to colour the village’s sheep in future contests.
Imagine you were born in a village in the middle of Anatolia and had spent all your life working as a shepherd. Before modern life crept into the village, there were two big moments in a shepherd’s year. The first came in spring, when the shepherd would take his sheep up to the summer pastures. And the second was at the onset of autumn, when he’d return with the flock to the village. In those days, when shepherds brought their flocks down from the mountains in early autumn, they’d put their animals through what Prof Metin And refers to as a ‘cleansing’ ceremony. Known as the ‘sheep washing festival’, this ceremony continues today in Hasanpaşa, a village in the Burdur district of southwest Anatolia. I regard this ceremony as a reminder to mankind of the old days when, in relation to today’s late capitalist society, he had a far closer relationship with the environment. Many aspects and elements of the film are a reflection of this approach.
Imagine now that this symbolic ceremony gradually becomes unworkable due to the pressures of the modern age. ‘Cycle’ was filmed on location in Hasanpaşa with a cast of actors who are all real-life shepherds from the village; and the characters they play in the film’s fictional story are dogged by concerns over the future of their ceremony. Before the ceremony, the shepherds collect fragments of a locally found red-coloured rock, grind it down to powder form and use the powder to dye their sheep red. But unfortunately, the land where the rock is found has recently been taken over by a quarrying company for commercial exploitation, meaning that the red rock deposits there are threatened. Realizing they’ll no longer have access to the rock needed for the sheep washing festival, the shepherds begin looking for alternative sources around the village. The search is spearheaded by an elderly shepherd. But his motive is not only to find the rock; he has become aware of a growing tendency among the younger shepherds to view the festival merely in terms of who will win from one year to the next. The old shepherd doesn’t think the attitude productive in terms of learning about life. Whether it’s the sheep washing festival or dying the sheep red, these rituals are actually a vital part of building a different relationship with the environment than we have today and embracing forgotten human values. He gradually gives them small jobs to make them think in different ways.
This film explores the bizarre, humorous and sometimes tragic world of shepherds who find themselves trapped between their beliefs and the modern world, struggling to discover, or enlighten others as to where they belong. With its blend of fiction and documentary and use of fantastic elements, the film seeks to bring a distinctive approach to cinema. There’s a final point I’d like to add which has to do with cultural and historical heritage. I look on ‘Cycle’ as a film which continues the trend of previous films I’ve made in the sense of drawing on tradition, but as one that does so in a different way and context.