Based on real events, the film 15/07 Safak Vakti tells the story of a handful of brave Turkish citizens standing up to, and prevailing against, the Fetullah Terrorist Organisation (FETO) five years ago during the failed coup attempt.

July 15, 2021 is the fifth anniversary of the coup attempt in Turkey. On that day, now marked as a national holiday,  a film called 15/07 Şafak Vakti (July 15 Dawn) will start screening in movie theatres.

Supported by the Directorate of Communications, the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, Turkish Radio and Television (TRT) as well as other stakeholders, the film tells the story of ordinary citizens who rose to the challenge of standing against coup plotters and a small group of rebellious soldiers who were associated with the Fetullah Terrorist Organisation (FETO).

Preparations for the film began in November 2020 and the biggest closed set in Turkey was built for the film in Kayseri, central Anatolia. On the set, there was the Bosphorus Bridge and Cengelkoy neighbourhood built to 1:1 scale. The total set decor for the film was 24 thousand square metres, completed in 40 days. The film was shot in eight weeks, featuring a crew of 150 people and 7,500 extras, as well as 1250 vehicles, tanks and military trucks.

Director Volkan Kocaturk (L) with actors Erkan Petekkaya (centre) and Baran Bolukbasi on set.
Director Volkan Kocaturk (L) with actors Erkan Petekkaya (centre) and Baran Bolukbasi on set. ()

The film in a nutshell

It is July 15, 2016. Cevdet (Erkan Petekkaya), a baker who is trying to get his cakes to a wedding, is stuck on the Bosphorus Bridge –– a bridge that would later be renamed July 15 Martyrs Bridge after the failed coup. His son Yusuf (Baran Bolukbasi), a university student with big dreams, is having coffee with Sultan, the cashier, whom he is in love with, while his daughter Elif (Aslihan Karalar) is tending to customers at the patisserie after their helper Hamdi leaves for the evening.

Meanwhile, emergency room head nurse Aysel (Deniz Bolisik) is waiting for her husband Mustafa (Serkan Ercan) to pick up their daughter Zeynep. She has no idea what is in store for them on that fateful night. There is also Guray (Tugay Mercan), a security guard on a motorcycle who has visited his father in the hospital and is late for work. And an elderly lady, who fails to see her son at the military academy, is going back home in a public bus.

The lives of all these citizens become inextricably linked on the night of July 15, when coup plotters close the bridge to transport and declare martial law. On one hand, the vehicle drivers stuck on the bridge protest the closure, arguing with the soldiers who have shut it off. The rebellious soldiers end up firing indiscriminately, ultimately killing and wounding innocent civilians. But, as Cevdet, who chooses to remain on the bridge “to see it through” says, “one must wait until the dawn, where the dark is broken by daylight”.

Indeed, the defeated coup that tried to overthrow the government and President Erdogan left 251 people martyred and nearly 2,200 people injured. Coup plotters used heavy weapons including fighter jets, helicopters, and tanks against civilians on the street. Yet despite the casualties, Turkey’s democracy survived a great threat thanks to the courage and resilience of its people.

The epic tale does a good job of fictionalising the lives of a handful civilians living or working in Cengelkoy, near the Asian foot of the then Bosphorus Bridge. It is based on real-life events that took place on the failed coup night.

Director Volkan Kocaturk with Tugay Mercan (L), who plays a security guard in the film.
Director Volkan Kocaturk with Tugay Mercan (L), who plays a security guard in the film. ()

Erkan Petekkaya, the actor who plays Cevdet the baker, says the film has elements of a documentary and holds a dear place in his heart. “We went through a great depression that night as a country, it was one of the worst events in the history of our Republic,” he adds. “I still get goosebumps as I understood much better what had transpired that night as we were filming.”

According to Petekkaya, “this film has shown that the Turkish public will not allow any interference to its freedom, its sovereignty. Where else would you find citizens resisting like this? What people will lay in front of a tank?” Petekkaya says he and all the rest of the crew were greatly affected by the making of the film and were frequently in tears.

Petekkaya adds that he is open to constructive criticism and recommends people watch the film before forming opinions. “I would like to hear feedback within the framework of polite and virtuous discussion. This event is not something that should be forgotten, our children and grandchildren should always remember and discuss this, and God forbid may it never happen again.”

Yusuf (Baran Bolukbasi) in a dramatic scene where he tries to save the life of Hamdi who has been shot.
Yusuf (Baran Bolukbasi) in a dramatic scene where he tries to save the life of Hamdi who has been shot. ()

Baran Bolukbasi, a young actor playing the lead role of Yusuf, baker Cevdet’s son, tells TRT World that “Yusuf is a pure soul who has never laid a finger on anyone.” Asked how he got involved in the project, Bolukbasi says he read the script and was attracted to the fine quality dramatic elements of it. “I also felt that there was pain going back to that evening, and that I had to make this pain visible.” According to Bolukbasi, Yusuf is one of the characters that feels the pain the most.

The script, credited to ‘Rafadan Senaryo Ekibi’ is a group effort, and has resulted in a film you watch on the edge of your seat, breathlessly as you wait for what will happen next.

“I was very excited to be part of this special project,” Sibel Aytan, the actor playing emergency room nurse Tugba tells TRT World. Assisting head nurse Aysel, nurse Tugba takes care of the wounded pouring into the hospital on the night of July 15, 2006. “I believe the film has turned out wonderfully,” she says, “I hope the audience will like it as well.”

“Volkan Kocaturk has directed a great film and I am thrilled to have worked with him,” she concludes.

The film’s director Volkan Kocaturk says they shot the film in Kayseri on a closed platform unfettered by seasonal weather conditions in eight months, in order to complete it by the July 15 anniversary.

Kocaturk adds that his vision of the film coincided with the producers': Fatih Ozcan and Osman Enes Yakut also wanted to show the stories of ordinary people in Cengelkoy and on the bridge from their point of view. “As I tried to see their daily struggle from their eyes I also tried to emphasise the importance of mass communication devices in the new world.”

According to Kocaturk the film was shot with a tight schedule, with pre-production beginning in January and actual shooting was in eight weeks without delays.

“We tried to make it a unifying, uniting film. I felt the responsibility of transferring the resistance of people to the white screen. 15/07 Safak Vakti aims to tell the story of what happened that night [the night of the attempted coup] without using a political and heroic language. I was part of that goal and tried to do my best.”

Thumbnail and headline photos by Safak Guven

Source: TRT World