After spending some time in Los Angeles the previous week, “Game of Thrones” actress Sibel Kekilli traveled to Santa Fe, New Mexico where she spent the week of Thanksgiving as a guest of author George R.R. Martin. During her visit, she attended two screenings of her 2010 movie “When We Leave,” and she also dropped by a couple of local radio stations and spoke with a member of the local Humane Society before sharing Thanksgiving dinner with Martin.
In “When We Leave,” Kekilli plays a Turkish-German woman living in Istanbul that escapes her abusive husband. She returns to her family in Berlin with her five-year-old son, but thanks to social pressure from the local Turkish community, her family rejects her. The screenings of the movie were held at Jean Cocteau Cinema the Tuesday and Wednesday nights prior to Thanksgiving. With Martin serving as her moderator, Kekilli introduced her movie on both nights and conducted Q&A sessions afterward. Martin owns the theater and is close friends with Kekilli, so he has arranged for her to appear at the theater several times, either in person or via Skype.
At the Wednesday night Q&A, Kekilli revealed that “When We Leave” producer, writer and director Feo Aladag initially did not want her to play the lead role, thinking that Kekilli was too famous for an independent film, and that the part was too similar to the one Kekilli played in “Head On,” which was also about a Turkish-German woman fighting against the cultural norms of her community. Kekilli won the 2004 Lola Award for Best Actress for her performance in “Head On.”
“We’re friends now,” Kekilli said of the Austrian filmmaker. “But she didn’t want me, then. When I first read the script, I was crying, so I really wanted this role. Only after she couldn’t find anyone else, she called my agency and asked me to audition, and I thought, ‘I’ll show you!'”
Kekilli also discussed her five-year-old co-star Nizam Schiller, who played her character’s son. The movie features several scenes depicting domestic violence, and according to her, Schiller became frightened while filming some of those scenes.
“Of all the boys that came to audition, he was the only one who made me cry, because of those big, beautiful brown eyes,” said Kekilli. “But I felt guilty like I couldn’t protect him. I couldn’t make him understand that there was no need to be afraid.”
Although she feels more German than anything else, Kekilli expressed a deep affection for her Turkish roots, but that won’t keep her from criticizing aspects of Turkish culture that she feels are negative.
“I love Turkish culture. Turkish food, Turkish music, and the Turkish people are very passionate,” said Kekilli. “But most people from Turkey don’t seem to like me because they think a movie like ‘When We Leave’ puts them in a bad light. But the things we show in the movie are true, and I won’t shy away from talking about them.” For 10 years, Kekilli has worked with “Terre des Femmes,” a human rights organization that fights against institutionalized violence toward girls and women.
Earlier in the week, Kekilli met with on-air personality Chris Diestler of Radio Free Santa Fe, and with Mary-Charlotte Domandi of Santa Fe Radio Cafe. In the latter interview, which was conducted at the Santa Fe Baking Co. & Cafe, Kekilli mentioned that her next film project is to direct a short documentary about Terre des Femmes founder Christa Stolle.
“(Stolle and I) will go to Bulgaria because she’s supporting the Roma girls,” Kekilli said about the documentary. “It’s really sad there because they don’t have anything. They don’t have jobs, some of them have to be a prostitute, and they are 13, 14 years old.”
After getting interviewed by Domandi, Kekilli met with Ben Swan, the Public Information Officer for the Santa Fe Animal Shelter & Humane Society. In addition to being an activist for human rights, Kekilli is also an advocate for animal rights. After the Turkish city of Ankara was accused of killing hundreds of stray dogs and disposing the bodies in a garbage dump in 2006, PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) asked Kekilli to pose for a poster which promoted the implementation of birth control for stray dogs in Turkey.