Callshop Istanbul (2015), written and directed by Hind Benchekroun and Sami Mermer, is a poignant documentary that shines a light on the plight of refugees from Syria and Iraq, migrants from Africa, and hard-pressed foreigners who are either searching for economic opportunities in Istanbul or hoping to journey to Europe, the promised land. They congregate at Callshop Istanbul, a business that provides them with on-site access to telephones for long distance calling.
Benchekroun and Mermer film the emotionally charged phone conversations of Syrian and Iraqi refugees, impoverished African migrants and struggling foreigners whose link to their family and friends is the callshop. The close ups and medium angle shots of the cast of callers many who remain nameless are interspersed with first person interviews and scenes of daily life of some of the main characters in the film which are framed against shots of Istanbul and scenes of anti-government protests on the streets and in Taksim square.
The film opens with a wide angle shot of a brightly lit ship moving out of port cutting to wide angle shots of the nightlife on the docks to a close up of a French-speaking African migrant (Roufai) who is one of the main characters in the film. He tells us that he loves Turkey and hopes his adopted country will accept him. The film cuts to a wide angle shot of a street lined with Internet cafes and cell phone stores with people hanging about on the sidewalk and then to a low angle shot of a neon sign that reads Callshop Istanbul. The film continues with a close up of Hitomi, a young woman from Japan calling her mom. She has come to Turkey to try her luck and gets by as street musician playing the accordion for loose change. She is one of two young women featured in the film who play the accordion.
The film follows Roufai, one of several African migrants documented in the film who survive by pedaling goods. He has learned his trade from a friend. He lives alone in a dilapidated room overlooking train tracks. He tells us opportunities are few and far between for Africans in Turkey. When not busking, he studies Turkish in his room. He welcomes some compatriots one of them a relative sharing with them his meagre abode and knowledge but who in the end decide to leave Turkey.
We meet four refugees from Iraq who share their stories and except for Fadil, have decided to return to Iraq in spite of the risks. When Fadil’s friends come to the shop to say goodbye, who is employed albeit in Callshop Istanbul, he is overwhelmed with emotion and breaks down. You feel his loneliness, a running theme throughout the film.
Ibrahim’s story is one of the most touching in the documentary. He is a migrant from French-speaking Africa. When we are first introduced to Ibrahim, he is talking to someone about his dangerous journey to Greece. We meet up with him again, on the phone to a smuggler negotiating a price to get to Europe. His 500 Euros will get him as far as Bulgaria. Turkey is a transit point for migrants and refugees hoping to get to Europe. We then see him singing happy birthday to a close female friend on the phone and telling her that he wishes he could be there. We see him on the street pedaling accessories. We meet up with the multilingual Ibrahim again riding the subway where he sings out loud at the top of his voice and initiates conversations with the other riders. At the callshop, he attempts to call his brother in Spain. Then, in a first person interview, he tells us that he has a drinking problem and that he is homeless. When calling home, his mother berates him and implies that he is a loser. In another call to home, his brother berates him too and gives him an ultimatum. In the end, he changes his mind about going to Europe and on a call to the smuggler, he attempts to get his money back.
Callshop Istanbul is a powerful documentary. It is well written and directed and deserving of your attention. More importantly, it shines a light on the struggles and hardships of refugees and migrants and others living precariously without documents in Istanbul away from their loved ones in search of opportunity and a stab at a new life. Do see it for you won’t be disappointed!
Callshop Istanbul will be playing at various theatres:
Scotiabank theatre 4 on May 1 @ 9:30 p.m.
Scotiabank theatre 3 on May 4 @ 4:00 p.m.
TIFF Bell Lightbox 3 on May 6 @ 10:30 a.m.
Tickets can be purchased here!