There and Back Again: An Aspiring Filmmaker’s Tale

Photo by Sarah Mullins It's rare for Bilqis Turner to feel lonely considering she has three sisters and one brother at home. She hopes to one day work with her oldest sister on a project where she directs and produces the film and her sister takes charge of screenwriting.

Photo by Sarah Mullins
Considering Bilqis Turner has three sisters and one brother at home, it’s rare for her to feel lonely. She considers herself blessed to be close with her siblings, and hopes to one day work with her eldest sister on a film where she takes charge of directing and producing and her sister serves as the screenwriter.

The animated teenage girl eagerly munches on her Doritos and chugs her Sprite while the corners of her lips unknowingly curl up into a grin. After sitting through an extensive morning session on an empty stomach, she is ravenously hungry, pausing only to respond to a friend’s inquiry about her camera before devouring another bite of her burger. Nothing out of the ordinary.

But soon a twinge of curiosity enters the back of her mind, and her sable eyes shift to meet a similar pair staring back at her from across the aisle. To the complete astonishment of her tablemates, the two girls strike up a conversation like no other. As a mix of mellifluous vowels and discordant consonants fluidly flow from her mouth, a silence pervades the air that was buzzing with conversation just moments ago. They’ve never heard someone speak Turkish before.

Bilqis Turner isn’t the typical commuter student at HSJI. Sure, she runs track, plays violin, and is an avid hip hop fan like any other of her peers could be, but she doesn’t usually call Bloomington home. In fact, she doesn’t usually call America home. That title belongs to Turkey.

Turner spent her early years alternating between residences in the United States and Turkey— she is biracial with African American and Turkish roots. Her journey began in Adana, Turkey where she was born and lived until she was three years old. At that point in time, her father retired from the Air Force, so her entire family packed up and headed to Virginia. She spent most of her elementary days in the states, but she continued to visit the Middle Eastern nation every summer.

With each move, Turner had to learn how to quickly acclimate herself to the new surroundings, which proved to be quite the challenge at first.

“The other day, I saw a drawing and some notes I wrote in my journal when I was really young about me moving to a new house while I was in Virginia. The move was confusing for me, and I just didn’t understand why I had to leave, so adjusting was difficult. I eventually got over that with all the traveling I did,” Turner said.

In fact, her opinion on exploration is quite the antithesis of what it was during her childhood, seeing as now she’s always thrilled to embark on a new adventure.

“I love going new places and meeting new people. People who don’t think like me or look like me at all. I adapt easily and am accepting of others,” Turner said.

When she was in sixth grade, Turner’s family relocated to Bloomington for two years so that her mother could complete her studies. But during this time, her family began to long for their home nation and grew uneasy being separated from her mother’s family. After two years passed, they decided it would be best to make the trip back to Turkey, and have resided there since. Of course, now Turner vacations in Bloomington during the summer, so she commutes to HSJI.

Upon hearing about this summer’s documentary filmmaking workshop, Turner was eager to attend and soak up as much knowledge as possible to apply in her own work.

“My original motivation for coming to this is that it’s something that I have passion for. I hope to leave this workshop being more knowledgeable about the techniques and processes used during filmmaking. I want to gather more information so I can improve myself and make my own projects,” Turner said.

But Turner wasn’t always so keen on filmmaking. As a child, she aspired to be an inventor or chemist, but after a transformative trip to the movie theatre, her perspective was altered forever.

“I was watching the credits roll after a movie when I saw Director of Cinematography listed. There was this moment when it just hit me that that’s something you can do with your life. There are people behind these productions and it’s a legitimate career option. I came to realize that filmmaking and directing are actual art forms,” Turner said.

Following this newfound inspiration, Turner began to experiment with some amateur producing and directing of her own, and instantly fell in love.

Turned shared that “I have always been interested in making films, and I was that kid that made home movies with all her friends and family. Actually, it was after showing my extended family one of the projects I was working on and seeing them enjoy it and hearing their praise that I realized this is what I want to do.”

Since having such fateful epiphanies about her career path, Turner has devoted countless hours to pursuing these endeavors, and described herself as a perfectionist when it comes to her projects. She confessed that she does more research than anything else because she wants to do every topic justice and create the most impactful outcome possible.

And impacting the audience is a vital element of Turner’s filmmaking vision.

As she put it, “I like movies that have a message that you can apply to your life— that tell a story about something that could change people. And that’s what I aspire to do with my projects. You shouldn’t do something just because you love it, but because it should benefit the people around you.”

All of this passion and benevolence has to stem from somewhere, and Turner cites her parents as her principal source of inspiration.

“My parents support me so much, and I know that they want me to be in a better place than they are themselves. They’re there to show me the way— whether it’s talking about college or careers or current events. They guide me through everything and I appreciate them so much,” Turner said.

In fact, her parent’s contributions to her education go far beyond mere moral support. Turner admires their ability to connect differing perspectives and come up with theories about world issues that she would never have considered herself.

“My mother researches a large variety of topics, and she talks about subjects that matter: what’s going on in the world and why it’s happening. It’s always great to hear her insight. Both of my parents get really excited when they talk about what their passions and I think I get that from them,” Turner said.

Beyond this inquisitive mindset, Turner professed that she has also found a propensity for nonfiction books after spending time in conversation with her father. She tries to focus on obtaining knowledge that will benefit her in the future and strives to spend her time wisely.

“I’ve finally started to cut down on my fiction reading. Fiction helps us, and you know as kids we’re always told to go read a book, but once you start reading about different people’s perspectives on different things that are happening around the world, you gain a new appreciation for nonfiction writing,” Turner said.

Though Turner spends countless hours expanding her general knowledge and perspective on the world, she still manages to devote just as much effort to her undertakings in the classroom as she does those outside of it. She is currently attending a private school in Turkey and has noticed a distinct difference between the depth of her course material in the United States and that of her home c

Turner noted that “math and science are more hardcore in Turkey. When I was transitioning to America, I didn’t go to school for two months, and I when I enrolled, it turned out that I was an honors student because the academics in Turkey are so advanced.”

Despite its progressive curriculum and high standards, Turner feels that the Turkish public schools are lacking in other areas. The way the system is set up, public schools are often neglected, and though there are organizations working to ameliorate the inequalities, the reduced quality of education still remains a cause for unease. One of her most prevalent concerns is that academics are based almost solely in the standardized testing system.

“I hope that they start giving students more opportunities to expose their own creativity, acknowledge their talents, and apply knowledge rather than blindly follow a textbook. There’s a lot missing from their curriculum. You just read, take notes, and have tests, and it’s really frustrating to me,” Turner said.

Another matter that Turner holds trepidations about is the way Turkey’s system of healthcare is biased towards the wealthier middle class. In Turkey, there are private hospitals and public hospitals, and there is an immense disparity between the qualities of each institution, with the standards being significantly lower at public hospitals. If a citizen doesn’t have a solid financial standing, then he or she would have to go to the public hospital and receive deficient treatment.

“A person doesn’t ask for a financial crisis to hit, so it upsets me to see that they’re being neglected in that way,” Turner said.

It is evident that Turner an avid advocate for social justice, and such great passions can only spawn even greater aspirations. In her case, as she has already envisioned an ultimate goal for her filmmaking career.

“A dream of mine is to create a documentary film series for TRT [Turkish Radio Television] and explore different cultures. I want to go around the world and show people things that they couldn’t see normally. I mean not everyone can just hop in an airplane and see what life is like in isolated areas. I want to show people the reality of these places and bring attention to things that matter, but aren’t acknowledged enough,” Turner said.

Pause for a minute and imagine watching a movie 20 years in the future. Before vacating the theater, a few of the audience members hesitate to take a perfunctory glance at the credits. There’s one name that stands out from the rest. Director of Cinematography: Bilqis Turner. Isn’t that the woman who won an Academy Award this year?

With her work ethic of steel and fervent desire to enlighten the public about social issues, Turner is more than capable of turning this scenario into a reality. No matter where her future leads her, at least one thing is certain. This is Bilqis Turner’s time to make an impact. And she’s sure to turn towards success, turn the tables on anyone who believed her incapable of greatness, and turn her competition to dust. And maybe eat a couple more bags of Doritos along the way.