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Counting Down | An Interview with Oya Gökşin Babaoğlu

Interviewed by Diyashi Sharma

Kudos on making such an amazing film based on an important aspect of life – mental health and educating viewers to treat patients with love, kindness and patience.

Cult Critic – You are a filmmaker, photographer, dancer, painter, writer – all in one! How do you manage to do everything and excel in all?

Oya – Very kind of you to think I excel in all! I am someone who loves ‘rhythm’ and if you think about it, these are all relevant to the concept of rhythm. Writing stories, to me, is about finding rhythmic moments and transitioning them with meaning. Just like in dancing. And in filmmaking or photography – based on how you move the items within it, the end result has a rhythm on its own. So, to be honest, they are all interconnected forms of art for me. Yet, managing to do all of these becomes easier since to me they are all connected.

Cult Critic – You love working with complex topics related to memory, identity, sexuality, trauma, inequality and others. What made you interested in them?

Oya – These concepts are such significant aspects of life that builds up one’s character. Each of these have a role in shaping their personality. For that reason, I love stories and themes that are based around these. One’s memory, and sexuality, and traumas, will shape a person’s identity. We are all unique combinations of our answers to the questions that are around these few concepts. And I love showing how uniquely different everyone’s story is using my filmmaking!

Cult Critic – The film Counting Down is based on a psychological disorder. What irked you to make a film on such a sensitive topic?

Oya – Yes, the main character in Counting Down is based on a psychological disorder. Dr. Olivia Davis has a form of OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder) which is called arithmomania. Arithmomania is the obsession with numbers and to feel compulsive to count everything or have certain numbers of items. Yet, if the numbers are ‘wrong’ for the patient, then they experience severe pain, and all sorts of dysfunction. There are different types of arithmomania as well – some count the bites they eat and try to match all to 33, some count tiles and needs to know before arriving to their destination, some need exactly 5 things on their desks in order to be even functioning and productive. I, as the writer and director of Counting Down, am an arithmomaniac. OCD and its different forms are highly common and genetic in my family. It was not something surprising to find out, however, it was surprising to find out that other people do not do what I do. My arithmomania, is highly reflected on Dr. Olivia Davis, she contains some of my symptoms as well as symptoms of other arithmomaniacs I know of. What made me want to have a film on this subject is that there is too little films and resources out there that represent these folks well, probably because their writers and directors and actors have no idea what it is! So, I had advantage on that — I had many personal experiences to rely on and be inspired from.

Cult Critic – The whole movie shows how extensively the subject was researched. How much time did it take from the research to the completion of the film?

Oya – From the ideation to the end of production took almost two years. The amount of research that went into it was intense. Day and night, I would read all the historical articles about mental health treatments back in that time period, and how inaccurate they were. Funny enough, I would get stuck counting the number of letters in them and had to take breaks, which probably made it a longer process haha!

Cult Critic – How hard it was to recreate 1875 for the film?

Oya – The film being a period piece was hard, but thankfully I had such an amazing team to work with to make it happen. Each crew and cast member was so committed to the story that when one of us forgot or missed something in the scene, there was always someone from the team coming to fix it right away! I would like to thank our production designer Lauren, and the art director (who is also co-producer) Vivienne, because the research they’ve put in, and their quickness in applying all that information precisely on set, was mostly why the film achieved its 1875 look! We used props and materials that were used only in that time – or when it was a modern object we are using, these lovely ladies made it look as if it is from that period! For example, the gurney was from a different time period and it was metallic and blue. However, after Vivienne’s touch, it looked like it was rusty and old like from 1875, with even some blood stains and rusty stains on it to give the impression that many patients did not survive these mental health treatments they had back then.

Cult Critic – Mentioning the Doctors as real-life heroes is an amazing way to show them gratitude and respect. Have you ever had any real-life encounter of their
heroic endeavors?

Oya – Oh man…countless! Again coming back to my family — my parents are both doctors, and there are many more in the extended family as well. Growing up with them, being witnessed operations, them saving lives of children… I was always inspired, especially because I could never see myself as a doctor, it was not my strong suit and I liked watching it be theirs. There is something so magical and so powerful about doctors and how they sacrifice so much for people.

Cult Critic – Choosing to make a film on such a vital topic at such a young age is amazing. What is your next project going to be about?

Oya – Thank you! Maybe not mental health next time, but still educational and about a social justice topic. There is this documentary I am currently prepping for, about the Black community in Turkey, and what it means to be black in Turkey versus United States.

Cult Critic – When did you first get acquainted with the phenomena of OCD?

Oya – Like I was talking about it earlier…my family (and Turkish families are big) had many members who had OCD in one form or another. So, it was something I saw all the time and grew up with, even when nobody knew the name for it in the family. Then, the very first time I heard of the term ‘OCD’ was around late middle school years. Yet, it was through one of the family members getting diagnosed actually.

Cult Critic – When did you decide to make films? Was there any particular film or
filmmaker who made you fall in love with the art of filmmaking.

Oya – I was always in love with films, but the passion and decision to make them did not come until early high school years. One of the main inspirational filmmakers who made us come to that decision was Ingmar Bergman. He is such an amazing filmmaker. By watching and researching his films, I realized there can be a whole different style of filmmaking other than high production Hollywood style. It can be artfully, poetically made and have deeper meaning like Bergman’s apparently and that inspired me to come out of my shell I think.

Cult Critic – Why did you choose to name the film Counting Down?

Oya – Ah the name yes! Deciding the best fitting title took some time actually. Titles have this superpower to attract quick attention, and, evoke curiosity within one’s mind. Given the fact that Dr. Olivia Davis has a chronic obsession with counting and with numbers, the title had to reflect that somehow. However, at the same time, it had to represent and hint at the arrival of something significant. We as the audience is basically counting down along with Dr. Olivia until the revolution in the mental health history happens. ‘We are all waiting for that moment’ was the main idea behind it as it also mentions her numerical obsessions.

Cult Critic – Lastly, any advice for young filmmakers who might want to make films on sensitive topics, but are scared of the repercussions?

Oya – My advice for all filmmakers actually, not only the young ones, is to research well. If you are making a film about a sensitive and serious topic, such as mental health, the amount of research that should go into the story needs to be accurate as well as it needs to be extensive. Otherwise, you will have another film that once again fails to represent the misrepresented – just like how Hollywood does it. On top of the accuracy and credibility of your sources and information, it is also highly significant that the filmmakers need to consult with one or more patients who are diagnosed with that, in order to understand better by seeing real life examples. This will prevent sensationalizing and assuming that can happen if they do not know what that illness looks like.

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