#Doclifer Stories – Hasan Demirtas

#1. – How and why did you first get interested in documentary filmmaking?

This question makes me think of my first documentary, which was about a girl, Busra, who was given the wrong injection, and day-by-day, the her body deteriorated. Nevertheless, she was preparing for the Disabled Olympics Games. Finally, Busra died, but her story went on, running in the film festivals and beyond.

For true and interesting stories, I have always been interested in documentary filmmaking.

 #2. – What was your first experience making a documentary film like?

 As I mentioned, my first experience shooting a documentary was very difficult. I knew my subject, Busra, was dying day by day, but we continued shooting the film. I learned from my first documentary that it is not important how difficult the subject is; the important thing is to finish the movie and tell the subject’s story.

 #3. – What have you learned about making a doc film that you wished you’d known before?

The most valuable lesson I learned making my recent documentary, and from making my other films, is to keep telling the stories. When you have tough stories to tell your job it can be incredibly hard to overcome the difficulty in telling it and continuing the focus on your film but being able to do that will help your film, and the story, to survive.

#4. – What’s a big challenge or hurdle you’ve had to overcome in leading a #doclife?

For my recent documentary, You Name It,  researching my subjects took about 2 years and a lot of work. It was one year after I met John, that he agreed to let me shoot he and his family’s story and when I began shooting with them they introduced me to another potential character called Alan, which added another layer of fact checking and document obtaining.

After the Armenian genocide, John’s stepfather had come to the USA and married John’s mother. One of the most difficult aspects of researching the movie was finding their Marriage Certificate. I was waiting for this document from the US government, which was stressful, but an important detail to put in the movie. Finally, though, I got all the documents I needed.

Another difficult part of making the film was getting support for it and sourcing the funding to finish it. Making a movie, especially for the first time, is very hard because it is hard to get help from people. I wish that it was easier to source support.

#5. – Share a current or most recent project with us.

 I recently finished You Name It, which tells the three foremost genocides stories in the world and includes three stories from subjects who all know each other.

John Center is a 67-year-old Jewish artist born in Chicago. After his father died, his mother married an Armenian man who was orphaned as a child. Later on, John learned that his stepfather escaped the Armenian genocide after 1915 and came to the USA. Around the same time, other orphaned children came to the USA to escape the genocide.

Ellen is John’s wife, and her grandmother’s family was in the Holocaust. Ellen’s occupation is preparing dead bodies for funerals. When Ellen talks about the Jewish genocide, she connects deeply to her family’s story.

Alan, a Kurdish man, and his three sisters and father, were living in Halabja city in Kurdistan when on March 16, 1988, Saddam’s aircrafts attacked Halabja. Alan and his family managed to save themselves by covering their bodies with wet blankets, as they protected their bodies from the GAZ attacks. Alan’s father left the family to attempt to help other victims of the attacks, but he never returned. Alan and his sisters walked among the dead bodies, but they could not find their father.

#6. How did you get into this project? / Why were you drawn to make this film?

I was studying in the USA and was in the first year of my master’s degree when I met John (my film subject), at a café, where he was carving wood with words depicting the Kurdish, Armenian and Jew genocides.

I am Kurdish and also interested in politics, so I started asking him many questions. John shared with me that his stepfather was Armenian, as was my grandmother. As we talked I realized that my grandmother’s children had the same story as John’s stepfather. I told John of our similarities and he eventually let me shoot his family’s story. As time went on, I also learned about John’s wife’s and Alan’s story, who became the otehr subjects in my film. I felt blending these three different stories would be a great idea to make a film.

Making this movie was important to me, because I believe that in telling these stories we can better understand each other.

#7. What would you like to say to any #doclifer who starting out on their film or who is perhaps struggling to complete their film?

For a first-time director, as everyone says, keep shooting your films! But also, know what you are trying to do and why you are doing it. Get clear!

#8. Anything else you’d like to share with the community?

I hope people learn to understand each other more after watching my film. There are a lot of problems in the world, and I hope people understand the issues others have to face and have more context on genocide. Peace can only come to our lives if we can empathize and understand.

And I would like to thank the Documentary Media at Northwestern University for supporting me while I was studying in the USA and my three professors, Debra Kahn Torchinsky, Kyle Henry and Eric Patrick. I learned a lot from them.


Thank you to Hasan Demirtas for sharing his #doclife with our community.
You can find Hasan at:

Host and TDL Founder, Chris G Parkhurst

Chris is a documentary filmmaker and the founder and host of The Documentary Life, a platform which aims to inform and inspire documentary filmmakers from around the globe.


  1. john center on 06/03/2019 at 9:04 PM

    often our families hide things from us. for what ever reason esp the difficult things sometimes we find out about some of them long after people are dead.. we piece together things. were my step father was. what my father did during the war or my mothers parents history. little bits of information comes to the serface what we learn from that is …..

    • Chris G Parkhurst on 06/04/2019 at 11:34 AM

      Hi John,

      It sounds like Hassan’s story spoke to you on a personal level. Are you also a doc filmmaker yourself?


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