Peeling back the layers of a filmmaker

Sebnem Ozpeta, filmmaker | Photo courtesy of Sebnem Ozpeta

Sebnem Ozpeta, filmmaker | Photo courtesy of Sebnem Ozpeta

Filmmaker Sebnem Ozpeta is a recent recipient of the City of Vancouver Mayor’s Arts Award for Film and New Media under the category of Emerging Artist.

Ozpeta channels her passion as a videographer, storyteller and as an experimental artist, incorporating visual layers of information to add depth and emotion to her films.

Her obsession with film began at a very early age when she lived in Turkey. In her late 20s, Ozpeta moved to Vancouver and completed the digital film program at Vancouver Arts Institute. Now 44, Ozpeta has enjoyed a long career as videographer and storyteller.

“Collaborations with other people are important to my work as an independent filmmaker and editor,” she says.

As a filmmaker, Ozpeta enjoys collaborating with other artists, performers, documentarians and storytellers. These connections are an important part of her creative process. Through human connections, she is able to understand and express the emotions of her subjects through film. She also enjoys experimenting with different layering techniques and projection formats that add depth to her storytelling.

“I weave layers of memories using visual texts to create context and emotions to tell the story,” says Ozpeta.

In 2013, Ozpeta was part of LocoMotoArt Collective’s show of digital eco-art in Queen Elizabeth Park. Ozpeta’s installation titled Living was a larger than life projection of a female form emerging from the darkness of the branches and swaying leaves.

“The woman’s image reflects isolation, alienation and adaptation experienced in a new environment,” explains Ozpeta.

Visual layers create depth and meaning

Ozpeta is also passionate about making documentaries. Many of her projects incorporate layering techniques similar to her Living installation.

In a recent film called Fragment, which is a series of films within a film, Ozpeta invites four women of different ages to explore a shattered mirror in the same way they might attempt building a puzzle. Ozpeta describes these women as ‘coming into being.’ In the film, Ozpeta asks these women to share intimate and personal observations of their reflections through the broken pieces of mirror.

“The ethics behind producing a film is very important to me,” says Ozpeta. “I’m interested in portraying people honestly. Artists collaborate with me because they trust my ability to express who they really are as a person, not a version of their better self.”

Overlapping interests

Like many artists, Ozpeta has a few different occupations: a long-standing employee at VIVO Media Art Centre as a technical coordinator, a videographer and editor for the Teaching and Learning Centre at Emily Carr University and a mentor for new film makers.

Recently, she returned from Bella Bella after mentoring Indigenous youth as part of the Digital Storytelling program. Ozpeta is one of many artists working with Lisa G. Nielsen, founder of Our World, which organizes filmmaking workshops in remote First Nation communities across British Columbia and Yukon to promote First Nations culture and language.

“My advice to new film makers is that talent is important, but hard work is what’s needed to grow in your craft,” says Ozpeta. “It’s also essential to follow your gut and never forget who you are as a person.”

One group of students was eager to express their concerns about the oil industry’s effect on the Heiltsuk way of life. They couldn’t have predicted the support and public interest in their grass-roots documentary, Protection of Our Next Generations, during the recent media coverage of the tug boat diesel spill near Bella Bella.

“One of the best parts of my job is being able to help students express their thoughts and feeling about the world around them through digital stories,” says Ozpeta. “Our youths’ stories are important and should be shared around the world.”

Exposing Ozpeta’s inner layer

Ozpeta is honoured to receive the Mayor’s Arts Award. However, she prefers to define her success by how she feels about a project. Her reward is being able to share her art and skills with others.

Reflecting on her life as an artist, filmmaker and storyteller, Ozpeta expresses her desire to observe and connect with others.

“Reading life is important because it allows you to see the big picture – what you’re surrounded with in everyday life,” says Ozpeta.