Community College of Rhode Island adjunct instructor and filmmaker Ulya Aviral, a Turkish exchange student who moved to the United States in 2008, will screen two of her films this month at the Knight Campus in Warwick.
A question-and-answer session will follow the 6 p.m. screening of “Shut Your Eyes I’m Gonna Dance” and “My Nature,” on Tuesday, Feb. 26, in Room 4090.
Aviral, 27, writes with a purpose. Her films, which range between 10 and 15 minutes in length and can be best described as magical realism – a genre in which realistic narratives are intertwined with surreal elements of dream or fantasy – are designed to convey a message or elicit empathy, while providing a voice for those who often go unheard.
“My goal is to tell the stories of the people who are just different from the viewers in the Western world,” Aviral said. “My movies try to build a level of understanding and connection and bring a flexible approach to people’s existing knowledge about other people.”
“Shut Your Eyes I’m Gonna Dance” is screening at the Queer Kampala International Film Festival in Uganda and is an official selection at the 2018 Arizona Underground Film Festival. In the film, a transgender man is trapped in the garden alongside his female alter ego, both exploring their gender identities to liberate themselves. The surreal setting and imagery highlight the numerous issues transgender individuals face, from overwhelming stress and depression to widespread misidentification in mass media and pop culture. The film is rated R.
“My Nature,” which was featured in the Short Film Corner at the Cannes Film Festival in France and was a finalist at this year’s Boston Turkish Film Festival, follows a fictional woman crawling through underground tunnels to escape war in the Middle East before stumbling upon a mysterious path where she relives her past in a secret language. Aviral traveled back to Turkey to further research her homeland before writing the script and then returned a year later to begin filming; it was a two-year process in its entirety.
Filmed in Turkish with English subtitles, “My Nature” focuses specifically on one woman’s story to illustrate the effects of war beyond what is shown on television or covered in the news. The main character is forced to pick up the pieces after losing her home and family. Aviral hopes the film sheds light on what refugees endure in war-torn countries, promoting peace and democracy through understanding.
In additional to touching on social issues, Aviral also draws from personal experiences in her writing. “Shut Your Eyes I’m Gonna Dance” is loosely based on her best friend from college who came out as transgender, while “My Nature” is based on the sobering reality of those affected by war, whether directly or indirectly.
“Coming from Turkey, it’s inevitable to interact or witness or see some kind of war or aftermath of war in your life,” she said.
Writing and storytelling has always been Aviral’s passion. Shortly after arriving in the United States more than a decade ago, she attended the University of Minnesota Twin Cities, where she earned bachelor’s degrees in sociology and studies in cinema and media culture and then enrolled at Emerson College to pursue her Master of Fine Arts in film and media art.
When she’s not busy in the classroom, Aviral is working on her latest screenplay – this time a full-length feature film – in addition to a music video in post-production about a fictional female protagonist fighting against hatred and prejudice in the form of energy.
“Cinema has the power to alter society, and a story can be engaging, whereas something political or formal news can be invoking prejudices and making people close their ears,” Aviral said. “When you listen to an engaging story or watch one, you are connecting to it on a personal level; you are making it your own, and that’s a powerful experience.”