How I Learned To Speak Turkish

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Atlanta Film Festival, Short Documentary Jury Prize, 2006
US | Documentary | 2006 | 18 minutes | Color | English/Turkish

HOW I LEARNED TO SPEAK TURKISH began as an innocent travel diary, but quickly became an unusual and very personal documentary. The film asks important questions about identity, sexuality and the nature of female power–and it’s all true.

A humor-filled journey, filmmaker Therese Shechter takes viewers on a tour of cultural clichés, the ‘exotic other’ and the aphrodisiac effects of a potential U.S. visa. The film turns the male gaze back onto the gazer in an attempt to understand the Turkish male psyche from the first-person viewpoint of a modern American woman. The inevitable culture clash unfolds against the backdrop of Turkey, a Muslim country where the so-called ‘mysterious orient’ meets modern Europe.

Using a first-person documentary style, the story begins as the filmmaker travels to Turkey to interview young Turkish women for a documentary on feminism. Instead, she becomes fascinated with Turkish men. And they, in turn, are fascinated with her.

Hakan is a handsome charmer with no fixed address who, in his dogged quest for an American visa, sets his sights on Therese. Mustafa is a gay university student, majoring in Sociology, who has very definite opinions and theories on the subject of Turkish men. Ibrahim is a well-meaning Turkish friend, who, fearing the worst regarding Therese’s safety and virtue, appoints himself her big brother and protector for the duration of her visit.

But these men are not always what they seem to be, and neither is Turkey, a country where you can never quite get a straight answer to your questions, and everyone has their secrets. Therese’s friend Susanne, an American woman living in Istanbul, attempts to decode this Turkish male culture and make Therese’s visit a memorable one.

Unexpectedly, the “maleness” of Turkey telescopes for Therese her own powerful identification as a woman. Under the male gaze, she considers what might be lacking in her Western male counterparts.

This film was developed and produced through the Artist-Mentor Program of Film/Video Arts in New York.

Read Therese Shechter's Artist Statement



  • Atlanta Film Festival (Winner Short Doc Jury Prize), Atlanta GA 

  • New York Women in Film presents "Where Less is More" Short Film screening series Anthology Film Archives, New York

  • The Broad Humor Film Festival, Los Angeles CA 

  • Izmir Short Film Festival, Izmir, Turkey

  • FilmLichter, Detmold, Germany

  • "Her Voice, Her View" Film Festival, Pioneer Theater, New York. Shown with the Trixie Films documentary, "I Was A Teenage Feminist"   

  • Contemporary Screening Series: Five Shorts, Everson Museum of Art, Syracuse NY

  • "Communication: It's Not Always Easy", Two Boots Pioneer Theater, NY


Clip - Dancing at Cafe Vazgal (Quicktime/544K)

Clip - Hakan (Quicktime/144K)