2016 AIFF interviews with the filmmakers
The 19th Arpa International Film Festival (AIFF) will screen a incredible documentary, Killing Ed, on Saturday, November 5 at 12pm at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood.
About the film
Killing Ed is an exposé about the corruption, politics and anti-democratic efforts to privatize U.S. public schools. The documentary investigates the worst case scenario: a rapidly expanding, taxpayer-funded, Texas-based charter school network – America’s largest – operated by a global Islamic organization known as the Gülen Movement.
As a part of a series of interviews with 2016 AIFF category nominees, director Mark Hall answered the following questions.
Why did you choose to make your film?
I chose to make Killing Ed after seeing a strange group arrive in my home town (Austin) and start taking our mayor and other influential leaders on ‘free’ trips to Turkey. I later found out that this group was the “Gülen Movement” a Turkish religious group that operates worldwide. I later found out about the taxpayer funded charter schools that at the Movement operates that now receive over $500M/year for 150+ schools in 26 U.S. states – and that they operate the largest number (now 51) of these schools in Texas. I thought it was an interesting story. I never thought it would end up as a feature-length documentary but the situation was so strange (now including a coup attempt this year in Turkey by the Gülen Movement), it became a 94 minute film.
I think the ‘teachers’ segment – where women who had taught and Gülen charter schools in Texas and Ohio recounted the horrible ways they were treated – made me very proud. Amy Warren and Mary Addi risked additional threats and problems from the Gülenists by telling their stories with their real names in the film. I know the fear that they both had in dealing with the Gülen teachers and administrators at their schools – and it makes me proud that we can tell their stories in Killing Ed.
Was there an “Aha moment” while making your film?
One of the most difficult issues we had to deal with was keeping the identities of several of the former followers (and teachers) of imam Fethullah Gülen anonymous. Both men had their lives threatened by members of the Gülen Movement. “Mehmet” was the most difficult shoot that we had in Killing Ed. It took almost a year to convince him to sit down for an interview. When he arrived at the interview (in a hotel room in Cleveland), he was reluctant to come in to the room once he saw the cameras. His interview was very important so we spent a good half hour talking him down, making him comfortable. We’d never discussed shooting the interview in shadow so the cameras, lighting, etc. was set up for a ‘regular’ head/shoulder non-anonymous interview. Mehmet asked if we could shoot his interview anonymously on the spot. We didn’t have time to reset our gear and really wanted to record his story quickly (before he might change his mind). We shot it in a regular style (not in shadow) and ended up – after LOTS of discussion used a ‘rotoscoped’ look applied in post-production to both Mehmet and the other former follower of Gülen to keep their identities secret.
Was there a bizarre moment that happened while making your film?
The strangest moment for me, personally, didn’t make it in the film for legal reasons. We had spent months tracking down a Gülen Movement member and finally found the location of her office in Houston. We had only one photo of her – taken with the brother of President George W. Bush oddly enough. We drove to the office and saw a woman that looked like the person we wanted to talk to in a car parked in front of the building. I decided to go up and talk to her alone. Something my crew really didn’t want me to do. I took a clipboard with me that had a tiny, high-definition camera with the lens situated in the head of a metal bolt. I walked over to the car with the woman and asked her if she knew of a construction company owned by the Gülenists. After a few minutes of talking she escorted me into the building and through locked doors to the company. It was really creepy to be inside an office where so much bad stuff had been planned over the years. Meanwhile my crew was in the parking garage worried about what had happened to me. I recorded footage covertly inside Atlas Texas Construction (which builds many of the charter schools for the Gülen Movement in Texas) for about 15 minutes. Then left. Nothing happened. In the end the woman in the car was someone other than the person we’d been tracking. Interesting and somewhat bizarre experience for me.
What is your favorite scene?
There are a lot of scenes that are favorites but I guess one that I continue to enjoy watching is where we paid an unexpected visit to the Gülen Movement’s headquarters in Houston to find the head of the “Harmony” charter school chain, Soner Tarim. We used a covert camera to shoot the footage of one of the Harmony P.R. people tell us she had no idea where he was, didn’t have his calendar, etc. The horrible portraits of George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and other founding fathers are in one of the scenes. It was and is a strange place – glad we recorded it for others to see.
What is your favorite line?
“Isn’t it amazing that a group this powerful politically in Turkey operates the largest chain of charter schools and Americans have no idea about it” (Sharon Higgins).
What does it mean to have your film selected as a category nominee by the Arpa International Film Festival?
It is a great honor for Killing Ed to be recognized by AIFF. The film is ‘small’ in that it is not a studio of network project – and it was self-financed on a limited budget. To be nominated in my category means a lot. The film took over 5 years to make and I’m very happy that I will be able to screen it at AIFF 2016.
Written by Sharon Swainson
Communications & Development Director
2016 Arpa International Film Festival