Esin Erdoğan | 18 March 2021
“After arriving in Turkey, I had bigger opportunities, I had a chance to study what I truly loved, I learned the language and started university, again! This time I was in a safe place, away from war.”
The word usta in Turkish corresponds to many different words. It connotes a master, a connoisseur, a craftsman, an artist. It is used for people who have mastered their art and inspires others to take on the challenge as well. Malaz Usta’s story makes one think of the pleasant aptitude between his last name and his craft. He is after all, a passionate artist and a crafted filmmaker with an unquenchable thirst for storytelling.
Malaz, was born in Syria’s capital city Damascus. He is one of the millions of Syrians who were forced to leave their home in search of a safe and fulfilling life. He has fond memories of his childhood and school years because it was then that he discovered his passion. “Since I was a child, I had a thing for cinema and movies,” he says. “I loved making short films with my friends.” While at school, he created a website to classify movies and spent a lot of time in his uncle’s film rental shop. “I watched him describe the movies to customers as he was selling or renting them out,” he recalls. Malaz’s experience in filmmaking predates much of what the children of today would regard in terms of videos. “My best friend and I spent most of our high school making short movies with our mobile phone cameras and distributing them through Bluetooth before YouTube even existed,” he says. It was then that Malaz knew his dream would be to make films for the rest of his life.
Malaz started his higher education in 2010, only a year prior to the conflict. Because there was no department of cinema or filmmaking at his university in Damascus, he studied his next best passion which was pharmacy. He explains how interested he was in chemistry and the changes which matter go through and the unlimited reactions that life consists of. “I liked mixing chemicals and watching them react and create new colors, crystalize, and go through change. Change got me excited, and for that, I yearned for it; I wanted change,” he demonstrates, showing his unique perspective in looking at things. He spent a great deal of youth dedicated to studying, and took pleasure in learning. He taught himself graphic design and video editing which would eventually prove very practical. His readings of art and sociology gave him perspective in viewing the world, and studying chemistry taught him how to cope with change and how to handle difficult circumstances.
When the conflict in Syria started in 2011, Malaz was a student. Despite all the challenges, he managed to graduate from the Faculty of Pharmacy at Damascus University. He recalls his difficult decision, “After 5 years of fear and uncertainty, I had to leave,” he says, “and yet, after arriving in Turkey in 2016, I had bigger opportunities. I had a chance to study what I truly loved, I learned the language and started university again. This time I was in a safe place, away from war.”
Back in Damascus, he had no chance of studying filmmaking so that he could reach his dream of spending his life making films. But after arriving in Turkey, here, he was able to study what he really loved: cinema. Malaz prepared for a year at the Turkish preparation school and then began his studies of cinema. However, he also had to support his family, so he worked as a graphic designer in the evenings and would go to school during the day. “I was really exhausted, but you know what, it was all worth it! Doing what I love and studying the thing I dreamt of got me all powered up,” he sings. Malaz thinks he was very blessed to have been surrounded by family and loved ones as he continued working towards his dreams.
When Malaz purchased his first semi-professional camera, for which he had been saving up for quite some time, he was overcome with joy. “I went insane with that camera! I was like a child who just rediscovered his passion,” he says with excitement. “I took videos each and every day for a whole year. I edited them into a sort of video diary, and from them, I was able to make my first short film.” Malaz talks of his first short film, A Year in Exile, which documents an immigrant’s first year in a metropolitan city outside his small country. Through a collection of sounds, thoughts and moving images the film exhibits the state of shock and emotional chaos that the protagonist lives during that year. The film made its National Premiere in the 57th Antalya Golden Orange Film Festival in October 2020, won the best short documentary award at the 8th Bosphorus Film Festival and is now competing internationally in film festivals across Europe and Asia. “As a Syrian living in Istanbul, it was my social as well as an artistic responsibility to bring this project to life. I have made this film independently, on my own with my own camera, that’s it,” Malaz explains proudly.
Today, Malaz is doing double major studies in Radio, TV and Cinema at the Faculty of Communication, and Film Design at the Faculty of Fine Arts at Marmara University. Next on his agenda is graduation and perhaps the pursuit of a master’s degree. Malaz acknowledges that it is difficult to talk about the near future, due to many uncertainties, one of which is the pandemic, but that does not mean he is not filled with ideas of projects. He says, “I am currently preparing for my first feature documentary, cooking some ideas and trying out some scenarios. I never stop planning and changing my plans over and over again!”