Turkish director Gorkem Sifael’s short film Children of All is a mystery drama that imagines an alternative future and an experiment to create true social equality.
The 11-minute film is showing at the Meta Film Festival and has been nominated for Best Debut Short by organisers. Shot over three days in Dubai in April, with a cast and crew made up of UAE residents, Sifael’s film has an intriguing premise .
It is set in a utopic realm named Ekila, where children are randomly swapped between families at birth as a means to ensure a more equal and secure society.
While the film’s bright and clean visuals depict a seemingly ideal version of the world, it is the dark reality of how Ekila operates, slowly revealed to the viewer as the film progresses, that raises disturbing questions about equality and human nature.
Sifael, who studied and worked as an engineer before committing himself to filmmaking full-time, thought of the unique concept for the short after observing an interaction between a homeless child and the parent of another child in Turkey.
“I saw a person with their child walking past another child who was begging on the street,” Sifael tells The National.
“The two children were looking at one another before the parent pulled their child away and just kept walking. Later I asked my friend, how is this possible? How can you be so giving and caring towards your own child, but there's another child who you're so numb to?”
This incident became the nucleus of Sifael’s idea for a story. He then researched not only scriptwriting and narratives that deal with similar themes, but also economic models, theory models and ideas around alternative economic systems.
“I basically took that concept and merged a lot of personal experiences I had myself living in Europe,” he says.
“When I was looking for a job after I finished my engineering studies, I was faced with a significant amount of discrimination in my job search, being Turkish in Europe.”
Sifael, who is mostly self-taught, wrote a script last year with the aim to turn it into a feature film. However, due to budget restraints, he opted to adapt the first 13 pages into a short film as an initial attempt to gauge interest from audiences and people in the industry.
Children of All follows Leanne, played by Tshego Seakgoe, a woman who gives her son away at birth in order to secure a better future for him and herself.
“The story is about one woman who, while suffering from inequality, gets pregnant,” Sifael says. “She can't imagine her kid living the same sort of marginalised life she did, so she joins this utopic world and gives up her child for the sake of his future.”
Leanne then becomes an advocate for the Ekila way of living and the very system that forced her to give her son up. She is even part of a recruiting programme for new arrivals. Despite this, and lovingly raising a child that isn’t biologically hers, it seems that Leanne is trying to convince herself that Ekila is perfect even though she longs for what she has given away.
“We are invested in our own children so much that we try to push them above others,” Sifael says.
“I think the beginning of inequality starts from this perspective. That's why when you don't know who your child is, eventually I imagine you will start to try to ensure that every child is treated equally in society.”
The film takes a dramatic turn when Leanne is faced with the opportunity to discover where and with who her biological son has been placed. While this goes against the Ekila protocol, Leanne pursues the lead only to find her son is being raised by an unloving mother.
“They both have their reasons why they [the two mothers] act the way they do,” Sifael says. “That's why I placed two individual characters that represent the opposite sides of the argument to go through the story’s landscape.”
Sifael initially planned to shoot Children of All with only four people but as he reached out to his network and shared his script, 29 others volunteered their time and expertise to help.
Like all good stories, Children of All doesn’t present answers, only ideas and questions about what makes us human and why we do the things we do. Sifael still plans to make a full-length feature.
“I'm trying to reach out locally and internationally to producers, financiers and investors to make the feature film,” he says.
“And, at the same time, I’m submitting the short film to other film festivals around the world to make a name for it, so more people get to see it. Hopefully, we will make the rest of the film because there’s so much more story to tell.”