May 29, 2024

Pelin Çılgın, an Aspire Leaders Program alum from Istanbul, Turkey, never lets circumstances define their limits as they pursue opportunities in the film industry. Despite coming from a low-income background and facing barriers around their career of choice, Çılgın’s passion for language and filmmaking drives them to continuously seek out opportunities that get them closer to their dreams.

Discovery of Passions

Being in a poor household really affects the choices I make.

As a first-generation college student who experienced and observed poverty, Çılgın felt pressure to pursue a well-paying career to secure a stable future.

“Being in a poor household really affects the choices I make — especially when I was in high school,” they said.

With this mindset, Çılgın prepared to work toward becoming a doctor. They enrolled in science-and math-focused tracks in high school, but knew shortly after that this was not the path for them. Çılgın did, however, take a keen interest in languages and learned German, Japanese, and then Mandarin Chinese — something that would soon change the course of their life.

Empowered by Reinvention

While learning Mandarin online, Çılgın discovered a scholarship offered by the Chinese government and realized this was their chance to attend university. After applying and receiving acceptance to the Beijing Language and Culture University on a full scholarship, they took their first opportunity to leave Istanbul and immerse themself in an entirely new culture.

“That was a really great help,” they said. “I wouldn’t be able to study in another city in Turkey — even that would be impossible for me — so that was a really great thing that actually enabled me to continue studying and do it in another country. That was a really huge milestone.”

Once in China, Çılgın created their own Mandarin name as a way to tell the story of themself and manifest their dreams. Their name, 夏豪恬 (Xia Haotian), wove their future goals into their very identity. They wanted to be known as a great writer, but also as someone who was peaceful and enjoyed tranquil areas — a stark contrast to their noisy and chaotic neighborhood back home. Çılgın’s new name served as a reminder of who they were and where they were going.

Opening New Doors

Çılgın had to move back to Istanbul after the COVID-19 pandemic. While not an ideal situation, they found comfort in returning to something they loved dearly while growing up: cinema.

They searched online for opportunities to occupy their time and discovered an online filmmaking workshop in Istanbul with Bağımsız Sanat Vakfı. This workshop allowed them to step into the world of filmmaking, film history, and film criticism, and it was here that they created their first short film. Çılgın submitted Natür & Mort to several international film festivals, and she was very happy when two international online film festivals and a national art exhibition selected the piece.

“Okay, that’s the path I should follow,” they thought to themself.

Çılgın found that the film industry was heavily gatekept in Turkey; but, emboldened by a fresh taste of the exciting world of film, they took to the internet once again to seek more opportunities in the field. They began writing critiques for films and joined an organization from India called Sphere where they participated in a young critics program. Also, they gained acceptance in Talents Sarajevo, a huge training program for emerging film professionals in the Balkans region. 

Recently, Çılgın also had the opportunity to join the renowned Berlinale Talents program, the Berlin International Film Festival’s talent development program for the top 200 emerging filmmakers and series creators around the globe. Çılgın’s time in the Talent Press section was thrilling and deeply inspiring, and they consider attending the program to be among their highest accomplishments as a film critic so far.

Enhancing Leadership Skills

Çılgın found out about the Aspire Leaders Program on social media while working on their second undergraduate degree. It appeared to be an excellent opportunity for them to gain leadership experience — something that would help them stand out as a candidate when applying to more exclusive opportunities in the film industry.

I think it’s really important to look for online opportunities like Aspire and see what kind of opportunities [occur in people’s] own cities.

In the program, Çılgın resonated with “iOpenEye: Theater and #MeToo in Nigeria,” a case study led by professor Caroline Elkins. They found the case study fascinating and highly relevant to their interests and expressed their hope to see Aspire incorporate more content on art and culture into our program.

“I think it’s really important to look for online opportunities like Aspire and see what kind of opportunities [occur in people’s] own cities,” they said.

Çılgın encourages other young leaders to keep track of every open call they can find and apply to them all. Today, they have several job alerts and notifications on LinkedIn geared toward their interests, so they never miss an opportunity.

“Make sure to keep in touch with the industry and how it develops,” they advised.

The Future

Çılgın is currently pursuing a master’s in Film and Television at Istanbul Bilgi University in Turkey. They hope to continue their work of film curation and programming and currently do so for Fra Øst Til Nord, and Fil’m Hafızası. They find the work highly enjoyable and love the team environment. In the future, they want to pursue a PhD in film and East Asian studies in order to combine everything they love into one. Çılgın hopes to continue unlocking new opportunities and exploring the world of their interests: film programming and curating, East Asian studies, queer/feminist readings, and horror studies.


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