Set in Istanbul's venerable Cerrahpaşa Hospital, PHASES OF MATTER follows living and inanimate residents of this teaching hospital, moving from the operating room to the morgue, between life and other states, the real and the virtual.
The Hippocratic Oath requires doctors “to impart instruction to [their] own sons, the sons of [their] teacher, and to indentured pupils who have taken the physician’s oath, but to nobody else”.
Hospitals are parallel worlds, not fully open to outsiders. Phases of Matter explores the unseen aspects of medicine: the life behind the curtain for doctors and hospital workers, the environment they work in and the mannerisms they adopt, the power of physical institutions, as well as the passage of the human body from patient to material.
The film is set in Cerrahpaşa Hospital, a unique, state-run teaching hospital in Istanbul, nearing the end of its working life. Current plans for demolition are under discussion. My father has been a doctor there and I lived in and around the hospital throughout my childhood. I was intrigued by the psyche of doctors, who deal calmly with people in need and encounter sickness and death in a casual manner. Everyday life of this profession was more or less a secret, and no one outside of this world really knew the feeling and mindset of working and living in a hospital. That barrier allows us to imagine and project what we want onto the labor of doctors. In contrast, this film shows work on the human body demystified as the doctors to do their jobs. Surgery is a brutal act that was created and is practiced to save lives-- yet depicting it violates a vision of our bodies and their integrity.
Phases of Matter attempts to emulate the way hospital workers see things while making their labor visible. The film begins from a recognizable starting point, an observational documentary set in a hospital. As the film progresses, it becomes more unpredictable, straddling the real and virtual, past and future, animate and inanimate forms. Erwin Strauss, a doctor and medical philosopher, writes: “The human gait is a continuously arrested falling”. The necessity of moving forward through change, unexpected and discontinuously, is what drives the film- emerging at poetic conclusions from scientific observations.
Deniz Tortum works in film and new media. His work has screened internationally, including at the Venice Film Festival, SxSW, Sheffield Doc/Fest, True/False and Dokufest. His last film Phases of Matter premiered at International Film Festival Rotterdam this year. He was recently featured in Filmmaker Magazine’s 25 New Faces of Independent Film.