AETHER, a documentary about the submerged ancient city of Hasankeyf, Southeastern Turkey

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Aether, Documentary, 2019, Director: Rûken Tekeş, Production: Sarya Films, Turkey, Italy

Aether is Rûken Tekeş’s 21-day homage to capture the ethereal essence of her unique ancient homeland, Hasankeyf in Southeastern Turkey, soon to be submerged by a hydroelectric dam. The documentary film is instinctively carried and driven by emotions, feelings and observations. It reveals the place’s truths following its own unencumbered chronology.

Aether is the first feature documentary of the Director and was shot with 4 Cinematographers in different periods -with different elements (earth, water, air, fire). Separative symbols used in the film are from Sumerian  numeric system starting from 1 till 21, representing the number of days. On the arrival day of the crew to the region the Government announced that the transportation of the Zeynel Bey Tomb to take place the next day. AETHER crew was the only professional film-crew present in the transportation. 2 weeks after the last shooting day the archaeological area is closed.

Rûken Tekeş is a Kurdish filmmaker born in Diyarbakir / Turkey. She lived in Istanbul, Los Angeles, Amsterdam, Athens, Vienna, Venice, Kiev, San Diego and Moscow. She is a human rights expert and worked a number of years for United Nations. Tekes started script writing and directing on social, political and environmental issues in 2015. Her first short fiction Hevêrk /The Circle (2016 / TR) participated in over 200 festivals worldwide and nominated for European Film Awards – European Short Film 2017. Her feature documentary debut AETHER (2019 / TR & IT) premiered at Visions Du Rèel FF International Competition, awarded for Golden Orange at Antalya Int. FF, continues to be screening and receiving awards. Tekes is a member of European Film Academy and is the founder of production company Sarya Films Collective, which produces her films and supports women in cinema.


Hasankeyf is a land with breathtaking nature, shapes and landscape. A cave-city of ancient Mesopotamia with at least 12,000 years of historical, cultural and ecological significance nestling in the valley of the Tigris River, in the Kurdish part of Turkey. Hasankeyf and the surrounding Tigris valley is recognized to merit as World Heritage Site by UNESCO since 1970s, however till to date not registered officially.

In 2019 the area is started to be flooded by the opening of Ilısu Hydroelectric Dam. A controversial project which will provide a mere fifty years of electricity to the region and strengthen the political power of Turkey over the Middle East. Hasankeyf and surrounding Tigris valley is ranked in 2016 by Europa Nostra in the “Seven Most Endangered” sites in the world. The habitat of an endemic life including hundreds of unique species, 78.000 residents and 3000 nomadic people in and around, along with 400 excavated and unexcavated archaeological sites pertaining to the ancient cultures including Sumerians, Babylonians, Assyrians, Meds, Greeks, Romans as well as travelers on the Silk Road and nomads will be lost forever. Yet  a new cement-build settlement aims accommodate one thousand people and some archeological monuments…

The filmmaker made a 21-day homage to her ancestral lands for connecting with and capturing its ethereal essence before its total destruction. With a sensorial and meditative approach, focused on the natural elements—water, earth, air and fire—in order to capture something of a primordial connection with this territory and everything that lives in it, be it a tree, a child, a sheep, an ant or a river. She does not seek to explain the stakes of this future annihilation but creates a space in which the spirit of the place can express itself. A space that transcends time and reveals the natural cycles of creation, destruction and rebirth at the heart of the film. AETHER is a free-minded voyage to a mysterious and timeless nature of a site unique in the world.

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