Ayse met Mahmoud in 2011 as she was reporting on the Syrian refugee crisis at the Turkish border. Before accepting to become her fixer, Mahmoud told her: “I’m gay, are you ok with that?”. They struck up a friendship instantly.
As they returned to Istanbul, Mahmoud told Ayse about an ambitious plan: to organise a secret competition to elect - among the refugees in Turkey’s iconic city - a Mr Gay Syria who would then travel to Mister Gay World contest.
Mahmoud’s goal was obviously not to simply pick a good-looking peer but rather to put a spotlight on his community : Syrians who had to run away from war and homophobia, finding themselves in a place that did not accept them either.
We’re running this crowdfunding campaign to finish our film and share the important stories of people surviving the greatest humanitarian crisis of our times.
We wanted to show a side of the migration crisis that is rarely portrayed, steering away from the depictions of nameless masses by certain media and politicians. We made a film that could be understood at a human level - getting to know our characters' dreams and aspirations as well as their daily struggles.
For the past three years, we have been following our characters in Turkey, Malta, Germany and Norway.
Please help us finish this documentary so we can share it far and wide.
Ayse Toprak, the director of this film, worked for many years at Al Jazeera reporting from Turkey. On her assignments, she met countless of people, but no one marked her quite as much as Mahmoud Hassino. He was the first LGBT blogger in Syria and her interpreter whilst on assignment at the Turkish-Syrian border.
He is Syrian and openly gay. Being open about your sexuality is an inherent risk in the region. Mahmoud knew the dangers and accepted them, he wanted to show the world that his community matters. That they deserve a voice and representation.
Mahmoud introduced Ayse to Husein, a 23-year-old gay Syrian refugee from Aleppo, now living in Istanbul. Husein's dream was to finally show his true face to the world, to remove his mask. This is why he decided to participate to Mr Gay Syria.
Last but not least, Mr Gay Syria is a proud French-German-Turkish coproduction:
Paris-based Antoine Simkine has been producing films for more than 15 years. His latest release Summer of Sangailé premiered at Sundance and Berlin Film Festival in 2015.
Christine Kiauk has been running Coin Film with fellow producer Herbert Schwering for several years. They've been at the forefront of indie filmmaking in Europe ever since.
Ekin Çalisir is a Turkish filmmaker and journalist based in Istanbul.