Azra Deniz Okyay
© Engin Iriz / Facebook

Azra Deniz Okyay

I think that the artist should contribute to giving a vision of life, hope. Not necessarily being militant, but contribute a new voice

Raised between Turkey and France, Azra Deniz Okyay became interested in photography and advertising before building her career as a film-maker. By echoing Turkish youth in danger, she puts her name to a filmography with an undertaking, between documentary and fiction.

Published on 15/10/2020

5 min

Azra Deniz Okyay was born the daughter of an architect and an urban planner in 1983 in Istanbul. From the age of 12, she developed a passion for photography and got her first job two years later as an assistant to the Turkish photographer Dora Gunel. After studying at the Lycée Français in Istanbul, she continued her education studying film at the Sorbonne Nouvelle in Paris, while taking sociology classes at the same time. Azra Deniz Okyay undertook practical training with a French production company, and started making her own short films like Cengiz (2002) or La Sepa-ration (2004). She returned to live in Turkey in 2010, and became the first female film director at Depofilm, a production company specialised in advertising. Back in the country where she was born, she continued her film ambitions between making clips, short films and her first feature-length film, Ghosts, presented in 2020 at the Venice Film Festival.

Whether she chooses fiction or documentary, Azra Deniz Okyay makes a commitment in her films through very contemporary themes. In Sulukule mon amour (2017), she uses progressivism to examine the role of women in the neighbourhood through the eyes of two young dancers. If in Les petits poissons noirs (Little Black Fishes) (2013), she advocates multiculturalism by layering the stories of an Armenian woman, a French woman and a Turkish woman, she uses the same way of storytelling in Ghosts (2020), her first feature-length film. From the point of view of four characters, her film illustrates the tensions in contemporary Turkish society over a day in a neighbourhood that’s in the process of becoming gentrified. By denouncing Turkey’s conservatism and religious fundamentalism, in each of her films Azra Deniz Okyay carries the voice of her generation.

Thanks to her education in Turkey and France, Azra Deniz Okyay gained an international culture when very young, which is her strength as an emerging director. If the film-maker has mainly examined Turkey with her camera, she is looking abroad and has started making a place for herself in the industry since her short film Les petits poissons noirs (Little Black Fishes) (2013) which was shown at the Cannes Film Festival in 2014, the Human Rights Film Festival in 2014 or the New York Independent Film Festival en 2015.

With Ghosts, her first feature film coproduced between France, Qatar and Turkey, Azra Deniz Okyay gained international attention by winning the Film Critics’ Week Grand Prize at the Venice Film Festival in 2020. 

  • 1983


    Azra Deniz Okyay was born in Istanbul and shared her education between Turkish and French culture.

  • 2002


    She made her first short film Cengiz (2002).

  • 2010


    Azra Deniz Okyay went back to live in Turkey after spending ten years gaining sild training in France.

  • 2013


    She presented Les petits poissons noirs, a short film lasting 27 minutes which travelled around festivals in Europe and America.

  • 2020


    Azra Deniz Okyay presented Ghosts at the Venice Film Festival and won the Film Critics’ Week Grand Prize.

L'Institut français et l'artiste

Ghosts (2020) by Azra Deniz Okyay was supported by the Aide aux cinémas du monde fund in 2020.

This Institut français programme provides support to foreign film-makers for film projects co-produced with France, whether they be feature-length fiction, animated films or creative documentaries. Find out more about the Aide aux cinémas du monde programme


L'institut français, LAB