Follow Billy Hayes as he returns to Turkey 30 years after his daring escape from prison to face the country still haunted by the film, “Midnight Express”; a movie that turned him into an international celebrity and made him the enemy of Turkey.





2016 SBIFF Movie Spotlight:Midnight Return

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. – “Midnight Return” promotional still


Midnight Return follows the tale of Billy Hayes and his strong desire to return to Turkey after being imprisoned 30 years ago and executing a daring escape that led to the creation of Midnight Express, the film that caused an international firestorm and made Hayes Public Enemy No. 1 in Turkey.

Anyone that has seen Midnight Express will instantly be taken back to relieve the story that started it all, and for those that have never seen or heard of the film, well, get ready to hold on to your seats. Turkey condemned Midnight Express for defaming their nation and Turks worldwide, and for straining international relations particularly with America. But decades later, can Hayes salvage relations with a country torn over one film, and in the process, finally come to find peace and redemption within himself? There’s only one problem, he’s banned from ever showing his face in Turkey.

Filmmaker and writer of the film, Sally Sussman kindly answered a few questions about the film to give us a more in-depth look into what audiences can expect when the film premieres on Friday.

How did you first get connected to Billy Hayes and at what point did you realize there was a different story to tell here?

Billy and my husband, Tony Morina (Producer/Executive Producer Midnight Return) had been old friends from an acting class in the 70’s. Through him I knew Billy casually and would run into him from time to time. One night he was at our house and mentioned he’d always wanted to go back to Turkey. My first thought was why? Why would you want to go back to the country where you were imprisoned for 5 years? But the more I thought about it, the more I thought there was an interesting and ironic story that could make an interesting documentary. That was the genesis. However, the film had many stops and starts along the way as numerous obstacles were thrown into Billy’s quest to return to Turkey. Ultimately, it was the irony of Billy’s story in relation to Turkey and the movie, Midnight Express that attracted me to it.

What do you feel is still the biggest misconception Americans have of Turkey?

Interestingly, when Turkish people meet Americans, they ask them the reverse of that question. What do Americans know about Turkey? And always the answer is “Midnight Express.” I’d say the misconceptions Americans have about Turkey are much less now than they were when the original movie came out. Back then, Turkey was a place you definitely did not want to visit. But that has changed dramatically today and Istanbul is now one of the world’s best cities to visit.

The film makes excellent use of archival footage and the hard work and dedication of those involved in the project shows. Can you talk about what the process of making this film was like from beginning to end?

Once I started to delve into this story, it became apparent that the impact the original movie, Midnight Express had on Turkish Americans in particular was much deeper and more visceral than I ever imagined. I did tons of research to fill out the story, covering Nixon’s War on Drugs to how that impacted Billy’s sentence to reaching out to former prisoners who were in jail with Billy at that time.

We could not have made this film without the support and co-operation of the Turkish-American community who were anxious to share their stories with us. As far as archival goes, again lots of research. I knew Billy had appeared on many talk shows when he returned and promoted the movie so I could show how quickly things happened for him when he returned home. He was everywhere. But I always knew I needed to frame his story in a bigger context so using archival news stories was essential to fill out the context of how and why he got a life sentence. I was able to find two former State Department officials who were stationed at the American consulate in Istanbul and who both knew Billy during his stay in prison.

All these elements contributed to the scope of this story which was also very important to cover as the story spans the time from 1975 until the present. But in many ways this film had a life of its own. When we had put it aside and said we can’t make this happen, suddenly, I’d learn there was going to be a Midnight Express ballet performed in London in 2013. That’s when we realized we had to find a way to finish it. So from 2013-2015 I finished shooting all the material, all the interviews and then began the process of putting it together with my editor and Co-Producer, Sean Fanton.

Along the way I interviewed people in New York, Washington, Virginia, Colorado, London, Portugal and Turkey. I always believed that in order to capture the scope of this story, the more varied voices we had would convey that.

What were the biggest challenges you and your crew faced in the making of this film?

Like with any documentary, money is always the biggest challenge. But once Tony and I decided we would finance this ourselves, I was able to use my 30 years of writing/producing experience to enable me to get this done for a reasonable amount. Once I knew the story I wanted to tell and how I would structure it, my editor Sean Fanton and I could really shape and add elements that would make this movie pop for an audience. Then we hired Anthony Marinelli to write the music and he did a score that really enhances the film and elevates the film.

There’s a lot to take away from this film, but if there is one thing you really want audiences to take away from the movie, what would that be? What do you set out to accomplish with “Midnight Return?”

First and foremost, I wanted to make an entertaining film. I wanted the audience who remembered Midnight Express to be taken back in time to experience that fear again especially when Billy returns to Turkey and visits the insane asylum. Midnight Express impacted a generation and scared them to death and it also became a big part of pop culture so in order to combine those levels, I had to set the tone of the film which is ironic because everything about this story is true but also completely unexpected.

What does it mean to you to have this film screen at the 31st Santa Barbara International Film Festival?

Being selected for the SB festival is amazing! To hold our U.S. Premiere at this excellent and well attended festival is exactly what we were hoping for when we finished the film. The audiences here are so knowledgeable and devoted cineophiles, we couldn’t ask for a better representation for our first public showing of the film. Spending the first 5 days here was a great opportunity to meet so many pass holders and tell them about the film. I’m thrilled so many of the festival goers here in SB remember the original film. I’m also happy to have Billy Hayes here to participate in the Q&As with me.

Is there anything else you would like to say?

My hope is that the audience will enjoy the film and tell their friends. We are hoping for international distribution for this documentary and coming out of this classy festival with good buzz would help us make that happen.

Midnight Return makes its U.S. Premiere at the Metro 4 Theater on Friday, February 12 at 8:20 p.m. and will screen again on Saturday, February 13 also at the Metro 4 Theater.

Moviegoers will be treated with a Q&A with Director Sally Sussman and Billy Hayes himself after each of the two screenings at the film festival.

For a complete schedule and ticket information, go to http://sbiff.org.