Midnight Return: shedding light on Billy Hayes eight years after Midnight Express

Film still of Midnight Return: the story of Billy Hayes and Turkey © RR

Before her first film, Sally Sussman had a strong influence in the world of American soap operas for a long time. She went back to journalism, which she studied in California, and shot a documentary, Midnight Return: the Story of Billy Hayes and Turkey, presented in Cannes Classics, that sheds light on the very controversial story of Billy Hayes.

Billy Hayes or the itinerary of an American hero. In 1970, whilst still a student, he was arrested in Istanbul for drug trafficking. He was sentenced to thirty years in prison, but managed to escape in 1975 and returned to the USA where he was given a hero's welcome. He very quickly had the idea of relating this experience in an autobiography, which was later adapted for the cinema. Both the book and the film were successes.

In 1978, Alan Parker shot Midnight Express, which was presented in Competition in Cannes. The film caused a stir when it was released, but was censored in Turkey as it was considered to be racist and defamatory. Billy Hayes himself acknowledged that the story was an exaggeration. In 2004, screenwriter Oliver Stone offered his apologies.

From the escape to the controversy, it took Sally Sussman eight years to make her documentary. She used archive images and interviews with the main American and Turkish contributors, including Oliver Stone and Alan Parker. However, the film's feat of strength lies elsewhere: the director accompanied Billy Hayes when he returned to Turkey for the first time to face his own demons.