Sultans Of Swing; Turkish Treasures and International Scope at Istanbul Film Fest
by Kerem Bayrak
In covering the 2003 International Istanbul Film Festival last April, I noted the resurgence of Turkish directors and film; and much has happened in the year since on the global festival circuit to warrant this claim. Starting with Nuri Bilge Ceylan‘s “Uzak” (Distant), which won the grand prix and best actor prizes at the 2003 Cannes Film Festival, and continuing with Paxton Winter‘s “Crude” (a winner at the IFP Los Angeles Film Festival and Seattle Film Festival), there have been other major accomplishments such as Dervis Zaim‘s “Camur” (Mud) (Venice Film Festival official competition entry), Omer Kavur‘s “Karsilasma” (The Encounter) (Montreal World Film Festival official competition entry) and the retrospective at last years Toronto Film Festival on the works of Kavur’s, Ceylan’s and Zeki Demirkubuz‘s films. This succession of achievements culminated recently this year in Fatih Akins‘s Berlin Festival Golden Bear winner “Gegen Die Wand” (Head On).
Atilla Dorsay, the renowned Turkish film critic and Advisor to the Istanbul Festival, says, “There is a revival. Since early ’90s the Istanbul Film Festival has been encouraging two forms of Turkish movies: The rise of popular cinema, which gives blood to the industry, and the rebirth of the auteur cinema.”
Although no distribution deals were struck at the 23rd International Istanbul Film Festival (April 10-25), the national competition encouraged the realization of highly qualified films of art in Turkey, supported the development thereof; made sure that the qualified products of the Turkish cinema reached the viewers; provided these films to be screened for the international film critics, festival directors, representatives of distributors and televisions, and thus contributing to the foreign promotion of the Turkish cinema. As festival director Hulya Ucansu put it, ‘The outcome is very pleasing indeed.” Whether or not this momentum in global interest, success and awareness in Turkish film continues will yet to be seen this year.
In that national competition, the jury awarded the best Turkish film of the year honors to “Karpuz Kapugundan Gemiler Yapmak” (Boat Out of Watermelon Rinds), directed by Ahmet Ulucay. This charming film (which was shot entirely on DV) was the story of two youngsters’ love for cinema despite their lives in the country. The movie was a first time effort from Ulucay, who shows great promise. It will no doubt be a success on the international festival circuit.
The best director award in national competition went to Zeki Demirkubuz who displays his ongoing creative work also in his sixth feature, “Bekleme Odasi” (The Waiting Room), a movie about “the dilemmas of an artist and a man.” The best actress and special jury prize went to Ruchan Caliskur and director Yesim Ustaoglu whose world premiere of “Bulutlari Beklerken” (Waiting for the Clouds) deals with a haunting and emotional friendship between an elderly woman and an 8-year-old boy set in the Black Sea region of Turkey. This accomplished film had previously been awarded the Sundance/NHK International Filmmakers award in 2003 and Celluloid Dreams is handling the world sales. The FIPRESCI prize in national competition went to to “Insan Nedir Ki?” (What’s Human Anyway?). Directed by Reha Erdem, the film had also secured completion funds of $20-40,000 from U.S. based non-profit organization The Global Film Initiative.
But there is more to the Istanbul Film Festival than Turkish film, of course. This year’s event supported a wealth of films that presented to the film lovers and industry attendees the finest examples of more than 200 films from 62 countries from all over the world. This included works successfully entered in the major festivals during the past year as well as film classics and masterpieces by top directors. Aside from the films in competition, the festival paid tribute to the works of John Cassavettes, Werner Herzog and Klaus Kinski, Omer Kavur, Bahram Bayzai, and Ken Russell. The latter two filmmakers were on hand to personally accept lifetime achievement awards at the closing ceremony, when Ken Russell jovially accepted his award by declaring that, “This is the most swinging festival on the face of the planet!” Other notable honorees included the renowned cinematographer Christopher Doyle who had been specially flown in to accept his personal achievement award.
The two-week event also managed to show case films that reflected today’s socio-political climate in three sections devoted to Cinema, The Mirror of Our Times, Journey to Hope: Emigrants, and Documentaries. These three sections contained 39 films in all but the most common theme that stemmed from them was the portrayal of the ongoing problems within Cyprus. These screenings were aptly programmed to coincide with the referendum that took place on the island on April 24, to decide whether the island’s two communities would finally be reunified. Amongst the films dealing with Cyprus were “Which Cyprus” by Rustem Batum (Turkey), “Plya — Living Together Separately” by Elias Demetriou (Greece/Cyprus), and “Parallel Trips” by Panicos Crysanthou and Dervis Zaim (Greece/Turkey).
This year’s festival was also noteworthy for its unusual activities that were organized to promote various sections and films that were on offer. One of the main attractions was a Latin Party held at the trendy Markiz Buzhol Club that highlighted the Latin American Cinema series, including 19 eclectic films ranging from works of short Cuban animations to current popular features. A live concert blues night was held at Babylon nightclub in parallel with the seven-film “Martin Scorsese Presents: The Blues” series, which was screened in its entirety at the festival and was aired earlier this year on television in the U.S. Also, within the scope of the festival, was an exhibition called Film Posters An Island (1960-2000), organized by Sara Vega, curator of Cuba Cinematique, which was on view at the Karsi Art Gallery.
It seems that the overall success in this year’s International Istanbul Film Festival was the effort to try and bridge closer the industry attendees and the general public in a setting that would not be deemed intimidating for either parties. The wealth of global films screened allowed the public a chance to view films that they would not necessarily be able to see elsewhere.
In the festival’s international awards, the Golden Tulip award in the international competition went to “Bu San” (Good Bye Dragon Inn) by Tsai Ming-Laing (Taiwan). The special jury prize was shared between “Profesionalac” (The Professional) by Dusan Kovavevic (Serbia-Montenegro) for its outstanding screenplay and “L’Esquive” by Abdellatif Kehiche (France) for its harmonious acting ensemble. A distinguished panel of international jurors — including U.K. critic Derek Malcolm, Iranian director Jafar Panahi, and Turkish actress Serra Yilmaz — choose from a wealth of 14 global films that celebrated the medium of the seventh art. The FIPRESCI jury also gave the international competition award to “L’Esquive.”
The audience awards, sponsored by Turkish newspaper Radikal, were given to “Reconstruction” by Christopher Boe (Denmark) in the international competition and “Kleine Freiheit” (A Little Bit of Freedom) by Yuksel Yavuz (Germany/ Turkey) in the national competition (the latter was shown in Directors’ Fortnight at Cannes 2003).