Although in my last report from the Antalya/ Eurasia Film Festival back in October 2007, I had mentioned that there were two major film festivals in Turkey, it was a comment that I had not wholly given due care. The cities of Istanbul and Ankara have for the past seven years given way to a movement and creation of the !F Istanbul Film Festival whose onus was to promote global independent films to Turkish audiences and to screen international works that would not have necessarily secured a domestic theatrical release. The main event in Istanbul took place between the 14th - 24th February and in Ankara a smaller selection of Istanbul's screenings will be held between 28th February - 2nd March.
Created and founded by two women, Pelin Turgut and Serra Ciliv, the independently financed festival showcased a wide selection of works from up and coming filmmakers to those currently established and with a program consisting of 75 features, documentaries and shorts, this year's event was enthusiastically received by both industry guests and Turkish cinephiles alike. When asked about the festival's aims, intentions and audience, Serra Ciliv and Pelin Turgut commented, "What we're trying to do is locate ourselves in Istanbul as a center where young directors from all around the world will want to come and collaborate with people from here. In that sense, it is basically the young and dynamic thing that we're aiming to create."
Continuing they added, "We're very flexible in what we screen here and young audiences in particular respond to that. Our core demographic is a younger audience who are very much in tune with what is happening in the rest of the world. It's a challenge for us."
The venues that screened the bulk of the program in Istanbul were the chain movie house theatres, AFM, and an ancient renovated Armenian church called The Hall. It was at this 19th century venue that an extensive series of interviews was held, as well as meetings and parties which included the likes of the former New Order bassist Peter Hook and former Deee-Lite's Lady Miss Kier, spinning their favorite mixes and DJ'ing the night away .
Additionally the festival newly introduced an international competition section, entitled !F Inspired, that featured 10 full length feature films plus documentaries from around the world. Its aim was to promote creative new films by emerging directors and to show films that demonstrated courageous visions, bold narratives, technical innovations and plenty of inspiration.
This year's international competition jury was presided by filmmaker Reha Erdem (Turkey) and consisted of John Cameron Mitchell (USA), Christophe Leparc (France), Perry Ogden (UK) indieWIRE's former managing editor Wendy Mitchell (USA), now at Screen in London.
The award for Best International Film was given to the surreal and raw "Pink" directed by Alexandros Voulgaris (Greece). The film deals with the fears of a generation of disaffected youths in Greece and their search for a meaning. The Special Jury Prize was awarded to the heartbreaking documentary "Chrigu," directed by Jan Gassmen and Christian Ziorjen (Switzerland) which detailed the aforementioned director's unsuccessful fight with cancer. Both Jan Gassmen and Alexandros Voulgaris were at hand to collect their awards.
Other sections in this year's !F Istanbul Festival program included, Mexican Wave (which celebrated 2007 as the landmark year in Mexican cinema), Life in Sound (that showcased a selection of first hand perspectives on celebrated musical groups from around the world), Fantastic Films (Japanese Manga, cutting edge CGI and lyrical old school animation), Rainbow Films (the celebration of international award-winning gay, lesbian and sub cultural films), The Planet, The People (films that had an ecological and social commentary on the world that we live in today), Warped Love, The Art Of Living, !F Junior (an alternative to conventional children's cartoons that managed to be sweet and thought provoking), Insomnia (a selection of late night cult classics and horror movies) and the !F Shorts (which screened not only the latest Turkish but some internationally ground breaking short films.)
The organization and preparation for this very intimate and personal festival was very impressive and should be duly commended. It was universally agreed amongst the diverse ranging international guests that !F seriously deserves some sort of a wider recognition. Not for least that it is one of the many few European/Asian festivals to bring awareness, support and champion the independent film sector. Judging from the packed out movie theatres at many of the screenings, the eager and enthusiastic Turkish cinema-going folk have taken to !F as have I for its determination to not only remain truly independent in spirit but also in mind as well.