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An Ottoman’s Oasis Of Opportunity: The 24th International Istanbul Film Festival

An Ottoman's Oasis Of Opportunity: The 24th International Istanbul Film Festival

An Ottoman’s Oasis Of Opportunity: The 24th International Istanbul Film Festival

by Kerem Bayrak

Niv Fichman, producer of “Childstar,” Lucile Hadzihalilovic, director of “Innocence” and Don McKellar, director of “Childstar” at the closing night party. Photo by Kerem Bayrak

The 24th International Istanbul Film Festival (April 2-17) came to a close last Sunday night by awarding its Golden Tulip Award in the International Competition to two outstanding films. The award was shared between “La Femme de Gilles” (Giles’ Wife) by Frederic Fonteyne (Belgium-French-Luxembourg-Italy-Switzerland) and “Koi Jikou” by Hou Hsiao-Hsien (Japan). Both films were distinguished by their “courageous and provocative” choices as well as their “insightful and highly realised vision.” The Special Jury prize went to cinematographer Eyup Boz, for bringing forth the impact of the film “Melegin Dususu” (Angels Fall) by creating an atmosphere of natural light.

The International Competition jury was presided over by New Zealand filmmaker, Jane Campion and consisted of Valentia Cervi (Italy), Monty Montgomery (US), Yesim Ustaoglu (Turkey), Jan Champan (Australia), Meltem Cumbul (Turkey) and Robert Daudelin (Canada).

In the National Competition, the jury that was presided over by Rekin Teksoy (Turkey) and composed of Selma Guneri (Turkey), Sandra den Hamer (Holland), Ugur Icbak (Turkey) and Hasan Bulent Kahraman (Turkey), awarded the “Best Turkish Film of The Year” prize to “Anlat Istanbul” (Istanbul Tales) directed by Umit Unal, Kudret Sabanci, Selim Demirdelen, Yucel Yolcu, and Omur Atay. This charming movie will be distributed in Turkey by Warner Brothers and tells of five seemingly different fairytale protagonists who cross one night in Istanbul. The stories are interconnected with mathematically well-structured transitions and are all written by Umit Unal, who won the same award three years ago with the film simply entitled, “9.”

The prize for best director in the National Competition went to Ugur Yucel for his first feature film “Yazi Tura” (Toss-Up). A former director of commercials, Yucel wrote the screenplay and shows great promise in his masterly employment of contemporary cinematic language. The best actress and Special Prize of The Jury went to Yelda Reynaud for her performance in “Anlat Istanbul,” while the best actor award went to Olgun Simsek for his part in “Yazi Tura.”

The People’s Choice Awards (determined by audience voting), meanwhile, were also awarded to Lucile Hadzihalilovic‘s “Innocence” in the International Competition and to Yucel’s “Yazi Tura” in the National Competition.

Defne Kayalar (producer), Ugur Yücel (director) & Hakki Goceoglu: The Team behind “Yazi Tura” (Toss-Up). Photo by Kerem Bayrak.

The FIPRESCI jury, presided over by Marcel Martin (France) and composed of Joao Antunes (Portugal), Ingeborg Bratoeva (Bulgaria), Cigdem Komurcuoglu (Turkey), Yesim Tabak (Turkey) and Goradz Trusnovec (Slovenia) gave the International Competition Award to “Innocence,” directed by Lucile Hadzihalilovic (France-Belgium-France UK). In the National Competition, the award was given to “Melegin Dususu” (Turkey, Greece). Directed by Semih Kaplanoglu, the film had also screened in the Forum section at the Berlin Film Festival earlier this year.

Held by the Istanbul Foundation For Culture and The Arts, The International festival featured 170 astonishingly quality films from around the world plus special screenings, guests, tributes and workshops attended by Sofia Loren, Charles Dance, Harvey Kietel, Neil Jordan and Alain Robbe-Grillet. The former three guests were also present to accept honorary lifetime achievement awards at the festival’s closing ceremony. Also attributed were filmmakers Roman Polanski, John Waters, Pietro Germi and Yavuz Turgul, all of whom had a selection of their work screened over the two-week event. In the section entitled “Favourites of A Master,” Italian filmmaker Ettore Scola served as this year’s curator and had three screenings from works that had influenced him. The festival also had a section of the program from leading and upcoming filmmakers from all over the world that had received praise and accolades at various international festivals last year.

In other Istanbul events, the Akbank Chamber Orchestra and Sarband Ensemble accompanied special screenings of Buster Keaton‘s “The General” and George Fitzmaurice‘s “The Son of the Sheik” respectively. Additionally, there were two new sections in the program this year. “Dark Face Of The Future: Dystopia,” featuring films themed around the dystopia concept and “Coming Of Age,” which was a selection brought together that represented the problems, recreations, dreams and joys of youths and adolescents, living in their own worlds with their own particular set of values.

Kudret Sabancý (co-director), Selim Demirdelen (co-director), Ümit Ünal (writer/co-director), Erol Avci (producer), Yelda Reynaud (actress), Ömür Atay (co-director) from “Anlat Istanbul” (Istanbul Tales). Photo by Kerem Bayrak.

The festival has, unsurprisingly, proven an important showcase for Turkish work produced last year with 11 films being screened in and out of competition. Last years National Competition winner, “Boats Out of the Watermelon Rind,” directed by Ahmed Ulucay can be seen in competition at the Tribeca Film Festival this month. 2004 was a great year for local products in Turkey and was capped by comedy smash hit, “G.O.R.A.,” directed by Omer Faruk Sorak, which now ranks as the highest grossing film of the last 20 years in the territory, with an impressive $17.4 million.

While the current quality and standard of the films remained consistent with last year’s line-up, the focal point was not the current selections but the recent news that Turkey had ratified the European Convention on Cinematographic Co-production comes into effect this July 1st. As a result, the festival coordinators and FIPRESCI members hosted two panel discussions that dealt with ‘Balkan Cinema and The E.U.’ Topics addressed included the process of political, economic and cultural cooperation between Turkey, Greece, Bulgaria and Romania. Additionally, since the Turkish Ministry of Culture had also recently introduced various subsidies available to local producers (as well as to international co-productions), questions were raised as to how exactly this new mechanism would affect the industry.

It is understood that in March, 2005 the first round of funding was announced with up to 24 productions being awarded grants of up to $182,000 per project. Despite domestic product being on the rise, there was still much doubt as to how Turkish producers would fare in the international co-production arena. Although Eurimages currently supports Turkish production, a competent knowledge of the European Convention on Cinematographic Co-production rules and regulations was lacking from many of the key leading Turkish film producers who were understandably reluctant to venture into the international circuit due to domestic films faring better at the Turkish box office.

There are, however, three international feature film productions in the works that are making use of Turkey’s rapidly developing social-economic climate. “Gilgamesh,” to be directed by Roger Christian and to star Valentina Cervi, “The Net 2.0” to be produced by Charles Winkler and “The Holy Beast” with John Malkovich and Nastassia Kinski. Resourcefully, Turkey can very well compete with the likes of Romania and Bulgaria in terms of attracting foreign productions but whether or not Hollywood and Europe decide to implement this matter into their agendas, still remains to be seen.

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