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A Silver Year for Istanbul International Film Festival: A Culturally Diverse Line up and a Regime Ch

A Silver Year for Istanbul International Film Festival: A Culturally Diverse Line up and a Regime Ch

The 25th International Istanbul Film Festival, which had been one of the city’s main attractions for two weeks from 1st April to 16th April, closed on Sunday evening with the coveted Golden Tulip award going to Michael Winterbottom‘s “Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story.” The event, organized by the Istanbul Art and Culture Foundation, offered viewers a number of innovations this year with more than 200 films from 42 countries, and 20 sections. Also included in the program were a number of memorable classics, selected masterpieces from virtuoso directors of film history, several documentary films and some original examples of animation cinema.

The saddest news to break during the past two-weeks however, was that Hulya Ucansu would be stepping down from her position as Director of the Istanbul Film Festival after 24 years of service. Through her endless endeavors, the Istanbul Film Festival has been put on the map of world festivals and her decision to not to renew her tenure, has given way to a change in guard. It seemed natural that her successor, Azize Tan, was the most obvious replacement, having served as the festival’s coordinator from 2000-2002 and Assistant Director since 2003.

Hulya Uncansu, who served 24 years as the head of the International Istanbul Film Festival, giving her good bye speech. Photo by Kerem Bayrak.

To celebrate its 25th year, the festival prepared a selection from all the films it had screened over its quarter century. Twenty-four international films were selected by an advisory committee, “in view of their remarkable cinematic quality and popularity,” and were screened in the event’s “Golden Films Of 25 Years” section. In addition, the festival also had sidebars that dealt with “Award Winning Turkish Films of 25 years,” as well as films “From the World of Festivals” and “Masters Of The Future,” which seeks to promote fresh new international filmmakers from all over the world.

The festival’s tributes, meanwhile, honored four leading directors: British maverick director Nic Roeg (“The Man Who Fell To Earth“), Victor Erice (“On the Terrace“) one of the greatest masters of the Spanish cinema; Vittorio de Seta (“The Uninvited“) and Turkish cinema master Erden Kiral (“The Canal“). Other sections of the festival were devoted to “Freedom To Women,” spotlighting work focused on women who endured social and economic hardships throughout the world, and “Merry-Film-Round” for children. Retrospectives on the works of Terry Gilliam and Roberto Rossellini were also included in the program.

This year’s festival had an identifiably French flavor. As part of the fest’s “French Spring” activities that were mounted with the support of the French government and French Cultural Centers in Turkey, Gerard Depardieu and Catherine Deneuve were both present to pick up their lifetime achievement awards. Other prominent guests in attendance included Jeanne Moreau, Bertrand Blier and Isabella Huppert. Best French productions of recent years that had been successful both in France and abroad were also brought together in the section entitled “The French Year.”

With the imminent announcement of the Cannes Film Festival line up, the Istanbul Festival did have some notable omissions within its national competition this year. Whatever the reason was in the decision not to screen completed works by Zeki Demirkubuz and Nuri Bilge Ceylan, speculation quickly developed amongst the foreign press that both directors would have their films shown next month at the Cannes Film Festival. Filmmaker, Dervis Zaim, who was on the verge of completing his latest opus, however, had explained that he was planning to submit his film to either Venice or Toronto.

Turkish cinema has taken great strides artistically, in popularity and notoriety since I began writing about the Istanbul film festival four years ago. Turkish movies have also seen commercial viability, as in the case of the controversial “Kurtlar Vadisi” (Valley of the Wolves). Although it was absent in the festival’s line up, this film has already created a flurry of controversy within the US, for its depiction of and sentiments about American involvement in Iraq. The film, starring Billy Zane and Gary Busey, has currently taken over $20 million at the Turkish box office since its theatrical release in February. This figure will no doubt escalate once it manages to secure distribution outside of Europe.

Next month at the Tribeca Film Festival, “Oyun” (The Play), by Pelin Esmer will have its US premiere where it has been selected to participate in the documentary competition. The film tells the account of nine peasant women from a mountain village in southern Turkey, who decide to write and perform a play based on their life stories. Esmer’s charming documentary observes the creative stages leading up to the production of the play, and shows us how nine subtly but significantly different women emerge after its staging.

Newly appointed Director of the International Istanbul Film Festival, Azize Tan during this year’s event. Photo by Kerem Bayrak.

Also taking prizes this year in Istanbul, the national jury decided to award the best Turkish film of the year to “Bes Vakit” (Times And Winds), directed by Reha Erdem. This elegant art-house styled and highly accomplished film, deals with three Turkish children captured by the flow of time in a village, stuck between earth and sea, rocks and sky. It has already been touted to screen in other festivals around the world and will surely be a crowd pleaser.

Istanbul’s best director award went to Kutlug Ataman for “Iki Genc Kiz” (2 Girls) and the best actress and actor awards were given to Serif Sezer and Fikret Kuskan for their performances in “Babam Ve Oglum” (My Father And Son). “Separate Lies” by Julian Fellowes and “Babam ve Oglum” (My Father And Son) took the Peoples Choice Awards, determined by the votes of the festival audience. The FIPRESCI Awards went again to “Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story” and in the national competition to “Bes Vakit.”

Separate from the festival, it was announced that the city of Istanbul had garnered a nomination for the European Cultural City of 2010. With a possible new injection of substantial financing of over $200 million from the European Union to bolster its cultural development program, there seems a renewed interest, optimism and excitement in what the future has in store for the Turkish film industry and artistic community as a whole.

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