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DISPATCH FROM ISTANBUL | The Istanbul International Film Festival Bridges East and West

DISPATCH FROM ISTANBUL | The Istanbul International Film Festival Bridges East and West

Although more lower key but of higher brow in terms of sophistication, the annual 26th Istanbul International Film Festival ended on Friday night awarding the coveted Golden Tulip Award in the International competition to the Norwegian film “Reprise” directed by Joachim Trier. The jury was presided over by filmmaker Michael Radford (UK) and was composed of Zeki Demirkubuz (Turkey), Dagur Kari (Iceland), Udo Kier (Germany), Tilbe Saran (Turkey), Lone Scherfig (Denmark) and Katriel Schory (Israel). The Special Jury Prize was also awarded to Tom Dicillo who was personally at hand to collect the award for his film “Delirious.”

The best film in the national competition was given to Nuri Bilge Ceylan‘s “Iklimler” (“Climates”) and the best director award respectively was awarded to Zeki Demirkubuz for his film “Kader” (“Destiny”) which deals in a perverse anti-romance study of obsession. Both winners enjoyed a monetary prize of 50,000YTL from the Ministry of Culture and Tourism. The jury in the National competition was presided over by Italian/Turkish filmmaker Ferzan Ozpetek and consisted of Klaus Eder (Germany), Mehmet Gunsur (Turkey), Yildirim Turkey (Turkey) and Isil Yucesoy (Turkey).

Other winners included Best Actress winner Ozgu Namal for her work in “Beynelmilel” (“International”) and the Best Actor winner was shared on this occasion, between Erkan Can for his performance in “Takva” and Ufuk Bayraktar for his work in “Kader”. The Ministry of Culture and Tourism gave a monetary prize of 10,000YTL to each of the aforementioned winners. The Special Prize of the Jury went to the film “Beynelmilel” by Sirri Sureyya Onder and Muharrem Gulmez.

This years FIPRESCI jury, that was presided over by Miguel Somsen (Portugal) and was composed of Cuneyt Cebenoyan (Turkey), Katharina Dockhorn (Germany), Marina Drozdova (Poland), Nathan Lee (USA) and Uygur Sirin (Turkey), gave the FIPRESCI AWARD in the International competition to “Kunsten At Graede I Kor” (“The Art of Crying”) by Peter Schonau Fog (Denmark). This little gem of a movie tells the story of a family with secrets everybody knows but nobody speaks about. It balances comedy and tragedy in a distinct cinematic style, which is only impervious to that of Scandinavian cinema. The FIPRESCI AWARD in the National competition and in memory of Onat Kutlar went to “Kader” for being a story that finds a strong cinematic language to explore the nature of existence and irrationality. A monetary award of $30.000 was also given to the film and filmmaker Zeki Demirkubuz to be used towards his next project.

The People’s Choice Awards sponsored by Radikal Newspaper and determined by the votes of the festival audience gave “Niwemang” (“Half Moon”) by Bahman Ghobadi (Iran) the International best film award and “Iklimler” the national best film award, receptively. A particular point of interest at this year’s festival was in the opening film and world premiere of Ferzan Ozpetek‘s “Saturn Opposite“. This highly accomplished and delightful piece of work opened the ceremonies on March 30th and focused on a generation of highly depressed, modern day 40-year olds who lived their better years during the 80’s and 90’s in Rome. Denying separation in friendship as well as in love, they are forced to confront their most profound fears.

The closing entry to the proceedings on April 14th was in the screening of Steven Soderbergh‘s “The Good German” featuring George Clooney, Toby McGuire and Cate Blanchett. The festival program catered to a vast array of world films this year and this was particularly evident in the eclectic sections that hosted 235 works of the seventh art. In her first year as festival director, Azize Tan has garnered and programmed a respectable foray of movies from all over the world. She has stepped into her predecessor, Hulya Ucansu’s, position without compromising the flavor that previous festivals’ programs have offered. She commented, “What I tried to accomplish this year was to create a platform for Turkish and International filmmakers alike, who would allow their work to be bridged closer to the Turkish audience. This is a festival that has given the Turkish filmmakers a chance to showcase their work to the International press community.’

New section inclusions in the program consisted of “Challenging The Years” which dedicated its showcase to six of the most revered directors of the world cinema. These included Istvan Szabo‘s “Relatives“, Alan Resnais‘s latest film “Private Fears in Public Places“, Otar Iosseliani‘s final film, “Gardens in Autumn“, Vittorio de Seta‘s, “Letters from Sahara“, Jiri Menzel‘s, “I Served as the King of England” and finally Oliveira‘s “Belle Toujours“.

Other new sections the festival had to offer included “From the Caucasus to the Mediterranean” which screened 9 films. Notable works included Moroccan filmmaker Faouzi Bensaidi‘s, “What a Wonderful World“, Lebanese director, Michel Kammoun‘s post war Beirut film “Falafel” and Dror Shaul‘s (of Israel) Sundance Jury Award Winner, “Sweet Mud“.
“A Fassbinder Special: Teardrops on Burning Rocks” section was compiled by Turkish film critic Fatih Ozguven and included some of the filmmaker, Rainer Werner Fassbinder‘s most celebrated works. Also included were six other films by directors who had been inspired by or paid homage to the aforementioned maestro of cinema.

In “Life is a Cabaret: Bob Fosse” the festival showcased a tribute to the late great Bob Fosse by screening three of his films including, “Sweet Charity“, “Cabaret” and “All That Jazz“. Other section tributes celebrated the works of Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki, Robert Altman, Atif Yilmaz, Sven Nykvist, Shohei Imamura and Gillo Pontecorvo.

Additionally, in the “Hisar Short Film Collection” section, works from the best short films of 2006 were selected and screened. Some of Turkey’s major directors, including the previous Cannes Grand Prix winner, Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Kutlug Ataman and Baris Pirhasan made contributions to this particular side-event. Also worth mentioning was the section entitled “From Russia With Love”. The transformation of Russian cinema following Perestroika and the fall of the Berlin wall was reelected in the increase in the number and quality of the films produced. The Ministry of Culture therefore designated 2007 as the “Russian Year” in Turkey whilst in Russia 2008 is to be designated the “Turkish Year.” Due to this unique occasion the festival screened a wonderful and diverse selection of Russian films that reflected this particular transformation of the country’s history.

A particularly notable contribution to this year’s festival was within the “Human Rights in Cinema” section. This was the first year that an award was devised in collaboration between the International Istanbul Film Festival and The Council of Europe and was devised in order to reward a film that best represented the Council’s values in respect of human rights, individual freedom, political liberty and the rule of law.

The Film Award of the Council of Europe (“FACE”) was presented in the name of Secretary General Terry Davis (Council of Europe Human Rights Commissioner) by Thomas Hammarberg to the film “Bamako” (“The Court”) by Abderrahmane Sissako (Mali). The jury members on this occasion were Gabriella Battaini-Dragoni (Council Of Europe’s Chairman Of Education, Youth And Sports), Philippe Boillat (The Council Of Europe’s Chairman Of Human Rights), and Dr. Turgut Tarhanli (Dean Of The Law Faculty Of Bilge University and director of the Human Rights Research Centre). The award also came with a cash prize of 10,000 euros in collaboration with Eurimages, The Council of Europe fund for the co-production, distribution and exhibition of European cinematographic works.

Director Gus Van Sant with actor Udo Kier (“Grindhouse”). Photo by Kerem Bayraktaroglu.

The various high profiled guests in attendance this year, whose work was either incorporated in certain sections or attracted Tributes, included Park Chan Wook, Gus Van Sant and Paul Schrader. All aforementioned filmmakers gave memorable master classes to local University students especially Gus Van Sant who commented, “After seeing the city of Istanbul I could be quite easily tempted into shooting parts of my forthcoming movie, “Harvey Milk” here. I can’t believe how similar some aspects of the city are to those of San Francisco in the 1950/60’s.’ He went on to screen clips of his forthcoming film “Paranoid Park” and was at hand on the closing night ceremony, to accept his Honorary Award. Other honorary award recipients were Paul Schrader, Guler Okten, Cuneyt Arkin and Duygu Sagiroglu.

Aside from the usual foray of screenings, the festival offered a wide range of events that either celebrated or honored the history of cinema. Panel discussions ranged from a discussion on the works of Rainer Werner Fassbinder and Pier Paolo Passolini to an intimate conversation between Turkish filmmaker Reha Erdem and Tsai Ming-Liang. Additionally on offer was a short presentation by the documentary filmmaker Gary Hustwit, who dealt with the history of the graphic design font “Helvetica“, interviewed by Esen Karol. As in the previous year, a two-day conference was also organized entitled “Meetings on the Bridge”, which aimed at bringing together representatives of European film institutions such as Eurimages, Arte, Unifrance, ZDF with Turkish producers and directors to discuss funding possibilities for filming projects.

Other events included “Nisi Masa” which was a filmmaking project entitled “Visions of Istanbul.” The experience included a video-documentary style in which participants made short documentaries in video and KinoKabaret styles, generating short visual products through determined themes and obstacles in a restricted time period. The main aim of “Visions of Istanbul” was for young European filmmakers to explore specific areas of the city and to express their feelings/views on these places via short films/videos adopting a documentary and/or experimental approach.

The festival also incorporated photographic, art and fashion exhibitions. These ranged from photos taken over the last four years by Nuri Bilge Ceylan, to a costume display of 60 years of work by Italian haute couture house, Animode Tailors. Additionally a collection of photographs taken by Cathy Berg celebrating the 60th anniversary of the Cannes Film Festival was also on offer for all to enjoy.

However, there were significant absentees from this year’s proceedings. Semih Kaplanoglu‘s two films that form part of a trilogy, namely “Egg” and “Milk“, were omitted from the program. Both films are part of a Turkish/Greek co-production and have been awarded support from Eurimages. They have also been tipped to appear at this year’s Cannes festival. “Egg”, being widely tipped to be selected in The Director’s Fortnight and the incomplete “Milk” to appear in the Cannes Atelier.

The overall impression that the festival gave this year was in its significant rise in the number of national films that were on offer in and out of competition. Ranging from short films to documentaries, from animations to full length features, the festival had showcased a wider range of talent than ever before. It seems that many filmmakers had benefited from the Ministry of Culture’s incentives and funds. To illustrate this point, while last year’s National Competition included eight Turkish films in the National competition, within a year this figure has doubled to 16. It is thus obvious that Turkish films are alive, well and healthy within the overall global festival circuit and domestic box office.

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