Pushing the Limits
The 25th Istanbul Film Festival has attracted world celebrities including the likes of Catherine Deneuve and Isabell Huppert. It's a far cry from when it started in the dark years of military rule, when Turkey was cut off from world cinema. By Dorian Jones
The opening of the 25th Film Festival is now a national event in Turkey being broadcast across the country. It attracts politicians, the rich and famous as well members of the country's rapidly growing cinema industry. But is the public that it seems the festival means most to.
With 220 films on show from 42 countries and over 300 international guests, this year's festival was the largest ever. It's a far cry from the dark days of 1982 when Istanbul Film Festival started. The army had seized power two years before and the generals still ruled the country with iron fist.
Beginning of a new age
Hulya Ucansu has been director of the festival since the beginning. She says their aim was to bring some light to cinema lovers in Turkey.
"When we go back to the beginning years, at the beginning of the 80's, the Turkish cinema was closed after the last military coup d'état. There was a strong pressure of the censorship on the Istanbul Film Festival, on the Turkish cinema on the all the events, which were getting organized in the field of cinema in Turkey. And there was almost no means of watching the world classics."
"We cannot talk of an audience that knows the world the cinema," Ucansu goes on to say. "There was no young film critic's generation; there was no distribution generation who had the courage to buy films of arts or documentaries. But now we are very happy to tell you all these people have to come to the field of cinema. There is a young generation of Turkish directors, of film critics, film distributors who are open to the world cinema."
Challenging and controversial films
A mother talking about how her son was tortured by the police and that he still remains in jail - The scene is from "Yas Mahkumari", or "Hypothetical Prisoners", and tells the true story of two mothers in their struggle to free their children.
The documentary is just one of numerous challenging and controversial films which the festival has shown over the years. It has always been in the forefront of pushing the boundaries of censorship in Turkey. But according to film critic and festival member Atilla Dorsai it was not only political censorship that was challenged.
"Not only in the political area but also in the moral area or the sexual area. Because we are the first activity in Turkey which has shown films dealing with homosexuality, not cutting any scene. Years ago we have shown 'My Beautiful Launderette's, I remember very well (…). Then we were showing all kinds of film. But that was the beginning. Therefore the Istanbul Film Festival is very important in pushing the limits."
The days of censorship are now over, the last battle being fought four years ago when the then government tried to ban a movie about a political about Kurds in Turkey. After a short campaign, the government quickly capitulated. Now today's politicians wants to be a part of the festival.
Appearing on the international stage
The Turkish minister of culture with his French counterpart announced a joint initiative, to promote Turkish-French films. The announcement was made at the festival opening. The French government is sponsoring a series of French films and visits of leading French actors and directors to the festival. Such initiatives for Hulya Ucansu are vindication that the festival is finally establishing itself internationally.
"We are growing; we don't have any more censorship. (…) Last year we sold 90,000 tickets; this year 140,000 tickets. From the international point of view, this year we have 220 films from all over the world. And now the celebrities are no longer afraid of coming to Turkey."
Danish director Christoffer Boe was one of more than two dozens directors who were visiting the festival. Where in the past the reputation of Turkey as a country of censorship was a barrier to many visiting, now the increasingly hip reputation of Istanbul made its irresistible for Boe.
"I had not been here before, so it was a great opportunity. I knew 'Reconstruction' played pretty well down here two years ago so I thought it'd be fun to go to a city that I had never been to. And it turned out to be a great city."
Boe's film "Allegro" tells the story of a pianist who is forced to confront his past which he has tried to forget. With reference s to the Russian director Tarkosky, a cult hero among many Turkish filmgoers, Boe's film has been a hit in the festival.
Paving the way for other festivals
At the final sell out showing of "Allegro", the audience appears well satisfied. The feeling among them it seems is that the festival again is offering rich pickings.
The festival, like Istanbul and Turkey, continues to evolve. The festival has been a pathfinder not only breaking down the barriers of censorship but also paving the way for numerous other film festivals, the city now boasts more than 40 annual events. But festival organizers have new ambitions that of now putting the Istanbul festival firmly on the world cinema map.
© Deutsche Welle 2006