44th Antalya Film Festival

Tense Atmosphere

The 44th Antalya Film Festival was overshadowed by the conflict with the PKK. As has been the case at other festivals, Fatih Akin's film The Edge of Heaven won a number of prizes. The documentary makers, on the other hand, all went away empty-handed. Amin Farzanefar reports

44th Antalya Film Festival
One of the festival's aims is to boost the local film industry by attracting financial assistance from abroad

​​Last year it was the Islamist attacks on the holiday resort of Antalya; this year it was the PKK that made it necessary to search cars and luggage and to frisk visitors.

The 44th Antalya film festival held a mirror up to society in more ways than one. The festival’s yearning to outdo Cannes in terms of glamour and celebrity is the result of the country's turbo-capitalism and outstanding economic growth.

This desire was reflected in the fact that celebrities like Francis Ford Coppola, Shekar Kapur, Nicholas Roeg, Miranda Richardson, and Sophie Marceau graced the festival with their presence.

Since its relaunch three years ago, the festival - which used to be so beloved of the city's inhabitants - has been transformed into a major event that now runs the risk of becoming exclusive and out of the reach of the public.

Life behind bars as a comedy

Hamdi Alkan's film Bayrampasa highlighted a very different kind of involuntary community, namely the one in Istanbul's Bayrampasa Prison. The script was written in consultation with prison inmates and tells the story of an average man who finds himself doing time for a crime he did not commit.

The wheels of bureaucracy move slowly, thereby preventing a swift resolution to the miscarriage of justice. However, this gives both the hero of the film and the audience ample time to take a closer look at life in Bayrampasa.

Unexpectedly, the thorny issue of Turkish prisons is dealt with through comedy. Maybe it was because satiric excesses allowed the filmmakers to address the horrors of prison life without risking punishment. When asked about this, scriptwriter Haluk Ünal would go no further than to use the term "self-censorship".

Other, more sinister sides to the Turkish Republic were addressed much more openly and bluntly. No less than three films focussed on honour killings. While Abdullah Oguz's Mutluluk (Happiness) and Aydin Sayman's Janjan manage last-minute happy endings, Sakli Yüzler (Hidden Faces), the long-awaited new film by Handan Ipekci, largely does without such rays of hope.

Watching a film on screen at the Duisburg Documentary Film Festival, Ali discovers that his niece Zühre is still alive, working and living under a different name, and sets out to restore the family's honour after five years.

The transcontinental bridge-building effort that is this co-production may be the result of the fact that this virulent theme is topical on both sides of the continental divide; it may also be the result of a recent rapprochement between Turks and Germans. There are, however, altogether more practical reasons for such co-productions, namely the availability of funding.

Dramaturgical weaknesses

After all, one of the festival's aims is to boost the local film industry by attracting financial assistance from abroad. However, as Ipekci's film illustrates - which, incidentally fell well short of expectations - money alone is not enough.

Despite the largely gripping and diverse manner in which it dealt with the issue at hand, Hidden Faces dragged on unnecessarily in parts and repeated itself unnecessarily in others. This is a structural problem; the writing is not up to scratch.

Despite the fact that the Turkish film industry has succeeded in significantly boosting technical standards in recent years and has both an army of talented actors at its disposal and a wealth of fresh, exciting issues to tackle, the basic dramaturgical knowledge that every film student in Germany must have before embarking on a career is lacking here.

With a level of pragmatism that is not only contemporary, but also typical of this culture, and a will to make progress, Turkish filmmakers tackled this weakness head-on and made the best possible use of festival workshops with international stars of the scriptwriting world such as Olivier Leforelle and Jacques Deschamps.

A handful of internationally renowned filmmakers no longer need this kind of assistance: the winner of this year's "Golden Orange", Semih Kaplanoglu, comes from the same background as Cannes veterans Nuri Bilge Ceylan and Zeki Demirkubuz.

A window on the soul

Kaplanoglu's Yumurta (Egg) is a work of art on the silver screen, a luscious feast of colour and landscape. It is also the final instalment (but the first to be shot) of a trilogy about a man called Yusuf.

After the death of his mother, the former poet returns to his native village, where he meets the young woman Ayla. While he reminisces - about his mother and about the past - and discovers the landscape around the village, either alone or with Ayla, the audience observes how a couple grows closer almost without saying a word. In other words, this film gets by without the usual streams of words that are so typical of Turkish productions.

In his preference for idyllic backdrops, there are hints of Kaplanoglu's admiration for Kiarostami's laconic, ironic landscape images. However, just like Bilge Ceylan (Iklimler) or Zeki Demirkubuz, Kaplanoglu offers us an insight into the souls of his introverted characters. He cares little for external reality.

However, it was the decision of the documentary film jury at the festival that brought everyone back into the external reality of Antalya 2007 with a bang: because of what it described as a "lack of quality", the jury decided not to reward any of the entries in this category. This is somewhat surprising, given the unusually wide spread of ambitious topics dealt with in the documentaries.

Politics on the silver screen

Two films addressed the appalling working conditions in the mines while Necati Sönmez recalled the 712 people who were sentenced to death before death penalty was abolished in 2002. Two documentaries featuring large amounts of archive material and eyewitness accounts provided a detailed insight into forgotten or suppressed chapters of the Kurdish conflict.

Cayan Demirel's 38, for example, focussed on the Tunceli revolt of 1938 in which a total of 70,000 people lost their lives. It may be that this very real, fact-based look at what is in fact part of an ideological minefield was too much for the jury.

After all, the atmosphere at the festival, which coincided with the 84th anniversary of the founding of the Republic, was already tense. Rumour had it that organisers had considered cancelling the festival altogether. In the end, the festival went ahead, although as a mark of respect to the 16 fallen soldiers, no loud parties were held.

Fatih Akin apologised personally for the cancellation of the party that had been planned to mark the premiere of his film. Nonetheless he had every reason to celebrate. The Edge of Heaven won a number of awards including ones for best editing, best actress, best actor in a supporting role, and, deservedly, best director.

The film, which received such critical acclaim in Germany, was, however, criticised by intellectuals for its blunt political language, open criticism of the Turkish left wing, and touristy portrayal of Turkey, all of which they found objectionable.

Be that as it may, some 65,000 people saw the film on its very first weekend, the second best figures ever. Now, no-one is asking why a German film was allowed to take part in a Turkish competition.

Amin Farzanefar

© Qantara.de 2007

Translated from the German by Aingeal Flanagan

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