Turkish film critic Onat Kutlar initiated the Istanbul Film Festival in 1982; this year it celebrates its 30th anniversary. Kutlar was one of the country's leading film critics; later he attracted international attention as writer and scriptwriter. In 1995, at the age of 58, he was killed during a bomb attack on a coffee shop in Istanbul's central Taksim Square, a meeting place visited in particular by intellectuals. For the festival, he arranged the support of Sakir Eczacibasi, an influential personality who had established the "Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts," an independent non-governmental body which still runs the film festival, among a variety of cultural activities. After Sakir Eczacibasi's death last year, his nephew Bülent Eczacibasi took over. Vecdi Sayar and Hülya Ucansu followed Onat Kutlar as festival directors; Azize Tan, who took the post several years ago, continues their legacy.
For generations of Turkish filmmakers the festival worked as a "school" where they could study what their colleagues worldwide were doing, and how they were doing it. The public, too, enjoyed films that would have been impossible to see without the festival. For foreigners, the festival worked and still works as a bridge to Turkish cinema (many festival programmers come to scout for Turkish entries). As Turkish cinemagoers enjoy the new Turkish films, the projections are always overcrowded and the Turkish section became the festival's secret center. This overview on the national cinema offers a wonderful possibility to get acquainted with the recent production. This is particularly interesting since a new, young Turkish cinema has attracted international interest and attention (provoked by the work of Nuri Bilge Ceylan).
This year, there were new films by known directors such as Ali Özgentürk, Erden Kiral, Seyfi Teoman, Dervis Zaim, and in addition, work by an astonishing number of newcomers. Among them, Sedat Yilmaz with his first film Press, about leftist journalists reporting on the persecution of Kurds in the early 1990s in the country's eastern regions and being killed themselves. Also notable, Hidden Lives (Sakli Hayatlar) by Haluk Ünal, a love story deeply embedded in the full-of-hate confrontation between Sunnis and Alevis in the Turkish 1980s.
Even if there might have been better years, even if new masterpieces were missing this year, Turkish cinema remains interesting and attractive. By the way, Nuri Bilge Ceylan's new film Once Upon A Time In Anatolia was not included in the program as it will world premiere in the Cannes competition later in May.
Hungarian director Béla Tarr received an "Honorary Award", together with Turkish actor Metin Akpinar and Turkish director Yusuf Kurcenli. French director Claire Denis headed the international jury.
Istanbul Film Festival: www.film.iksv.org