This review must begin by examining the joke of a title that is !f Istanbul Independent Film Festival. What makes this festival independent? Is it that it is run by AFM Cinemas, Turkey’s largest cinema chain which generally ignores anything resembling independent film? Or perhaps we can thank its primary sponsor, Nokia, for adding that touch of independent flair. According to its website, !f Istanbul is Turkey’s first and only film festival dedicated to independent cinema. Not only is this a questionable statement in general, it does a disservice to the many diligent programmers of Turkish Film Festivals, and especially to the Antalya and Istanbul Film Festivals, whose careful selections have helped to bring Turkish films to the world’s attention. And, as purportedly dedicated as !f Istanbul is to independent film, it is interesting to note that they devote almost no screen time to those of the Turkish variety. Is !f Istanbul AFM’s annual apology to film goers? Should we accept this as penance? All annoyances aside, there are many reasons to be thankful for this, the tenth anniversary of !f Istanbul. First and foremost, the festival grants Istanbul’s cinephiles the opportunity to forego the bootlegged DVD in favor of a proper cinematic screening. This year marks a new partnership of !f Istanbul with the Sundance Institute, which translates into screenings of Sundance favorites and workshops with some of the institute’s best and brightest. !f² pairs the festival with film streaming site Mubi, to create an admirable project which simultaneously broadcasts select films to other Turkish and regional cities which may not have access to these films otherwise. !f Istanbul also boasts the nation’s only dedicated queer films section, as well as a skillfully selected short program of Kurdish films. Finally, !f Istanbul is not a competitive festival, making it instead an event tailored to the filmgoer, not the filmmaker.
Jorge Michel Grau's Somos Lo Que Hay
This year’s "in competition" selection offers a few films that distinguish themselves by being genuinely unique. A film that is equal parts cannibal horror, social satire and family drama, Jorge Michel Grau’s Somos Lo Que Hay (What Are What We Are) is sure to disturb and provoke audiences. Standing in stark contrast to this film is Le Quattro Volte (The Four Times), an elegiac meditation on the life cycle and the transmigration of souls via the inhabitants of an Italian village. Looking past its novelty as Greenland’s first feature film, Torben Bech and Otto Rosing’s Nuummioq gracefully examines a man coming to terms with his mortality while surrounded by the stunning settings of a rarely explored clime.
Lisa Cholodenko's The Kids Are All Right
Anyone gearing up for Oscar season will be pleased to find that !f has included six titles in the running this year. Of these, Black Swan and True Grit, both crafted by multi-genre masters, need no introduction. Lisa Cholodenko’s character-driven familial comedy, The Kids are All Right is the absolutely unmissable film of this category. Powered by truly excellent performances, Kids centers on the entrance of a thus far absent, sperm donor father into the lives of a seemingly harmonious family. Another deserving Oscar nod here for the pitch perfect Annette Benning. Although regrettably narrated by Matt Damon, Charles Ferguson’s economic crisis doc Inside Job proves itself as required reading for even the causal cinemagoer. Other choice picks here include Sundance darlings Animal Kingdom and Winter’s Bone, as well as Radu Muntean’s Marti, Dupa Craciun (Tuesday, After Christmas).
Jan Švankmajer's Prezit Svuj Zivot
Weak programming plagues most of the other categories, most notably in the music films and retrospective sections. With the unifying theme apparently being some form of viewer’s poll, the retrospective section is in dire need of a name change. Audience favorites is a far more appropriate name for a category filled with practically new films that have nothing in common other than accessibility. Notable exceptions amongst the rest include Czech animation legend Jan Svankmajer’s supposed final film, Prezit Svuj Zivot (Surviving Life), Casey Affleck’s Joaquin Phoenix mockumentary I’m Still Here, and Jeff Malmberg’s debut, fantastical doc Marwencol. Another not to miss is Chris Morris’s Four Lions, billed by our very own Arts Correspondent as both “the funniest film of 2010, and the best suicide bombedy I’ve seen in years.” The 10th !f Istanbul Independent Film Festival runs from 17 – 27 February and includes venues in Taksim, Maçka, Istinye and Caddebostan. Tickets available from MyBilet here For a full list of films click here