Roll up, roll up – Istanbul’s biggest film festival has landed. Beginning last Saturday (April 5) and lasting until Sunday April 20, almost 250 films will be screened from every corner of the globe as part of the 33rd Istanbul Film Festival.
Still from ‘Frank’
The International Competition category is less diverse, countrywise, than in previous years, with nothing from the Middle East, Asia, Latin America or even the USA. Out of the 12 films competing there are nine from Europe, two from Canada and one from my neck of the woods, Australia. Tracks, the new film from John Curran, is a mesmerising adaption of the Australian author Robyn Davidson’s novel of the same name about the journey she made across the Australian outback with four camels in 1977. The weird and wonderful English production Frank, which premiered at Sundance in January, tells of an eccentric band whose leader, Frank, wears a giant mask on his head (the inspiration for which came from Frank Sidebottom, stage persona of the late British singer and comedian Chris Sievey). Daniele Luchetti’s new film Those Happy Years once again takes the audience on a semi-autobiographical journey into the director’s dysfunctional family in 1970s Italy. Arthouse lovers will fall for 20,000 Days on Earth, the debut feature from the Goldsmiths graduates Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard, which follows a fictitious 24 hours in the life of the enigmatic musician Nick Cave (another Aussie). And Me, Myself and Mum is an absolute gem of a film telling the story of the celebrated French stage actor Guillaume Gallienne’s sexually confused youth, during which his mother treated him as the daughter she never had. Toying with gay movie clichés and coming-out stories, Gallienne plays the roles of both his younger self and his mother in this hilarious, heart-warming tale.
Still from ‘The Zero Theorem’
The Galas and Masters categories feature films that have proved popular during the awards season, some of which will be screened in Turkish cinemas later in the year. Highlights include The Grand Budapest Hotel, the latest from the king of quirk, Wes Anderson and touted as his best yet. Stephen Frears’s multi-award-winning Philomena tells the story of an elderly Irishwoman who sets out to find the son taken from her as a baby by nuns and given up for adoption. The latest from the master British director and Monty Python alumni Terry Gilliam, The Zero Theorem, has all the visual elements of his best-loved film Brazil, but doesn’t quite live up to its humour and strong narrative. It is also the last chance to see the controversial Dutch director Lars Von Trier’s Nymphomaniac, banned by the government when it was released in Turkey a few months back. For those unable to bear the four-hour-long sex fest (not actually erotic), the film has been split into two sessions.
Still from ‘La Jaula De Oro’
In the Human Rights section Trans X Istanbul tells of the transgender community in Turkey, while Ai Weiwei: The Fake Case is about the world-renowned Chinese artist who spent 81 days in prison in 2011 and is now under house arrest, and the Mexican La Jaula De Oro takes a poetic look into the lives of migrants. The Georgian director Zaza Urushadze’s witty drama Tangerines is another highlight, telling of the plight of Estonians in Georgia during the Abkhazian War.
Still from ‘Ayhan Hanım‘
The Istanbul Film Festival screens one of the largest selection of Turkish films of all the country’s festivals, with 36 films spanning popular features, films from emerging talent, documentaries and shorts. Many explore social and political issues and topics pertinent to women, with the usual melodramas kept at bay. Highlights include the latest from the renowned director Reha Edrem: Singing Women (main image) tells of a group of women who unite when their island community is issued with an evacuation order in the face of an impending earthquake. Ayhan Hanım tells the story of a family during the 1980 military coup. Last year’s award-winning The Impeccables, delicately dealing with a very serious issue (which I won’t reveal), will also be screened. The documentary selection is strong too. Love will change the way… is about people from very diverse backgrounds coming together during the Gezi Park protests, while Jazz in Turkey explores the evolution of Turkish jazz and its musicians.
Still from ‘Pussy Versus Putin’
Speaking of documentaries, the documentary section (sponsored by NTV, notorious for screening documentaries on penguins during the Gezi Park protests last summer) has some goodies in store: the story of the Russian feminist punk band Pussy Riot is told through snippets filmed on smartphones and handheld cameras in Pussy versus Putin, the economic crisis is explored in Master of the Universe, and revolutionist youngsters in the Syrian city of Homs are the focus of Return to Homs. Famous faces – from sports stars to writers to Hollywood directors – also get a look-in. The eponymous Bertolucci on Bertolucci is a film-essay on cinema from the Italian master director, The Armstrong Lie explores the doping scandal surrounding disgraced cycling champion Lance Armstrong, and Salinger is a fascinating documentary on one of America’s most elusive novelists, JD Salinger.
Still from ‘White Shadow’, screening under the ‘From the World of Festivals’ category
There are numerous other categories, including films that won critical acclaim or audience appreciation at international festivals, films from young directors, ground-breaking or edgy films that are way outside the mainstream, light-hearted films, midnight movies, an LGBT section, films from the celebrated Russian filmmaker Alexei Guerman, and others. For the ‘What a Pair’ category, an eclectic selection of Turkish classics has been chosen to celebrate 100 years of Turkish cinema.
Still from ‘Papusza’
As this year marks the 600th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Turkey and Poland, a number of Polish films or films by Polish directors will be screened. The beautifully shot Papusza, competing in the International Competition, is based on the true story of Bronisława Wajs, aka Papusza, the first Roma poet to have her poems translated into Polish and officially published. The notorious Polish director Roman Polanski’s Venus in Fur screens in the Galas category. Experimental animation from Poland is also explored in ‘Polish Experimental Animation: An Anthology’.
For those keen to delve deeper into cinema and filmmaking, the festival is also offering free panels and masterclasses as part of the ‘Meetings on the Bridge Panels’ programme. Topics such as a pitching your script, getting the right film score and filming documentaries will be discussed and workshopped at Akbank Sanat. Click here for the full programme.
Each film screens one to three times at ten different cinemas: Atlas in Beyoğlu, Beyoğlu Cinema, Feriye Cinema in Ortaköy, Citylife in Nişantaşı, Rexx in Kadıköy, the Pera Museum Cinema, Salon IKSV in Şişhane, Akbank Sanat Cinema on Istiklal Caddesi, the French Cultural Centre on Istiklal Caddesi and the Istanbul Modern Cinema. Tickets can be purchased from Biletix or directly from the venues.