Istanbul film festival woes: bureaucracy or censorship?

By Victoria Khroundina | April 14, 2015

If you’ve been following the blog you will know that Istanbul is the throes of its annual film festival. Its 34th, in fact, so things have been going well. Until now.

On Sunday I had an email from the festival’s organisers, the Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts (IKSV for short), saying it had received an ‘official letter’ from the Cinema General Directorate of the Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism stating that films produced in Turkey must have ‘a formal registration certificate in order to be screened at festivals’, and that screenings of films produced in Turkey without this certificate will ‘result in legal sanctions’. Because of this, IKSV continued, the screening of Çayan Demirel and Ertuğrul Mavioğlu’s documentary Bakur (North) will be cancelled and the film will only be reinstated if said ‘registration certificate’ is obtained.

Fair enough… sort of. However, films produced outside Turkey are exempt from this regulation. So why should the same not apply to films made in Turkey?

At a press briefing yesterday afternoon (which from the photos looks a rather solemn affair) it was announced that due to the cancellation of Bakurs screening the directors and producers of 22 other films have decided not to show their films at the festival either. They released a statement saying: ‘We do not accept the requirement of these certificates for local productions, especially as they are not required for foreign films. We consider this to be a form of oppression and censorship.’ These 22 films make up the majority of films in the various competitions taking place and, though screenings will continue, the National and International Golden Tulip Competitions, the National Documentary Competition and the Closing Ceremony have all been cancelled.

Screenings without competitions don’t constitute much of a film festival, but this act of solidarity is important and much needed. It’s clear the relevant organisations need to pull their fingers out and implement a form of regulation which applies to all films entering the festival. The festival’s director, Azize Tan, echoed this sentiment, emphasising that the regulation has created massive problems for festivals and filmmakers for a long time, and that festival organisers have negotiated to change this in the past… but to no avail. ‘I hope that this situation converts into an opportunity that brings the film industry together to change this regulation,’ Tan says. ‘In order to overcome the problems in the industry, I think a new film regulation should be enacted and it should secure the freedom to screen films at the festival without any problems.’ 

Whether this is a matter of prickly bureaucracy or of censorship is unclear. Bakur focuses on life in the mountains of Kurdistan from the point of view of the members of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). I’ll leave you to watch the trailer below and coverage of the press conference (though it’s mostly in Turkish) and to mull over what has gone wrong.

Main image shows festivals director Azize Tan speaking at the press conference yesterday (photp: Benek Özmez).

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