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Hülya Uçansu, director of the Istanbul Film Festival, talks to John Brunton about her hopes for a resurgence of Turkish cinema
Selecting a jury for a major international film festival is inevitably a sensitive process. Last year’s choice for the 1996 Venice Film Festival, presided over by the controversial director Roman Polanski, was exceptionally fraught, with refusals to serve from the likes of Jodie Foster, the directors Mike Leigh and Sydney Polack, and even the celebrated conductor Ricardo Muti. But one selection was universally accepted – that of the highly respected Turk, Hülya Uçansu. She had already served on the festival juries at Edinburgh, Motpelleir and Troia in Portugal, and is recognised as the voice of Turkish cinema on the European film festival circuit.
Born in Bandırma on the Sea of Marmara in 1950, Hülya Uçansu began as a director’s assistant at the National Cinemathèque in Istanbul, before moving full-time into film festival organisation. In 1977 she set up the Antalya Film Festival; the following year the Balka Film Festival. All this was only a prelude to the launch of the Istanbul Film Festival in 1983, and she has been director ever since. What began as a simple film week, showing six movies, has mushroomed into a 16-day, internationally recognised showcase for 150 films, with the Golden Tulip awarded for best foreign film and a parallel prize for the Turkish cinema.
‘There is a strong sense of solidarity between the organisers of film festivals around Europe,’ Uçansu explains, ‘and we are constantly consulting each other on what films to see, what films merit being presented in competition. This means in a sense that I am promoting Turkish cinema overseas. The more you serve on juries such as that in Venice, the more contacts you make. I send copies of the latest Turkish movies to my fellow festival organisers, and that way wecan raise the profile of our cinema overseas. And equally, by attracting more and more cineastes to our own Istanbul festival, we expose them to the latest developments in the Turkish film world. Parallel to this process, I was delighted this year that the Istanbul Foundation organised a sixmonth retrospective of Turkish cinema at the Pompidou Centre in Paris, where 110 of our films were shown.’
Turkish films have been presented over the years with considerable success in festivals as diverse as Venice, Hong Kong, Hamburg and Alexandria. In 1983 Un saison a Hakkari by Erden Kiral won a Silver Bear in Berlin; Yol shared the top prize at Cannes with the Costa Gavras film Mission; while Anayurt Oteli won the prestigious International Film Critics' prize at the Mostra in Venice…
Beyond the towering Black Sea Mountains lies a hidden landscape rich with forgotten medieval churches. For centuries they were ignored, their ancient glories allowed to crumble to dust. Before new roads reached the Coruh Valley, Brian Sewell had to enlist the help of shepherds on his quest to find these forerunners of Romanesque and Gothic architecture.
In the rain forests of Turkey’s Black Sea Mountains, where jackals howl and the River Firtina (the Storm) crashes towards the Black Sea, live the Hemşinli people, who were here when Jason came in search of the Golden Fleece. In more recent years they prospered as bakers and restaurateurs in Tsarist Russia, returning to their beautiful, haunting country houses hidden in the hills east of Trabzon. Patrica Daunt visits one family and shares their memories of a Chekovian rural life.
Also see Cornucopia 34, Land of a Thousand Mansions
Outside the seraglio, away from the discreet charm of the bourgeoisie, the Turkish interior is a source of inspiration for modern designers: ergonomic, minimalist, refreshingly white-washed.
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