The spotlight at the 59th Festival for Animation and Documentary Films in Leipzig was on Turkey. Numerous films and discussions showed how the cultural and film scene is coping with a country that is currently being torn apart by fierce social and political conflicts.
“Disobedience” was the overarching theme of the 59th International Festival for Documentary and Animation Film in Leipzig. At a discussion evening with Turkish documentary filmmakers it became patently clear what it means for artists when their work is perceived as a political threat.
The evening was entitled “Documentaries in Turkey – The Next Frontier?” and it provided a number of emotionally charged filmmakers with a platform to report on the government repression artists were being subjected to, such as how hard it had been for their Kurdish colleague, Selim Yildiz, to take part in the Ankara film festival in April 2016. The director Yildiz, in his film I Remember (Bîra Mi 'Têtin, Turkey 2015), focuses on his personal memories of the Turkish army's massacre of 34 Kurdish civilians in Roboski and follows the fates of people living on the border to Iraq. There, their secluded life up in the mountains collides with the permanent presence of Turkish soldiers. Yildiz's film was in the end removed from the program of the Ankara International Film Festival at the last minute. I Remember was shown this year in Leipzig as part of the festival’s country focus.
Protest movements and the right to urban culture
Although the political developments in Turkey could not be foreseen when they were planning the festival, the events of the last few days and weeks - the arrests of journalists and opposition politicians - made the festival’s focus on Turkey even more volatile. A total of 18 up-to-the-minute documentary films were shown as part of the spotlight on Turkey, and during the discussions after the showings it became clear that many directors have to realize their projects without any state support. This fact alone makes it clear how difficult it is for a self-confident cultural and film scene to survive in a country that is plagued by censorship and oppression
Firat Yücel's film Audience Emancipated – The Struggle for the Emek Movie Theatre (Özgürleşen seyirci: Emek Sineması mücadelesi, Turkey 2016) illustrates this in exemplary manner. Its focus is on the protest movement, which in 2010 tried to prevent the demolition of the Emek cinema, one of Istanbul’s most important historical landmarks. Director Firat Yücel used, among other things, visual materials created by various activists to impressively depict what triggered the people’s “disobedience” – the right to urban culture and self-determination. The fact that the battle for the preservation of the Emek cinema became a key event in the recent political history of Turkey was also emphasized by Özge Calafato, the curator of the festival’s spotlight on Turkey. “In the end, it paved the way for the protests in Gezi Park.”
A broad range of ethnic diversity in the films
The spotlight on Turkey gave visitors a differentiated insight into what Turkish filmmakers are working on at the moment. An amusing review of the era of cheap remakes and adaptations in the Turkish film industry of the 1960s and 1970s, as in such productions as Remake, Remix, Rip-Off by Cem Kaya (Motör, Kopya kültürü ve populer Türk sineması, 2014), remained, however, the exception . Many of the selected feature and short films focused in a variety of ways on the critical analysis of their own past and present and thus offered unprecedented insights into the politics and society of their home country. “We have films made by Kurds, films made by Armenians,” says Grit Lemke, program director of the festival. “There is a broad range of ethnic diversity in the films, a broad range of artistic diversity, and afterwards you perceive the country quite differently from the way you did before.”
Armenian female director, Hale Güzin Kizilaslan, for example, retraces the genocide of the Armenians; her film The Return (Veratarts, Turkey 2015) reveals the repressed memories of a whole country - and the accompanying collective trauma. In their film, Bağlar, directors Berke Baş and Melis Birder, on the other hand, accompany an up-and-coming Kurdish basketball team. The film projects a reality has seems to have suddenly been taken from a fictitious Hollywood drama. A passionate basketball teacher is training a group of young men who are aiming to get into the national league, while not so far away from the sports hall the police are using water canons on the Kurdish PKK and its supporters.
Support for independent Turkish filmmakers
With its critical and sophisticated program the festival also managed to impress beyond the focus on Turkey. For example, the Ukrainian filmmaker, Sergei Loznitsa, won the “Golden Dove” in the international feature film competition for his film Austerlitz, which raises urgent questions about the contemporary “memory culture” that prevails at Shoa memorial sites. Although the contributions from the country spotlight program are not part of the competition, film prizes and international festivals naturally generate public awareness.
For this reason, at the discussion evening in Leipzig, the New Film Fund, a cooperation project between Anadolu Kültür, a Turkish institution dedicated to cultural diversity, and the !f Istanbul Independent Film Festival was presented. The fund, which was set up in 2015, is intended to enable documentary filmmakers from Turkey to continue their work, even when it is difficult to obtain state subsidies because of censorship. “With this independent film fund,” sayd project leader, Zeynep Güzel, “we hope to help filmmakers to find international coproducers.” Director Firat Yücel, who was sitting beside her, started to nod resolutely, and then it at last became clear – the cinematographers in Turkey, which is currently being torn apart by fierce social and political conflicts, are equally as resilient as the films themselves.
Foto (Ausschnitt): © Dok Leipzig 2016/Onur Bakır, Panagiotis Charamis
Attention! (Hazır ol!, 2016) von Onur Bakır, Panagiotis Charamis
Foto (Ausschnitt): © Dok Leipzig 2016/İbrahim Yeşilbaş
The Boy With Camera (Kameralı çocuk, 2016) von İbrahim Yeşilbaş
Foto (Ausschnitt): © Dok Leipzig 2016/Berke Baş, Melis Birder
Bağlar (2016) von Berke Baş, Melis Birder
Foto (Ausschnitt) © Dok Leipzig 2016/Leyla Toprak
Distant ... (Dûr e …, 2016) von Leyla Toprak
Foto (Ausschnitt) © Dok Leipzig 2016/ Baran Vardar
Fidelity (Vefa, 2016) von Baran Vardar
Foto (Ausschnitt) © Dok Leipzig 2016/Selim Yıldız
I Remember (Bîra Mi’ Têtin, 2015) von Selim Yıldız
Foto (Ausschnitt) © Dok Leipzig 2016/Gülnaz Bingöl
The Eagle's Tree (Dara Quertalî, 2015) von Gülnaz Bingöl
Foto (Ausschnitt) © Dok Leipzig 2016/ Deniz Özden
It's Ari Sir, Not Ali (Ali değil, Ari Komutanım, 2015) von Deniz Özden
Foto (Ausschnitt) © Dok Leipzig 2016/Ahmet Murat Öğüt, Aylin Kuryel, Begüm Özden Fırat, Emre Yeksan
Welcome Lenin (Hoşgeldin Lenin, 2016) von Ahmet Murat Öğüt, Aylin Kuryel, Begüm Özden Fırat, Emre Yeksan
Foto (Ausschnitt) © Dok Leipzig 2016/Melis Balcı, Ege Okal
Mercury (Merkür, 2015) von Melis Balcı, Ege Okal
Foto (Ausschnitt) © Dok Leipzig 2016/Bingöl Elmas
Hey Neighbour! (Komşu Komşu! Huuu!, 2014) von Bingöl Elmas
Foto (Ausschnitt) © Dok Leipzig 2016/Cem Kaya
Remake, Remix, Rip-Off. About Copy Culture & Turkish Pop Cinema (Motör. Kopya kültürü ve popüler Türk sineması, 2014) von Cem Kaya
Foto (Ausschnitt) © Dok Leipzig 2016/Rüzgâr Buşki
#Resistayol (#direnayol, 2016) von Rüzgâr Buşki
Foto (Ausschnitt): © Dok Leipzig 2016/Kazım Öz
Once Upon A Time (He bû tune bû, 2014) von Kazım Öz
Foto (Ausschnitt) © Dok Leipzig 2016/Emek Bizim İstanbul Bizim (Kollectiv)
Audience Emancipated: The Struggle For The Emek Movie Theater (Özgürleşen seyirci: Emek Sineması mücadelesi, 2016) von Emek Bizim İstanbul Bizim (Kollectiv)
Foto (Ausschnitt) © Dok Leipzig 2016/Gürcan Keltek
Colony (Koloni, 2015) von Gürcan Keltek
Foto (Ausschnitt) © Dok Leipzig 2016/Hale Güzin Kızılaslan
The Return (Veratarts, 2015) von Hale Güzin Kızılaslan