Transparent Landscape: Turkey

Coming to terms with the past, the clash of cultures, and intellectual reflections on everyday life – just three aspects of a country larger than Ukraine and as unknown as the Orient

YPS JIN (Asmin Bayram, Mizgin Tabu, 2016)

Although the recent coup attempt put Turkey on the front page, it is still too soon for a documentary reflection of this summer’s events.

For this reason, we decided to seek out filmmakers who previously sensed the growing tensions in society and tried to capture them in their work. The central themes of the films in this section are women’s resistance, the clash of cultures, coming to terms with the past, and an intellectual reflection on society. Our selection was also guided by the depth of the filmmakers’ investigations and the use of specific filmmaking techniques (this applies especially to I’ve Come and I’ve Gone, Backward Run (Tornistan), and Over Time).

Turkey has been unjustly criticized for its treatment of refugees. In reality, in 2014 the UN called Turkey the most generous country in terms of providing asylum to foreign refugees. Although the country called for help from all sides, nothing happened. Only when a minority of the more than three million people fleeing war and collapsing states began to head further west did we finally discover this global problem (the subject is explored in Callshop Istanbul and in How Would You Like to Migrate?).

Kurds were long forbidden from using their language or expressing their culture; sometimes villages – and more recently even entire neighborhoods – have been razed to the ground. The civil war has been raging for more than three decades. Although just a year ago a two-year ceasefire gave hope for a peaceful resolution, during the recent state of emergency the army of this NATO member has again destroyed hundreds of homes. The details of the conflict defy the imagination (Sept.–Oct. 2015, Cizre).

With Rojava, we are witnessing the emergence of a remarkable democratic experiment. Kurds are the most effective fighting force in Syria to struggle against Daesh. They are known throughout the world for their heroic defense of Kobanî, which marked an important turning point in the international war now happening in Syria. The defenders of Kobanî thus wrote history (the subject is covered by Gulîstan, Land of Roses).

 Küpeli (Çetin Baskın, Metin Akdemir, 2013)

Critical thinking is suppressed on multiple levels by the system. For instance, according to Reporters without Borders, Turkey consistently ranks around 150th (out of slightly less than 200) in terms of freedom of speech. Especially for the past three years, journalists have been fired, imprisoned or even killed.

The DİHA news agency in southeastern Turkey boasts that the government has blocked its domain 46 times already. The agency reports on things and places that the world tends to ignore (YPS JIN as selected by Tomáš Doruška).

Turkish film festivals are often characterized by (self-)censorship, with the proud exception of the Documentarist festival, to whose team we are grateful for having recommended many of the films in our selection. There are few truly outstanding documentaries from Turkey, which we ascribe to the lack of independent production support. Not that there is a shortage of strong stories from the region (I Remember, Colony).

The Occupy Gezi protests in the summer of 2013 were an unprecedented eruption of creative thinking, intelligent resistance, and ever-present courage – excellent ingredients for the creation of a good film. Solidarity was everywhere. The streets came alive with humorous graffiti. Over time, the uprising has been recast into new forms, including memes on social networks – the tool of the revolt (Tornistan, to some extent also Callshop Istanbul).

Several of the selected films are based on observation. Their value lies in their unique poetic style and excellent filmmaking (e.g., Küpeli, Time Worm, Reed). In a sub-section, we briefly present documentary films that make use of animated collages and re-interpreted 8mm family films, combined with the filmmaker’s diary-like records and an audiovisual letter to the future (Ebb&Tide, Enclosure, To You).

The generalizations that happen in a short text such as this one (and in the selected documentaries) can be justified by the limits of the medium. Every generalization relativizes the size of the country: it is as far from Istanbul to Jihlava as it is from Istanbul to Cizre. And so, which Turkey you discover is up to you – the festivalgoer. Nothing can replace first-hand experience.

The section’s curators, Âkile Nazlı Kaya and Tomáš Doruška, wish you many inspirational cinematic experiences.

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