28th Istanbul International Film Festival

Turkey, April 4 - April 19 2009

The jury

Rüdiger Suchsland (Germany), Giorgio Gosetti (), Alexander Yanakiev (Bulgaria), Burçin Yalçin (Turkey), Senem Aytac (Turkey)

Awarded films

There are plenty of good reasons to attend the Istanbul Film Festival. One reason is the city, among Europe’s most lively metropolises. Another reason is Turkish cinema — experiencing a particularly vivid period, and much improved compared to a few years ago. And then there are the people you meet, such as the young critics of the magazine “Altyazi”. Not to mention the incredible Turkish hospitality (which included a lovely boat trip on the Bosphorus). Istanbul and its film festival are always worth a visit.

After a difficult period in which few films were produced by singular talents (with Nuri Bilge Ceylan as the local monolith), Turkish cinema is back on the map and in full flower — note the Turkish films invited to major festivals, and the overview of new Turkish films offered this year at Rotterdam and Linz. The new Turkish cinema, as seen in the festival, shows an astonishing diversity of themes, styles, handwritings; and it shows an amazing number of debutants — such as Asli Özge, whose first fiction feature Men on the Bridge (Köprüdekiler) won the main prize, the “Golden Tulip” in the national competition, over new films from established directors like Yesim Ustaoglu, Reha Erdem, Semih Kaplanoglu and Erden Kiral. Without any doubt, Men on the Bridge is an excellent debut which should make its mark, and which deserves the prize … even if it seems a little unfair to prefer it to new films from Ustaoglu (Pandora’s Box) and Erdem (My Only Sunshine). (Those films have already launched themselves on the international scene; one at San Sebastian, the other at Berlinale.) The message, however, is clear, given by the national jury headed by filmmaker Kutlug Ataman: there’s not only a new Turkish cinema, but also a healthy, youthful one, as a young generation prepares to take over. Yes indeed, that’s it. As we saw in Romania two years ago, a young film scene does now appear in Turkey.

The national competition of 14 films, by the way, is the festival’s most interesting part, for foreigners as well as for the local public, which returns to see even those Turkish films which had earlier been commercially released. For fest directors, it’s a gold mine, a place for discoveries. The Istanbul Festival, part of a foundation for culture and the arts, has consolidated and strengthened this role over the last years, as opposed to other festivals in Turkey which seem to much more depend on local politics. After the recent local elections, for example, the festival in the eastern city of Kars has been shut down, and the future of the Antalya Film Festival, on the shore of the Mediterranean Sea, is uncertain.

Fortunately, the Istanbul Festival also offers new Turkish documentaries, mainly shown in the intimate screening room of the Pera Museum (which also hosted an exhibition of Akira Kurosawa’s drawings). Docs can address, in both Turkish and the Kurdish language, subjects with which dramatic features still have some difficulty. Müjde Arslan, for example, researches polygamy in eastern Turkey (A Fatal Dress: Polygamy), and Kazim Öz studies a nomadic community (The Last Season: Shawaks).

For the international program, fest head Azize Tan managed to invite Bill Plympton, Peter Greenaway and Christian Mungiu to hold master classes. John Malkovich and François Ozon, among others, presented new films. Jerzy Skolimowski was honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award. (Klaus Eder)