Interview with Özlem Kinal, Coordinator of the Flying Broom Women's Film Festival

in 18th Flying Broom International Women's Film Festival, Ankara

by Anne Brunswic

Özlem Kinal (age 42), co-ordinator, fulfills every mission of an executive director. She joined the Turkish women’s rights NGO Flying broom in 2004 and took over directing the festival in 2010. This year, the festival celebrates its 18th anniversary and Özlem is strongly maintaining its origins: human rights, diversity, international overture, fiction, documentary, animation and heritage. The following interview was conducted by Anne Brunswic, Fipresci jury member.

Q: How did you become involved in the fields of feminism and cinema?

Özlem Kinal: A few years after I completed my degree in communication in Izmir, I found, by chance, a job in the NGO Flying Broom in Ankara. At that time, though I was aware of many human rights issues, I did not describe myself as a feminist, at least not as an active one.  My feminist consciousness started really at the age of 25. When I met with Flying Broom, I [have] started reading and learning about feminist politics.

Q: Is the purpose of the NGO Flying Broom directly connected to cinema?

Özlem Kinal : It was established in 1996 with the main purpose of promoting gender equality awareness in society by Halime Güner, a lifetime activist in the Turkish left, retired from the minister of Culture. They were at that time many women’s NGOs, but scarcely connected one to another, so Flying Broom started creating – not an umbrella NGO, but a network with big women’s gatherings all over Turkey, in the seven regions of our country. And we created a website, updated daily, the first one in Turkey dedicated to all initiatives regarding women’s issues, and we worked on writing history from a feminine point of view. The women’s film festival started shortly after, in 1998, as a kind of media tool. We wanted to promote gender issues as well as female directors and female filmmakers behind the camera and in front of the camera as well.

Q: Is Flying Broom Festival supported by the government?

Özlem Kinal: The public funding for culture in Turkey is very weak, and there isn’t any tradition of private donations so the Flying Broom festival gets its budget mainly from foreign embassies in Ankara and from European Union, either directly or through the Turkish government. The Turkish government doesn’t support financially NGOs but we do have some collaboration with various state departments (family, education, tourism and culture), and get a small contribution to the festival from the ministry of Culture.

The local authorities are all controlled by the ruling party AKP (Muslim conservative) and, as a feminist NGO, we can’t expect support from them. But maybe this lack of public funding is a good thing for our independence. We tend to keep an equal distance to all political parties. One party is maybe closer to our views, it’s the independent party, pro-Kurd, HDP (Peoples’s Democratic Party) that should get more MPs in the next parliament. It is definitely more open minded on gender issues as it is campaigning for equal rights for all; Kurdish and other ethnic groups as well as Turkish, for women, for youngsters, for LGBTTI.

Q : How has the festival changed along the years?

Özlem Kinal: The first two years, we had less films and less sections but it was already a big event since we were the first women’s film festival in Turkey. (There is now a second one and a queer festival as well.) Year by year, the festival grew up and at the 6th edition, in 2003, we started our collaboration with FIPRESCI, which is very prestigious as we are the one and only women’s film festival in the world with a FIPRESCI award and we appreciate the fact that FIPRESCI sent to Ankara along the years many female film critics. In Turkey, most film critics are male but we have now a woman at the head of our national film critic association who is also right now the president of FIPRESCI, Alin Tasciyan.

With time, the festival has acquired experience and increased the number of sections: we have now 17 sections, including long and short feature films, documentary, animation … I remember in my first year in the Festival, we organized, in a section dedicated to history of cinema, a tribute to French filmmaker Alice Guy with live music screenings.

Q: Do you plan to go on with tributes to historical figures of women filmmakers?

Özlem Kinal : Yes, next year we plan a retrospective of the U.S. filmmaker Lois Weber (1879-1939), as her films have been recently restored by Eye Film – The Film Museum in the Netherlands – and there will be screenings with live music. We have done in the past for example a tribute to the French Catherine Breillat who is not only a woman but a feminist director. We have also had tributes to actresses like Katherine Hepburn, Marlene Dietrich…

Q : Which specific obstacles did you find on your way this year?

Regarding censorship, there was a major crisis in Istanbul’s Film Festival last April:  Bakur (North), a documentary film about daily life of the Kurdish guerrilla in Turkey was banned by the ministry of Tourism and Culture. Exactly, a very strong pressure was put on the festival’s directory and they had to cancel the screening. As a solidarity gesture, most Turkish directors took back their films and all the jury members resigned. It was a major scandal since Istanbul is a huge national and international film festival. The government argued that the film didn’t go through administrative registration. In fact, this new law regarding official registration was voted a decade ago but it has never been implemented for documentary, short and animation films. So it was clearly censorship.

Within the board of Flying Broom, we discussed the issue of registration. We decided to screen all films, whether registered or unregistered as we have always done in the past. But for breaking the law, the festival risks a 10 000 TRY fine per screening and the production 50 000 TRY, an amount superior to the budget of many short films. So far, there wasn’t any reaction from the authorities but who knows about the future? We have screened 43 Turkish films, among them only 2 or 3 were registered. In fact, we didn’t even ask if the films were registered or not but we gave information about the risks to the producers so they can take their own responsibilities. Very few decided not to take the risk. We have decided to boycott the law and to constitute a group, which aim [is] to obtain, after the elections, the canceling of this law. Anyway, if there should be a registration, it should be independent and not in the hands of the government, and it should be free, and there should be as many women as men in the registration commission.

Q: Did you feel new pressures on cinema since AKP came to power?

Well, for instance we have now in Turkish cinema a new genre, religious films, supported by the government. The Ministry of culture promotes all kind of propaganda films of this kind. Despite this context, we have quite a strong new cinema in Turkey (Turkish and Kurdish) but very few women filmmakers get decent budgets and normal opportunities to make films.

Q: How do you prepare the 2015 edition?

Özlem Kinal : We received circa 350 submissions, mostly documentary and short fiction, and mostly from Turkey. Unfortunately, only 5 or 6 long length feature film proposals. I wish I would receive more suggestions from international distribution companies. In this year’s program, we have only two Turkish long length, which reflects a difficult situation. We wish we’d receive more, especially short films.

Q: Did this 18 th edition convey some special emotions for you?

Özlem Kinal : Well, the fact that the festival is already 18 years old is a big achievement in the present context of Turkey. As I have been growing up myself with the festival, it’s an important moment for me personally. In order to celebrate this 18th anniversary, we made a special program “Turning 18”, from teen-age to adult. But due to the political pressure on human rights and democratic NGOs, it’s a big challenge every year to keep up our artistic standards and to have international guests. So, regarding the future, there is a question mark.

Q: Is there a film you are especially proud to program this year?

Özlem Kinal : I am proud of the whole selection since I have been a member of the selection committee from the beginning but I would like to mention a documentary film : “She’s beautiful when she’s angry” from the US director Mary Dore. It’s the story of the women who founded the feminist movement of the late sixties and early seventies. Watching the film, I have been crying most of the time: I’m so touched by the women who have been fighting for “Our body, our freedom” and I must say that I admire Kate Millet, one of the heroines of this documentary, whose books I have been reading again and again.

We have had also very interesting workshops on production, script doctor, film critic and sound track with a very good audience. And the panel about “Women as a battlefield” was very important for me because Turkey is now in a region at war where women are a special target. We screened the documentary “Mission rape, a tool of war” from the Danish filmmakers Annette Mari Olsen, and Katia Forbert Petersen in the festival section “In the shadow of war”. This panel was supported by the Embassy of Finland. Another important issue are child brides addressed this year by the Pakistani film director Afia Nathaniel, “Daughter”, a subject on which we are strongly committed since our 9th edition when we created the film section “Family: the scene of incident”. We had also an important panel about children with films supported by the UNICEF. I strongly believe that festivals are not only for the films, they should be gathering platforms.

Q: How do you link with other film festivals?

Özlem Kinal: We have an international women’s film festival network with 65 festivals members and every year we invite in Ankara three guest programmers from this network. This year, I owe a special thanks to Female Eye film festival of Toronto and to her director Leslie Anne Coles. We have created links with Yerevan women’s film festival KIN and this is of high symbolical value. In fact, last year, we had invited Mariam Ohanyan, an Armenian film director, to show her film in a section presenting Armenian, Kurdish films. And Mariam appreciated so much this selection that she invited us to show it in Yerevan’s festival, and invited me as a member of the international jury. For me being invited in Armenia was an amazing experience, and not only from a cinema point of view.

Edited by Tara Judah