First the pope. Then Kim Kardashian. Now Turkey’s own filmmakers have turned on their government in an act of solidarity with the makers of a documentary that was pulled from the Istanbul Film Festival. Dozens of Turkish filmmakers withdrew their films from the festival on Monday in response to a government decision to scrap a screening of Turkish docu Bakur, about the banned Kurdish militant group the PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party).
Filmmakers including Turkey’s Palme d’Or winner Nuri Bilge Ceylan (Winter’s Sleep) published an open letter in the Turkish media accusing the government of “oppression and censorship.” “We, the undersigned film-makers, oppose the imposition [of this regulation] as a tool of censorship,” the letter said. “The festival programme was announced weeks ago, and other local films that did not have the registration certificate were screened without problems.”
A total of 23 Turkish filmmakers withdrew their films from the fest. In response, Istanbul fest director Azize Tan canceled its competitions as well as the closing ceremony during a press conference in which he also called for “solidarity” among the creative community in the country.
“I hope that this situation converts into an opportunity that brings film industry together to change this regulation,” Tan said. “In order to overcome the problems in the industry, I think that a new film regulation should be enacted and it should secure the freedom to screen films at the festival without any problems.”
Instead of screenings, filmmakers have been attending in person in the fest auditoriums to take part in discussions with festgoers. The festival itself is continuing. Bakur (North), directed by Cayan Demirel and Ertugul Mavioglu, is set in the camps of the outlawed PKK, which the Turkish government has spent decades fighting. Its planned screening Sunday night was cancelled after festival organizers received a notice from the Turkish ministry of culture claiming the film did not have the required registration certificate. That move was seen by many in the country as politically motivated.
It’s been a rough few days for Turkey’s ruling AK party and the question of freedom of expression in the country. Pope Francis caused outcry this past weekend when he described the mass killings of Armenians by Turks a century ago during the Ottoman Empire as “genocide.” Hundreds of thousands of Armenians are believed to have been killed in 1915. Successive Turkish governments have questioned that characterization, stating that many Turks also died during internecine violence it blames on the onset of World War I. That development was further compounded by the arrival of reality TV star Kardashian in her ancestral Armenia, reportedly to film scenes for her own docu about the Armenian genocide.
Turkey briefly blocked YouTube and Twitter, and threatened to block Google, following the publication days earlier of photographs of a deadly hostage crisis that saw Turkish security forces and communist militants engage in a standoff that ended up with prosecutor Mehmet Selim Kiraz being shot dead. The Turkish government had protested at social media for publicizing what it described as an armed terrorist organization.