Each year the Country Focus at DOK Leipzig provides insights into the current filmmaking from a region – and never before has it been so politically up-to-date and controversial. The major share of a total of 18 documentary and animated films in this category originated in 2015 and 2016. This dense concentration of remarkable works is proof of a quite active independent cinematography in Turkey which has arisen in an increasingly repressive environment. Part of the programme primarily consists of politically pressing films that challenge the official narrative told by the government.
The mounting attempts by the Turkish government to censor festival screenings of documentary films make this year’s Country Focus that much more compelling. For instance, the film “I Remember”, a personal recollection of the massacre in Roboski by Turkish armed forces, was pulled from the Ankara Film Festival in April 2016 and is now being shown at DOK Leipzig. Kurdish director Selim Yıldız films the men and women who reside in this town on the border to Iraq, people whose secluded lives in this mountainous region continue to collide with the constant presence of Turkish soldiers.
I Remember (2015); Director: Selim Yıldız
The filmmakers of the selected short and long films enable in-depth looks at current areas of conflict involving far-reaching insights that have hardly ever been screened until now. Their work frequently shifts the focus onto the actors from protest movements that have originated in recent years. In the personal oeuvre entitled “#resistayol”, director Rüzgâr Buşki accompanies Şevval, an LGBT activist whom he has befriended. The nascent protests in Gezi Park take Buşki and his team by surprise. For her part, Şevval’s enthusiasm draws them into the midst of the protests. This and other selected films demonstrate the kind of energy and temporary gain in freedom that can come into being via resistance. “Distant…”, a film by the Kurdish filmmaker Leyla Toprak, gives resistance fighters a chance to have their say among the wreckage in the Syrian city of Kobani; women who are fighting not only against the self-appointed ISIS but for a self-determined life blueprint from a woman’s point of view. In “Bağlar”, the directors Berke Baş and Melis Birder accompany an aspiring Kurdish basketball team. Set in south-eastern Turkey, a severed-off, crisis-ridden region that lags far behind, the members of the team use their sport as an instrument for self-empowerment. How gentrification in Turkey is equally threatening a preservation of the Turkish cinema heritage is documented by the collective work entitled “Audience Emancipated: The Struggle for the Emek Movie Theater”. Residents and filmmakers in Istanbul struggle to preserve this cinema that was inaugurated in 1924.
Remake, Remix, Rip-Off. About Copy Culture & Turkish Pop Cinema (2014); Director: Cem Kaya
A humorous look into the wild times of Turkish cinematographic history is given in “Remake, Remix, Rip-Off. About Copy Culture & Turkish Pop Cinema” by Cem Kaya. In the 1960s and ’70s the Turkish feature-film industry “Yeşilçam” numbered among the world’s most productive, with up to 350 films produced per year while working on an extremely low budget. Out of sheer necessity filmmakers mercilessly copied grand archetypes such as “Star Wars” or “The Exorcist”, and consequently supplied movie fans from all over the country.
Other films elbow their way into the country’s memory and, in the process, hit upon cases of collective trauma. The entry “The Return” by the Armenian filmmaker Hale Güzin Kızılaslan sets out on a confrontation course with recollection of the Armenian genocide. In “Colony”, Gürcan Keltek uses scenes in matter-of-fact black & white to trace the exhumation of Turkish and Greek Cypriots who died during the conflict over Cyprus. Both films stand poised in the unresolved tension between remembrance and forgiveness.
Numerous filmmakers within the programme are going to be attending DOK Leipzig. The directors will talk about the backgrounds behind developments in Turkey and about their filmmaking at a DOK Talk Special held on the festival’s Thursday, 3 November.
Özge Calafato, a renowned Turkish film expert, acted as curator for the Country Focus.