Turkish cinema at the crossroads


By Steven Snyder

Most film festivals are events that look forward, movie marathons organized around premieres and debuts, first glances and breakthroughs. But organizers of this year’s New York Turkish Film Festival, now celebrating its eighth year, say this year’s event is more of a look back — a chance to reflect on just how far Turkish cinema, and the Turkish film industry, has transformed over the last year.

The festival, which runs from Oct. 21-28 at Village East Cinemas, kicks off Saturday at 4 p.m. with “My Father and My Son”(also showing Oct. 27), an opening night selection organizers describe as an obvious choice. The highest grossing Turkish film of 2005, festival director Mevlut Akkaya says the movie was made for a relatively low cost, “but it was an amazing commercial success, even doing better than Hollywood titles like ‘Superman.’ It has increased faith in Turkish cinema… and proven to investors that films like this can be profitable.”

Telling the story of a family divided by Turkey’s turbulent political environment of the early ‘80s, and how one boy tries to heal the rift between his father and grandfather, festival coordinator Kaan Nazli says the film will have a special meaning for those Turks who have moved west in the last few decades.

“For the Turkish-American audience, especially for the ones who moved here in the 1970s and ‘80s due to the chaotic political environment in Turkey, the movie will have a special value,” Nazli said. “It is the first best-selling movie in a long time that actually covers the aftermath of the military coup of 1980, which has played a very significant role in the social and cultural reshaping of Turkish society in much of the 1980s and ‘90s.”

The festival’s official entries are divided into five series, broken down into programs of short films, documentaries, films made about Turkey by foreign directors, tribute films to past Turkish masters, and works of contemporary Turkish cinema. Akkaya says one of the common threads within these categories is a mounting interest in Istanbul as Europe’s crossroads (the festival’s press notes point to the European Union’s recent naming of the city as the European Capital of Culture for the year 2010). He points to “Crossing the Bridge — the Sound of Istanbul,” which is not only a story about the city, but “a film that asks: Who are we? Are we easterners, are we westerners…it looks at this question through music.”

Akkaya, who finalizes the Turkish Film Festival’s programming each year in April after attending the Istanbul Film Festival, says he is particularly honored to bring “Crossing the Bridge” director Fatih Akin (who many will know as the director of the 2004 hit “Head-On”) back to the festival, one of the leading up-and-coming voices in Turkish cinema, as well as Pelin Esmer, director of the festival documentary “The Play,” who Akkaya considers to be one of the greatest documentary filmmakers working today.

A complete festival schedule is available at www.nyturkishfilmfestival.com.