Istanbul Film Festival Showcasing Film Art’s Inclusivity

by N. Buket Cengiz Volume 28, Issue 2-4 / April 2024 7 minutes (1501 words)

The Movie Teller (Photos courtesy of IKSV)

In its 43rd edition, Istanbul Film Festival (17-28 April 2024) organised by Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts (IKSV), passed in the positive atmosphere of the recent election results where the social democrats of Turkey received the majority for the first time since 1977.

The festival, sponsored by N Kolay, was rich with films on the lives of adolescents this year, and the Golden Tulip, given in memory of Şakir Eczacıbaşı, the founder of IKSV, went to one such film, Forever-Forever (2023) by Anna Buryachkova. The Ukrainian film, which also received the FIPRESCI prize, received admiration for tackling young people’s chaotic inner worlds, locating their inner struggles of search for identity, gender roles, and aggression in the context of a violent capitalist socio-economic period following the collapse of the Soviets. With Hoard (2023), another film focusing on adolescent psychology at the festival, British director Luna Carmoon received the Young Master award. This debut film presents the fascinating portrayal of a hoarder’s daughter, and Carmoon’s effortless and convincing way of depicting British working-class life has the touch of masters such as Mike Leigh and Ken Loach. Within this background, she then elaborates on the theme of trauma in a highly unique manner: visually creating the dreamy atmosphere of insanity. The young director also deserves appraisal for being able to present the delicate balances of wounded individuals’ seemingly stable inner worlds, as she indicates how blurred the lines can be between sanity and insanity. Cameroon does not hesitate to take risks in her film, as she disturbs her audience at times through the masochistic manifestations of her protagonist Leach’s inner chaos, and this courage is what makes her film so special.

Yurt (2023) by Nehir Tuna, which received the Golden Tulip in the national competition, also has adolescents at its centre who stay in a dormitory belonging to an Islamist group. Tuna was praised for successfully presenting the socio-political and the individual psychological realms through their intertwinement in his film, which also received the Best Cinematography award in the National Competition. In Hesitation Wound (2023) by Selman Nacar, which received the FIPRESCI prize in the National Competition, we follow the story of an adolescent in a provincial town of Anatolia who is accused of murder; and his female lawyer who challenges many facades of patriarchy in this hometown of hers which she comes back after many years. The film deserves attention with this unforgettable female character and its questions about the justice system in the context of power relations based on class and gender.

Sweet Dreams (Photos courtesy of IKSV)

The Special Jury award was given to Sweet Dreams (2023) by Ena Sendijarević this year. In her film set in a Dutch colony in Indonesia at the turn of the 19th century, the Amsterdam-based Bosnian director creates a stunning visual world that is reminiscent of Dutch Golden Age painting and then skilfully unfolds the psychological dynamics between the coloniser and the colonised, with particular emphasis on the gender dimension. While Sendijarević came to the fore at the festival with her powerful evocations of colonial history, Ava Duvermay, another female director, was admired for how she dealt with race and caste issues in her exquisite film Origin (2023). As she portrays Isabel Wilkerson during her time writing the book Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents, Duvernay masterfully illustrates Wilkerson’s heart as a woman experiencing deep grief after losing her husband; and her mind as an author who makes a refreshing comparison of the sufferings of America’s black people, Nazi Germany’s Jews, and India’s Untouchables in a book which eventually becomes a best seller.

Origin (Photos courtesy of IKSV)

Another film by a female director and a female protagonist tackling social issues at this year’s festival was Animal (2023) by Sofia Exarchou who takes us to the world of amateurs at an all-inclusive island resort in Greece. Focusing on an unordinary branch of labour enables Exaechou to attract attention to the realities of working-class life in the Western world where the majority of workers are employed in the service sector rather than factories. In other words, she manages to emphasise that the divide between labour and capital remains constant no matter how much the appearance of working-class life might change. Therefore, this film made a perfect match and a ground for comparison with The Movie Teller (2023) by Lone Scherfig, which is set in a Chilean mining town, as miners have always been the ultimate symbol of the working class ‘as we know it’. In this beautiful film, we watch a salute to the art of film, reminiscent of Cinema Paradiso (1988, Giuseppe Tornatore), through the eyes of young Maria and her family’s deep love affair with films. Scherfig poignantly depicts how a tragedy affects the whole family when the father becomes disabled after a work accident in the mine. He can no longer bring food to the table, and he is uncompensated by the mine owner, so the family finds itself struggling with poverty. The film was among the highlights of this year's festival with perfect acting, wonderful cinematography, and excellent use of music coming together with a very well-written script.

Another homage to the art of film at the festival was legendary filmmaker Vincent Erice’s Close Your Eyes (2023), which asks deep philosophical questions on memory and films’ role in creating and preserving memory, on both literal and symbolic levels. In the film, which reflects Erice’s mastery in every component, 169 minutes pass like the wind, and the audience wishes that it would go longer.

Close Your Eyes (Photos courtesy of IKSV)

At this year’s festival, on the 100th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Japan and Turkey, legendary Japanese actor Koji Yakusho received the Cinema Honour Award. Therefore, the audience of the festival found the chance to see 13 Assassins (Takashi Miike, 2010), Under the Open Sky (Miwa Nishikawa, 2020), Shall We Dance? (Masayuki Suô, 1996) and Perfect Days (Wim Wenders, 2023) where Yakusho is the lead actor. As Wim Wenders, who also received the Cinema Honour Award at this year’s festival, presented Yakusho’s award before the screening of Perfect Days he said that there are good actors, there are excellent actors, but Yakusho is beyond all these categories.

Wim Wenders’s 3-D documentary Anselm (2023), a cinematic contemplation on the art of German painter and sculptor Anselm Kiefer was also screened at this year’s festival to the delight of the audience. Another outstanding documentary at this year’s festival was Silje Evensmo Jacobsen’s A New Kind of Wilderness (2024). The film is about a lost paradise, the paradise built by photographer Maria Vatne, her husband Nik Payne, and their four children in the mesmerising Norwegian countryside, and lost by the untimely death of Vatne. As Jacobsen follows the family in their struggle to continue their lives in complete harmony with nature, she transmits their grief and stoicism through amazing cinematography, gently inviting the audience to mourn with them.

A New Kind of Wilderness (Photos courtesy of IKSV)

Grief was at the centre of another arresting documentary, No Other Land (2024), by a Palestinian-Israeli collective comprising Basel Adra, Hamdan Ballal, Yuval Abraham, and Rachel Szor. Here, personal grief is a part of the collective grief that is carried by the whole nation of Palestinians. The directors deserve praise for demonstrating the struggle of Gaza’s people as they are fighting against expulsion from their villages where they have been living for generations. The directors never fall into sentimentality or exaggeration thanks to their mastery in presenting these people’s vivid portraits through all their humanity with their dignity, courage and even humour as they face the unending violence, with the strength of their determination to protect their motherland.

Moroccan filmmaker Asmae El Moudir’s The Mother of All Lies (2023) stood out as another impressive documentary from the Middle East this year. In the immensely innovative visual world that she creates through a handmade replica of the Casablanca neighbourhood where she grew up, El Moudir opens the pages of history in the context of tragedies experienced in the 1984 uprising in Morocco, also known as Bread Uprising.  She deserves apprise for her achievement in so smoothly locating her family’s story within social history. French filmmaker Mona Achache’s Little Girl Blue (2023), a docu-fiction where Achache traces the memories of her mother Carole Achache, the French writer, actress, and photographer, was another film at the festival where the personal is analysed in the context of the social through a clever screenplay.

Put simply, in its 43rd edition, the Istanbul Film Festival sparkled with remarkable films by female directors and/or with female protagonists, which, of course, reflects the general trend in today’s filmmaking as it becomes more and more inclusive. Thanks to IKSV for their efforts in enabling the Istanbul audience to have the pleasure of seeing these films in movie theatres, in the carnivalesque atmosphere of film festivals, for almost half a century.

Istanbul Film Festival Showcasing Film Art’s Inclusivity

N. Buket Cengiz is a freelance writer on culture and arts, focusing on music and cinema. She holds a PhD in Turkish Studies from Leiden University and works at Kadir Has University in Istanbul as a lecturer. Her book entitled Right to the City Novels in Turkish Literature from the 1960s to the Present (2021) is published by Palgrave. Her work has appeared in journals such as Film International (SE), Senses of Cinema (AU), Moving Arts Film Journal (US), Jazz Journal (UK), Jazzwise (UK), Dance International (CA), The Middle East (UK) in addition to national newspapers and journals in Turkey.

Volume 28, Issue 2-4 / April 2024 Festival Reports   documentary   istanbul film festival   palestinian-israeli collective   wim wenders