Bakur (North), Censorship and cancellation of Istanbul Film Festival

The 34th Istanbul Film Festival committee announced April 13 that the screening of a majority of films in the National Competition, National Documentary Competition, International Competition, Cinema in Human Rights Competition, Out of Competition, and New Turkish Cinema sections were canceled. The festival committeee also announced that the National and International Golden Tulip Competitions, National Documentary Competition and the Closing Ceremony were cancelled.

The process of the cancellation started when a film on the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) was pulled from the ongoing 34th Istanbul Film Festival at the last minute before its screening on April 12, stirring a “censorship” row after an intervention by Turkey’s Culture Ministry.

“Bakur” (North), directed by Çayan Demirel and Ertuğrul Mavioğlu, focuses on the daily life of PKK members and includes interviews with senior figures including the PKK’s Iraq-based operational commander Cemil Bayık.

In a written statement, the Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts (İKSV), the organizer of the festival, said they had received an official letter from the Culture Ministry stating that films produced in Turkey needed an official registration certificate in order to be screened at festivals.

“As per the statute, festival participation requires that ‘films produced within the country are registered and recorded.’ Screening of films produced in Turkey without this certificate results in legal sanctions. Therefore, the Istanbul Film Festival will not be able to screen films that don’t have the aforementioned certificate,” the statement said, adding that a future screening date of the film would be announced on the condition that it acquires the registration certificate.

“Films produced outside Turkey are exempt from the scope of this regulation. The Istanbul Film Festival believes that this exemption should apply for films made in Turkey as well. The festival has been holding talks regarding the extension of this exemption to locally produced films and will continue these talks. However, the statute that requires the registration certificate is still in effect, so other films produced in Turkey that are in the festival program also need to obtain this certificate,” the statement said.

However, until today several local films without the certificate have already been screened at the festival without any problems.

The film’s producers, Surela Film Production, said in a statement that the procedures required to have a film screened were themselves “open censorship.”

“We do not accept these prohibitive practices that violate the rights and freedoms of filmmakers and continue despite our objections,” they said in a statement on their website.

Filmmakers withdraw films in solidarity

In response to the cancelation of “Bakur,” a meeting was organized where filmmakers from Turkey whose work features in the festival got together to discuss how to proceed. Initially, the directors and producers of the films “Nefesim Kesilene Kadar” (Until I Lose My Breath) and “Homo Politicus” announced that they were withdrawing their films from the festival until the public screening of “North” was rescheduled.

Subsequently, most of the other filmmakers came on board and withdrew their own films.

In addition, more than 100 Turkish filmmakers, including the most recent winner of Cannes’s Palme d’Or, Nuri Bilge Ceylan, signed a letter on April 12 alleging censorship at the festival.

Cancellation of competitions

Following the cancelation of the screening, the festival held a press conference on April 23 to announce that a majority of films from six different sections of the festival have decided to completely withdraw.

The festival announced that screenings of other films at the festival would continue, but a majority of films in the National Competition, National Documentary Competition, International Competition, Cinema in Human Rights Competition, Out of Competition, and New Turkish Cinema sections decided to not be screened at the festival. In addition, the National and International Golden Tulip Competitions, the National Documentary Competition and the Closing Ceremony were all to be canceled.

The Istanbul Film Festival also invited the teams who have withdrawn from the festival to come to movie theaters at the originally planned screening times, in order to turn these places into “spaces of discussion.”
Meanwhile, filmmakers have issued a call of solidarity to the whole sector for festivals and professional organizations to change a regulation requiring Turkish-produced films to have registration certificates in order to be screened at festivals, thus extending the registration exemption in place for foreign films to locally produced films as well.

However, the Culture and Tourism Ministry released a press statement on April 12 stating that the registration letter cited as a reason for the cancelation was simply an “informative” one, dated Jan. 9, 2014, and was not recently sent to the festival committee.

“The festival committee released an old letter as if it had been recently sent, thus trying to show the ministry as a censoring institution. This is false statement, to say in the least,” it stated.

Source: Hurriyet Daily News

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