Hülya Sungu • Programme director, International Migration Film Festival
“Migration isn't something to be afraid of; on the contrary, it develops a sense of empathy”
- We chatted to Hülya Sungu, programme director of Turkey’s International Migration Film Festival, about the takeaways from this year’s edition of the gathering
We talked to Hülya Sungu, programme director of the Gaziantep-based International Migration Film Festival (IMFF), this year held online.
Cineuropa: What is the spirit of the International Migration Film Festival?
Hülya Sungu: We use the power of cinema to show what refugees go through and to tell the world that migration isn't something to be afraid of; on the contrary, it enriches culture, alters perspectives and develops a sense of empathy. Because of the pandemic, we were forced to take the IMFF online. It was supposed to be a comprehensive, traditional film festival taking place in Gaziantep in April, and we were very sure that we didn’t want to organise anything smaller. We wanted to have a whole film festival, online, which included screenings, interactive exhibitions, Q&A sessions, ceremonies, master classes, workshops and so on.
What were the main innovations this year?
The main innovation this year was the magnitude of the event, as most of the film festivals tended to reduce their events as they went online. The IMFF is intended to reach out to as many people as possible, and by using all possible forms of social media and new technology, it reached out to millions of people across the world. The interactive exhibitions are some of the other innovative parts of the festival.
How do you carry out the selection process?
It was a big challenge to navigate through such a difficult and sensitive theme. As film programmers, we see lots of new titles during the year together with our team mates. For this festival alone, we saw more than 300 films (most of them made in the last two years) dealing with migration and refugee issues. We mostly focused on forced migration, and in order to gain an insider’s perspective, we prioritised migration stories by migrant filmmakers. On the other hand, positive narratives portraying hopeful experiences were also welcome to emphasise the importance of hope in the lives of refugees.
What was your experience of going online this year?
Going online showed us a completely different world. Audiences have changed, and so have the mediums, movie theatres and venues. Young filmmakers and audiences are more familiar with digital platforms than most of the experienced filmmakers and film-festival regulars. While the movie theatres for the gathering were replaced by Festival Scope, the social-media platforms, live talks and online meetings suddenly became some of the most vital elements of the festival. It was challenging, but still exciting, to convince and direct the audience to them. The films could be seen in every part of Turkey, and live events brought people together across the world – for example, in an Instagram live talk with award-winning filmmakers such as F Murray Abraham, Matt Dillon, Danny Glover, Sandy Powell and Vithaya Pansringarm.
Will you repeat the experience next year? Maybe by mixing a classical film festival and an online version?
One thing is for sure: online platforms will be used during the year for telling migration stories until the next edition unspools. Mixing classical and online festivals seems quite possible, as there are advantages and disadvantages of both. While an online festival can give us the opportunity to reach more audiences and followers, a traditional event can offer a genuine festival ambience.
How did you organise the marketing and communication? What were the main differences between this and the physical film festival?
The main structure of the festival is decided by the Directorate General of Migration Management of Turkey, while the artistic concept is developed by art director Yasin Tütüncü, from Alart. As the Katadrom/Atonic team, we provide the content and guest information for SM360, a very experienced social-media and PR company for international cultural events, and FriendsZone, an international PR agency for festivals. As we weren't able to invite members of the media or the press to the festival, our media and communication strategies had to be changed completely. But I have to say that the support of well-known names like Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Joan Chen, Lone Scherfig and Shahab Hosseini made it easier for us to be heard and promoted.
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