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Istanbul Film Festival cancels competition programmes and closing ceremony


- In protest at the government ban on the screening of the PKK documentary North on formal grounds, Turkish filmmakers pull their films from the festival

Istanbul Film Festival cancels competition programmes and closing ceremony

At a press conference on 13 April, the 34th Istanbul Film Festival announced the cancellation of the National and International Tulip Competitions, the National Documentary Competition and the closing ceremony, as the majority of filmmakers with movies in the main festival sections decided to pull their films from the gathering. 

On 12 April, the premiere of the documentary film North (Bakur), about the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), was cancelled just hours before the screening as the Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts (IKSV), the organiser of the Istanbul Film Festival, announced that it had received an official letter from the Cinema General Directorate of the Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism stating that films produced in Turkey must have a formal registration certificate in order to be screened at festivals.

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“As per the statute, festival participation requires that ‘films produced within the country are registered and recorded’. The screening of films produced in Turkey without this certificate results in legal sanctions. Therefore, the Istanbul Film Festival will not be able to screen movies that don’t have the aforementioned certificate,” the IKSV statement says.

This quickly caused outrage among the Turkish filmmaking community, and the producers and directors of 22 Turkish titles in the festival withdrew their films.

The same day, more than 100 filmmakers, including Nuri Bilge Ceylan, published an open letter saying: “We, the undersigned filmmakers, oppose the imposition [of this regulation] as a tool of censorship. The festival programme was announced weeks ago, and other local films that did not have the registration certificate were screened without problems.”

North, co-directed by documentary filmmaker Çayan Demirel and journalist Ertuğrul Mavioğlu, which was set to screen out of competition, “is a documentary that invites its audience to reflect on a war that has been continuing for decades and takes an insightful look at its main subject, the PKK. The film follows the lives of the guerrillas in three different camps in the Kurdish region (north) that lies within Turkish borders,” according to the official synopsis.

The production company, Surela Film Production, issued a statement on its website, saying 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.” 

Azize Tan, director of the Istanbul Film Festival, stated that this regulation, even though it was not implemented in practice, had created massive problems for festivals and filmmakers for a long time, and the festival had previously conducted negotiations to change it. “I hope that this situation converts into an opportunity that brings the film industry together to change this regulation. In order to overcome the problems in the industry, I think that a new film regulation should be enacted, and it should secure the freedom to screen films at the festival without any problems.” 

The festival announced that the film screenings would continue but that the National and International Golden Tulip Competitions, the National Documentary Competition and the closing ceremony were cancelled. Furthermore, it invited the film crews who decided not to screen their films at the festival to come to the movie theatres at the original screening times, in order to turn these places into discussion spaces.

A press conference conducted by film-industry professionals has been announced for the afternoon of Tuesday 14 April. 

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