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The Antalya Golden Orange Film Festival is cancelled amidst censorship and government pressure


- The selection of Nejla Demirci’s doc The Decree, which depicts the plight of the victims of a major government purge following the 2016 failed coup, is at the centre of the controversy

The Antalya Golden Orange Film Festival is cancelled amidst censorship and government pressure
The Decree by Nejla Demirci

It’s official: the 60th edition of the Antalya Golden Orange Film Festival has been cancelled owing to intense political pressure prompted by the gathering’s selection of Nejla Demirci’s The Decree, a documentary set to compete in the National Documentary Film Competition. The news was first reported by Screen International.

The feature depicts the plight of the victims of a major purge of state institutions by the Turkish government in the aftermath of a failed coup in 2016, and revolves around a doctor and a teacher who suddenly find themselves without jobs as a result of this action.

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The picture was pulled from the line-up last week following government pressure put on the festival’s main organising body, the Antalya Metropolitan Municipality. After this move, 20 competition jury members stepped down, and filmmakers behind 27 titles pulled their productions from the festival’s line-up. In a joint statement, the filmmakers said: “We consider the removal of the film […] a direct threat to artistic freedom of expression. We firmly believe that it is unacceptable for festivals, which inherently belong to society, to surrender to censorship.”

Even though the programme of the international competition had not been announced yet, foreign directors and producers began withdrawing their pictures, thus following suit. On Thursday morning, the organisers announced the reinstatement of The Decree in the festival programme. Demirci welcomed the move, posting on her social media, “Our cinema, our people, Antalya and Antalya Film Festival workers joined hands and won our fight for democracy.”

In response to the reversal, Turkey’s Culture and Tourism Ministry withdrew its support and issued a statement that said: “It is extremely sad that at such an important festival, the power of art is to be used to make propaganda for the FETO terrorist organisation through the perception of victimhood.” FETO is the acronym applied to the Gulenist movement, which the government holds accountable for the 2016 failed coup. Next, the festival’s sponsors also pulled their support following the Ministry’s decision.

Festival director Ahmet Boyacıoğlu stated that an investigation had been launched into him and the festival. “At this point, we are being portrayed as the responsible and guilty party in this matter. We cannot accept being described as supporters of any terrorist organisation. We are removing the documentary from the festival selection,” he said.

After a day of internal discussions, on Friday 29 September, the organisers announced their decision to cancel the upcoming edition of the festival, which was set to run from 7-14 October.

In a statement provided to Screen International, the festival team said: “The Antalya Golden Orange Film Festival has news which is incredibly difficult to share. It is with a heavy heart that the Antalya Golden Orange Film Festival must inform you that, given these circumstances and the oppressive environment, it cannot proceed with the festival and forum, which the festival has poured its heart and soul into.

“The responsibility of the festival is to ensure that no one in the film industry becomes a target under such a repressive regime. The Antalya Golden Orange Film Festival will always stand firm against censorship and advocate for freedom of expression.”

The article published by Screen International further explains: “It is understood that the festival organisers had received a wave of threats over the past week and are set to leave Antalya for their own safety. Local and international guests have been informed not to attend.” Cineuropa journalists who had been set to attend the gathering, including this writer, can confirm the reception of the official cancellation notice. Several messages of solidarity by invited press are being sent to the festival team and its press office.

Watch this space.

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