Festival on Wheels, spreading love of cinema
EMRAH GÜLER ANKARA - Hürriyet Daily News
Beginning its 18th journey Nov. 30, the Festival on Wheels is much more than your regular film festival. It has been the place where generation after generation in distant parts of Turkey have had the magical chance to watch their firstfilmon screen, it has helped cities open their very first theaters.“In its 18th year, Festival on Wheels is still a force to be reckoned with. Its humbleness continues to be coupled with its tireless fight against the system,” the famous film critic Alin Taşçıyan recently wrote. “Wherever the festival travels to, it takes pleasure in becoming part of that city, creating a new audience in each city.”
Beginning its 18th journey Nov. 30, the Festival on Wheels is much more than your regular film festival. It has been the place where generation after generation in distant parts of Turkey have had the magical chance to watch their first film on screen, it has helped cities open their very first movie theaters and provided the public with the chance to interact with filmmakers themselves.
The festival first hit the road in the winter of 1995, kicking off in Ankara then heading to İstanbul, İzmir and Eskişehir for a month. During its 17-year run, Festival on Wheels shared the love of cinema with 19 cities from Sinop in the north to İzmir in the west and the eastern city of Kars, even visiting some neighboring countries like Azerbaijan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Georgia and Greece.
Tales from Kars
“By the festival’s 13th year, we had made one tour around the globe,” said Ahmet Boyacıoğlu, General Secretary of the Ankara Cinema Association, which has organized the festival for nearly two decades now. In 2003 and 2004, Festival on Wheels traveled to six cities in one go. “In 2004, it took 17 hours for us to travel from Van to Kayseri, making us realize how vast this country actually is.” He recalled how enthusiastic the audience was to experience the world of cinema in a way they never had before – some for the first time. Festival Director Başak Emre remembers “a woman among the audience in Artvin watching Lars von Trier’s ‘Europa,’ knitting all throughout the film’s run.”
Artvin, in fact, had its first movie theater open in 2008 thanks to the Festival on Wheels. Kars, which also opened its first theater with support from the festival in 2003, is a special place for the team. “We had a film born out of our visits to Kars,” said Emre. “In 2007, we held a screenplay contest called the ‘Tales from Kars Script Competition.’ Five scripts were chosen and subsequently directed by young filmmakers Özcan Alper, Zehra Derya Koç, Ülkü Oktay, Ahu Öztürk and Emre Akay.”
Tuncel Kurtiz, veteran filmmaker and adviser of the festival since its first year, also feels a special bond with Kars, thanks to his childhood days in the city and his close relationship with Naif Alibeyoğlu, the much-loved Mayor of Kars from 1999 to 2009. Kurtiz remembers the carnival feel of the festival, “with ambassadors, culture ministers and acclaimed filmmakers visiting.” At one point, even a “Hungarian team [came] with their cooks and folk dancers, dancing and making goulash… Festival on Wheels has always been very dear to my heart as it brought cinema to the people of Anatolia, helping them see great movies from the world cinema.” Kurtiz is part of this year’s festival with a contribution devoted to the five films he “watches again and again.”
Another favorite city for the team is İzmir, a regular on the festival’s circuit from its debut year to 2005 and added to the tour again last year. Emre remembers how “the audience would bring them flowers and pies they made at home,” and how “one couple opened their home to the festival team when the festival had scarce resources.”
A shorter route
This year, following its run in Ankara, the Festival on Wheels will head to Sinop for the second time after a glorious welcome last year. “Thanks to the Festival on Wheels, the only movie theater that was closed for a long time opened again last year,” Fahri Bostan, Director of the Sinop Culture and Tourism Association, said. Last year “was a great opportunity for us to have our city promoted.” After visitng the festival, the famous actor, producer and director Uğur Yücel said, “If only every city in Turkey was like Sinop,” and Taşçıyan similarly wrote, “As someone from Istanbul I had never been envious of a city. That is, until I saw Sinop.”
The Festival on Wheels will only visit Sinop after Ankara. Not even festival favorite İzmir is on this year’s route. What happened to the times when the festival would visit four, even six, cities? “First of all,” said Emre, “the funding from the Ministry of Culture has been dwindling. It has been cut in half this year.”
There are other factors for the smaller number of cities. “The audience throughout Turkey has become more conservative,” said Emre, citing an incident in the northern city of Ordu, “when half of the audience walked out of a sex scene during the screening of the award-winning Turkish film ‘Çoğunluk’ (Majority).” One other deterrent is the reluctance and fear of local administrations, who question the program with more detail than ever before. However, there are many scattered throughout Turkey who still believe that the Festival on Wheels will always be a powerful and positive force. Visit gezicifestival.org for this year’s full program.