Turkish cinema now a regular in Venice Film Festival
Kaan Müjdeci’s debut feature, 'Sivas,' will compete for the Lion of the Future given to the first feature of young directors.Back in 1990, director Yusuf Kurçenli’s “Karartma Geceleri” (The Blackout Nights) competed for the Golden Lion in the world’s oldest film festival, the Venice International Film Festival. Three other films were selected to the Golden Lion line-up before that, all in the 1980s, Erden Kıral’s “Ayna” (The Mirror), Ali Özgentürk’s “Bekçi” (The Guard) and the late Ömer Kavur’s “Anayurt Oteli” (Motherland Hotel).
Then the winter sleep came when Turkey was nowhere to be seen in Venice for almost two decades, save for two directors, Yeşim Ustaoğlu (in 2002) and Ferzan Özpetek (in 2007), being invited to the jury. 2008 turned out to be the year when Turkish cinema’s luck turned around, with two films included into the lineup for the main competition.
An adaptation of Melania G. Mazzucca’s best-selling Italian novel “Un Giorno perfetto” by Turkish/Italian director Ferzan Özpetek, the previous year’s jury member, as well as director Semih Kaplanoğlu’s “Süt” (Milk), the second film in Yusuf’s Trilogy, were both listed in the line-up competing for the Golden Lion. “Un Giorno perfetto,” the story of the 24 hours in a family right before a general election, brought Isabella Ferrari the best actress award.
Two years later, in 2010, newcomer Seren Yüce’s “Çoğunluk” (Majority), with its accurate portrayal of Turkey’s urban middle-class sensibilities, won the Lion of the Future award. Then came another Lion of the Future two years later for director Ali Aydın’s “Küf” (Mold), the heart-breaking story of a father’s quest to find his son who had been missing for 18 years. That film was screened during the International Film Critics’ Week.
The same year, in 2012, another jury alum, internationally acclaimed female director Ustaoğlu’s “Araf” (Somewhere in Between) was included into the Orrizonti (Horizons) section of the festival. The film was a coming-of-age story, featuring small lives and big dreams through a love triangle. In a lesser known success story for Turkish filmmakers that year, the directorial debut of the Palestinian actress Hiam Abbass’ “Inheritance,” screened in the Venice Days section, had two Turkish names, Faruk Özerten and Ender Sevim, among its production credits.
‘The Cut’ and ‘Sivas’
There seems to be a two-year rule where Turkish cinema shines in Venice. This year seems to be no exception with two films premiering and competing in the upcoming 71st Venice Film Festival, set to open on Aug. 27. While acclaimed Turkish-German director Fatih Akın’s “The Cut” will compete for the Golden Lion, Kaan Müjdeci’s debut feature “Sivas” will compete for the Lion of the Future, or Luigi De Laurentiis award, given to the first feature of young directors.
“The Cut” (pictured left) became the talk of the festival circuit when he pulled his film from the Cannes lineup in April for “personal reasons.” The film, starring French actor Tahar Rahim, centers around the sensitive issue of the mass killings of Armenians under the Ottomans in 1915, and is the final film in the “Love, Death and the Devil trilogy,” which includes award winners “Head-On” and “The Edge of Heaven.”
Akın recently made headlines when he said in an interview with Turkish-Armenian weekly Agos that he had walked away from a project on Hrant Dink, the Turkish-Armenian journalist who was murdered in 2007. “I couldn’t persuade any Turkish actors to play Hrant’s role. All of them found the script too harsh. That’s why I had to cancel the project,” Akın said.
“The Cut” will compete against such films like Abel Ferrara’s biopic of the fallen Italian filmmaker “Pasolini,” Ramin Bahrani’s recession drama “99 Homes,” David Gordon Green’s Texan drama “Manglehorn,” and “The Look of Silence,” Joshua Oppenheimer’s follow-up to his acclaimed 2012 documentary “The Act of Killing.”
Müjdeci’s feature “Sivas” tells the friendship between an 11-year-old boy and his dog in the steppes of Central Anatolia. Keep in mind that the boy’s name is Aslan, which in Turkish means lion. The Future of the Lion award will have a whole new meaning if “Sivas” wins the award come September.