Istanbul Film Festival launches documentary competition

Istanbul Film Festival launches documentary competition

Emrah Güler
Istanbul Film Festival launches documentary competition


With over 200 films screened over 16 days, including both rare cinema gems across the globe for cinephiles and popular award winners in major international festivals, the Istanbul Film Festival boasts of being the biggest cinema extravaganza in Turkey. The festival also includes a star-studded opening ceremony, four prestigious competitions, as well as dozens of guests from around the world that the audiences get to meet after the screenings.

In its 34th year (coincidentally the traffic plate number for Istanbul), the festival has incorporated a new competition into its program, the National Documentary Competition, with 13 films competing for a 15,000 Turkish Lira prize, thanks to the support of Anadolu Efes. Festival Director Azize Tan answered our questions on the festival’s documentary competition and documentary making in Turkey.

“Documentary production in Turkey has been showing a steady increase in recent years. Unfortunately, these documentaries are not finding their audience except in festivals,” said Tan. “There are many documentary film festivals and these festivals have a strong and steady audience. Unfortunately, few of these films find a chance for national release in theaters.”

With national release out of the question except a few lucky cases, TV becomes the next alternative. But there’s a catch there, too, according to Tan. “TV channels are an important medium for documentaries, however Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTÜK) uses broadcasting of documentaries as a tool to fine the channels,” said Tan. “This perception needs to change.”


The Istanbul Film Festival Director Azize Tan says
RTÜK uses documentaries as a tool to fine the
channels but this perception needs to change.

Making notes in history

“We wanted to support documentaries and help them become more visible with this competition,” said Tan. The competition hopes to serve as an incentive for documentary makers and aspiring filmmakers with documentary projects, as well as hopefully offer a chance for the filmmakers to make a foray into foreign markets. “We are also trying to make sure that our foreign guests watch the documentaries and include these films into the lineup of international festivals.”

Are there any dominant themes among recent documentaries in Turkey? “Politics is a major theme, thanks to the region we live in,” said Tan. “Documentaries most often become a mirror of our society. We are a society with a low attention span when it comes to collective memory, and we have to make our own notes in history.”

Tan cited examples from this year’s competition entries to showcase how documentaries mirror society. “As you will see in this year’s selection, political themes like multiculturalism, migration, forced migration, urban transformation, the problems of trans individuals, miners, the resistance in Kobanê, the Ethem Sarısülük case during the Gezi Protests, censorship in cinema and the Srebrenica Massacre dominate,” she said.

“A country like Turkey offers ample material in these issues, naturally directing documentary makers to these themes,” said Tan. “That said, any subject like music, oil wrestlers and midwives becoming ‘dead washers’ can pop up as the subject of documentaries.”

The future of documentaries

How does Tan assess the present and future of documentaries and documentary making in Turkey? “In order for documentary making in Turkey to progress, we need to diversify. And this, in turn, brings the necessity for funding,” said Tan. “Making documentaries is very difficult in this country, and the difficulties of distribution is not helping either. That’s why we are accepting documentary projects for Meetings on the Bridge.”

Meetings on the Bridge is Istanbul Film Festival’s program to help launch co-productions; bringing together producers, directors, scriptwriters, and representatives of institutions from Turkey and Europe. The program offers opportunities for filmmakers to make the first international presentation of their feature film projects and films at post-production stage.

“As well as the diversification of subjects, an increase in the quality of productions is a necessity,” said Tan.  “Also, to overcome the financial difficulties, we need to find different alternatives. We are trying to contribute to increasing the quality of documentaries through panels and training.” This year’s masterclass on approaches to the representation of reality in documentary filmmaking by Arash T. Riahi, one of the directors and producers of “Everyday Rebellion,” a documentary on non-violent protests and civil disobedience, is a good example.

Check for the program of this year’s festival, which will run until April 19.