Vancouver Turkish Film Festival puts the focus on women's rights

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      One of the organizers of the Vancouver Turkish Film Festival has a great deal to say about women’s rights in her country of origin.

      Nural Sümbültepe, an English instructor and long-time resident of the Lower Mainland, tells the Straight that it bugs her that republican-secular women and religious and nonsecular women pay far too much attention to the issue of clothing. This occurs whether someone is wearing a beautiful western suit and high heels or a hijab or a burqini.

      “It’s as if clothing is the only issue about women’s rights,” Sümbültepe says. “I would like them to talk about women’s education, how they’re protected by law, their workplace, and how much money they make. This should be at the forefront of discussions.”

      Another irritant is when western women tell Turkish women that their country needs more feminism. In fact, she argues, many American and Canadian women face some of the same challenges encountered by Turkish women. She would like to see more solidarity between all women in the world and more mutual respect.

      Although she acknowledges serious issues around the repression of women in her homeland—“I’m not blind,” Sümbültepe says—she’s also proud of how vocal they are in asserting their rights. And it’s not only the republican-secular women who speak out when they disagree with public policies. Even the religious women will raise hell.

      “Women take to the streets and they express their opinions, even though it’s difficult to do so,” she says. “They create many platforms, they create panels, and they voice their opinions. And the diversity of the women’s movement is really important.”

      That’s a reflection of the diversity of the country: Turkey is a multiethnic state with Kurdish, Greek, Armenian, Arab, Persian, Georgian, and Circassian minorities.

      Sümbültepe has lined up five women in the U.S., Canadian, and Turkish film industries to participate in a free panel discussion as part of the festival at the SFU Goldcorp Centre for the Arts at SFU Woodward’s. Among them are high-profile Turkish actor Saadet Işil Aksoy (Egg, Love in Another Language, Saf) and Turkish director Binnur Karaevli, whose film The Eye of Istanbul: Ara Güler will be screened on Sunday (November 17).

      The other participants will be U.S.–based Turkish-American TV producer Şirin Aysan, Seattle International Film Festival senior programmer Justine Barda, and Women in Film and Television Vancouver executive director Carolyn Combs.

      Filmmkaer Binnur Karaevli (The Eye of Istanbul)

      “I’m not in the film industry myself,” Sümbültepe says, “but I’m hoping there will be a general discussion about women in the workplace in Canada, the U.S., and Turkey.”

      She pointed out that a movement similar to #MeToo erupted in Turkey in 2015 when 20-year-old Ozgecan Aslan was raped and murdered in the seaside province of Mersin.

      It spawned the hashtag #sendeanlat, which means “tell your story”. For a couple of days, the hashtag #ozgecanaslan was trending first in the world, according to Al Jazeera.

      For her part, Aksoy has distinguished herself by elevating public awareness of how Turkish women have to endure sexist comments on a daily basis.

      “She made a beautiful video about what those remarks and sentences are and how they should not be said,” Sümbültepe says.

      In this video in Turkish, Saadet Işil Aksoy highlights how sexist language is part of everyday life in her home country.

      Over the past three decades, Turkey has been exporting TV shows to other Muslim countries, as well as to Mexico, Brazil, and other nations.

      According to Sümbültepe, the women in these programs in the 1990s were seen as role models of liberation for women in the Middle East.

      “Women demanded more rights after watching these Turkish TV series,” she says. “Even in Turkey in rural areas, it led to changes.”

      However, in recent years there has been a debate about whether TV producers are making their female characters more conservative to improve the chances of gaining international distribution.

      What the Turkish industry is doing in the Arab and Persian world mirrors what Hollywood producers are doing to achieve distribution in China—not offending authoritarian regimes.

      “Alcohol and cigarette smoke is blurred,” Sümbültepe says. “There is hardly any lovemaking scenes. There used to be more in the ’90s.”

      She expects that this topic is likely to come up in the panel discussion.

      "Justine Barda knows way more than I do about Turkish cinema,” she points out. “Carolyn [Combs] is also there to give us the Canadian viewpoint.”

      It’s timely dialogue, given that the festival is featuring films by three female directors and includes several films with females in leading roles. “So I’m really proud of this,” Sümbültepe says.

      Women in the Film Industry: The U.S., Canada, and Turkey will take place at 2 p.m. on Saturday (November 16) at the SFU Goldcorp Centre for the Arts at SFU Woodward’s