It was like the plaintive moan of an ox carried far across the Anatolian steppes. “2016 has proven to be a difficult year for Turkey,” stated the media release for this year’s Vancouver Turkish Film Festival. “In staying true to our mission of showcasing the best of burgeoning Turkish cinema, we ask again for your support in spreading the love. We need it now more than ever.”
As the man who wrote those words would later tell the Straight, “We are a country of coups.
“It’s embedded into our psyche,” says Hakan Burcuoğlu, director of the VTFF, referring to the military revolt that seized the nation in July—the fourth in just under 60 years—which was swiftly followed by a state of emergency that’s still being enforced as you read.
“I don’t think this state of emergency has come as a shock to any artist or filmmaker in today’s Turkey. Turkey has a long-standing history of military intervention and coalition governments with a very fragile economy, and I think filmmakers will keep going at it and digging at it, because nothing and nobody can make sense of what’s going on. What was this attempted coup? What’s going to happen? What’s going on with the economy? Are we going into Europe? Are we leaning more to the east? We’re an emotional people and this affects everything. It affects restaurants, it affects nightlife, it affects the national soccer team—they’ve been playing like shit! I wonder why?”
In spite of all this (especially the soccer), the ever-animated Burcuoğlu has good reason to remain circumspect about the country’s political situation. For the first time in its three-year history, and despite the chaos back home, the VTFF has received direct funding from the Turkish ministry of culture. It’s a mark of the country’s indefatigable, if conflicted, nature that the very same ministry routinely throws its financial heft and influence behind homegrown film, producing in turn an internationally renowned cinema that’s hardly timid when it comes to nipping at the hand that feeds. Burcuoğlu sees it as a form of soft international diplomacy.
“When people witness your culture through art, especially cinema, it creates a very positive message about your country as a whole. And I think they’re smart enough to realize it, and I’m glad they’re smart enough to keep funding it,” he says. The payoff for us, he adds: “Filmmakers who have real shit to say about what’s going on are being supported. And that’s what matters.”
Wrapping this up in a bow, Burcuoğlu thinks he’s looking at the best lineup the festival has ever had. Among its jewels is Ember, the latest from director Zeki Demirkubuz. “Nuri Bilge Ceylan is probably the most internationally renowned Turkish filmmaker,” says Burcuoğlu, “but people fucking revere Demirkubuz. He’s the shit in Turkey.”
Then there’s Album, the film that took the France 4 Visionary Award at this year’s Cannes Critics’ Week. The deadpan tale of two civil servants who adopt a child for the sake of appearance, Album is compared by Burcuoğlu to the films of the Romanian new wave. “It’s very critical of bureaucracy and cronyism in government institutions, and kind of looks at this in a very direct and cynical way,” he says. And yes—it also comes with the ministry’s stamp of approval, as if somebody in government is still taking care to protect the truer, more evocative end of the historical record.
“If you catalogued all of these movies that I’ve been bringing here for the last three years, they’re a mirror onto ourselves,” Burcuoğlu reflects. “They show the current predicament, the current status, the current ambiance that we’re in. This is how the flavour was in Turkey that year.”