Turkish Canadian Nural Sumbultepe says it’s easy to look at her country through a binary lens.
The Vancouver English teacher says that Turkey is often seen as a society divided between the left and the right, the secular and the nonsecular, or the urban versus rural residents. But Sumbultepe, spokesperson for the Vancouver Turkish Film Festival, insists that things are far more complex than that.
“For example,” she says, “I’m secular myself but I also have a lot of respect for voicing your religious opinions. You want to respect and highlight religious freedom, but you also want secular people to be given the same kind of freedom. You want everybody to be working in harmony and unity for the betterment of the country and for democracy.”
These complexities are what theVancouver Turkish Film Festival hopes to bring to the surface at SFU Woodward’s Goldcorp Centre for the Arts next weekend (June 9 to 11).
The opening-gala film, The Swaying Waterlily, written and directed by Seren Yüce, focuses on two urban middle-class women whose communication with their husbands and children is fragmented because of electronic devices and the rush of modern life.
“It’s about their emptiness and dreams of personal fulfillment,” Sumbultepe notes, adding that Yüce is a rising Turkish writer-director who made the highly acclaimed 2010 film Majority.
The following night, the festival will screen My Mother’s Wound, starring Meryem Uzerli in a drama about a young Muslim man with memories of the Bosnian war who finds shelter with Serbian farmers.
There are also three films depicting the lives of Kurdish people in Turkey, including the festival closer, Rauf. It tells the tale of a 10-year-old boy with a crush on a woman in the eastern part of the country as he feels the war closing in on him.
“We would never bring films for pure entertainment,” Sumbultepe declares. “We want to explore cultural, social, and political issues in Turkey. We want to give voice to minorities, women, and workers.”
Another film, Dust Cloth, is about two Kurdish cleaning women in Istanbul. And My Father’s Wings highlights the perils of construction workers in the modern development-mad Turkey, which is gentrifying neighbourhoods at a pace that would make Vancouver politicians blush.
As part of the festival, there will be a panel discussion next Saturday (June 10) on the history, memory, and literature of the Ottoman Empire, which was founded in northwestern Anatolia in the late 13th century and lasted until the early 1920s. It was a multiethnic state, much as Turkey is today with its minorities of Kurdish, Greek, Armenian, Arab, Persian, Georgian, and Circassian ancestry.
Sumbultepe, however, worries that diversity is being undermined nowadays in Turkey. And that’s due to the growth of anti-intellectualism that she likens to what’s occurring in Trump’s America.
She says that people who speak out against the conservative government are routinely accused of being part of the elite and therefore not interested in listening to people who live in rural areas. And journalists are being thrown in jail in large numbers.
“They’re accusing you of reading books and being informed,” Sumbultepe states. “This is very, very dangerous. We need more open dialogue. We need to free those journalists.”
The Vancouver Turkish Film Festival takes place at the Goldcorp Centre for the Arts at SFU Woodward’s next Friday, Saturday, and Sunday (June 9 to 11). For more information, visit the festival's Facebook page.