Spotlight on grit, resilience and a touch of humour at Turkish film fest

 Behind the scenes during the making of Cold of Kalandar | Photo courtesy of Hakan Burcuoğlu

Behind the scenes during the making of Cold of Kalandar | Photo courtesy of Hakan Burcuoğlu

This year’s Vancouver Turkish Film Festival (VTFF) holds special significance in light of the country’s recent challenges. The festival takes place in partnership with the Vancouver International Film Festival at VIFF Vancity Theatre, running from Nov. 25 to Nov. 27. 

Our goal is to bring the best of contemporary art cinema that resonates with international audiences “ says Hakan Burcuoğlu, VTFF’s director.

For the first time, the VTFF received direct funding from the Turkish Ministry of Culture.

“Even though the government was literally operating within a state of emergency, crucial funding and acknowledgement was finalized in the weeks leading up to the Vancouver festival,” says Burcuoğlu.“This has been a difficult year for Turkey, and in times like these, the artists’ evocative works reflect our humanity back onto ourselves.”

According to Burcuoğlu, this year’s line-up reflects how Turkish artists are responding to these troubles. Festival highlights include Q&A sessions with Nursen Çetin Köreken, actress and co-writer of Blue Bicycle, Maksut Aşkar, central character of The Turkish Way and head chef of Istanbul’s Neolokal restaurant and Haydar Şişman who stars in Cold of Kalandar.

Blue Bicycle stands out as a coming-of-age story about contemporary Turkey that recently won Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Screenplay at this year’s prestigious International Antalya Film Festival (Turkey).

“It’s our strongest line-up to date, ranging from arthouse films to a world-class animated film about a cynical alley cat,” says Burcuoğlu.

Current Trends

Turkish film is now witnessing its own renaissance,” says Burcuoğlu.

Serving as a producer, director and writer, Burcuoğlu is in a unique position to give some historical context to help understand current trends.

“As a millennial, I grew up with zero Turkish movies. Only my parents’ Turkish tapes of the 70s were available to me,” Burcuoğlu explains. Mainstream Turkish movies are more popular than Hollywood movies these days. “Younger people prefer Turkish movies,” says Burcuoğlu.

The increasing viewership and positive reception in turn help to shape and define aesthetic qualities.

“As a result, Turkish cinema has grown into a distinct school. Everywhere, people recognize and are developing a strong affinity for Turkish cinema now, and many Vancouver filmgoers are themselves a great example of this trend,” he says.

2017 Oscar contender

Scene from Blue Bicycle | Photo courtesy of Hakan Burcuoğlu

Scene from Blue Bicycle | Photo courtesy of Hakan Burcuoğlu

The movie Cold of Kalandar is attracting international attention as Turkey’s Oscar contender for the 2017 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. The tightly-knit family’s story of survival is set within a stark atmosphere of Turkey’s northern Black Sea mountain region.

“It’s a movie of epic proportions, filmed over four years. The lead, non-traditional actor Haydar Şişman delivers an absolutely breathtaking tour-de-force performance,” says Burcuoğlu.

Many actors in Turkey, he says, have other means of living. Şişman, for example, is a painter who teaches in a public school in a small town on the Black Sea coast. Burcuoğlu had to provide the school principal with a formal request in order for Şişman to attend the festival in Vancouver.

The background of Şişman and of breakthrough director Mustafa Kara combine to give this drama a uniquely genuine feel and authenticity of a documentary. Cold of Kalandar was produced under immensely difficult conditions that resulted in a great achievement, says Burcuoğlu.

“From my own experience as a filmmaker, I know that the harder you work, the more this is felt in the final product,” he adds.

For Burcuoğlu, the films they are bringing to the festival reflect how Turkish artists respond to times of hardship in their own country and bring to the limelight their most expressive works.

“Turbulent times are also the best times for artists to create their best works,” says Burcuoğlu. “Great challenges create great art. We present legendary Turkish auteurs known for their strong courage. The cinema says it all. It speaks for itself.”

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