Nearly two dozen filmmakers have yanked their films from the 34th Istanbul Film Festival in response to the last-minute cancellation of documentary screening about the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
The growing censorship protest, which now involves a majority of the filmmakers participating in the event, has led organizers to cancel competitions and the closing ceremony.
The documentary in the centre of the controversy, Bakur (North), was scheduled to open on Sunday afternoon, but was cancelled just hours before the screening. The Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts (IKSV), the organizer of the festival, said they received a letter from the Turkish Ministry of Culture warning that the film did not have the government-mandated registration certificate.
The film, directed by Çayan Demirel and Ertuğrul Mavioğlu, is set in the camps of the PKK and focuses on the daily life of members. It includes interviews with PKK leadership, including their Iraq-based operational commander Cemil Bayik.
The separatist PKK is outlawed as a “terrorist group” by the Turkish government.
In a statement released Sunday, the IKSV said that “screening of films produced in Turkey without this certificate results in legal sanctions, therefore Istanbul Film Festival will not be able to screen films that don’t have the aforementioned certificate.”
“As such, the screening of Bakur / North directed by Çayan Demirel and Ertuğrul Mavioğlu, announced to be realised at 16.00 on Sunday, 12 April at Atlas Movie Theatre, will not be made.”
Turkish filmmakers have been appalled by the festival’s decision to pull the film.
In addition to the 23 filmmakers who pulled their films altogether, more than 100 Turkish filmmakers — including the most recent Cannes’ Palme d’Or winner, Nuri Bilge Ceylan — signed a letter alleging government interference in the festival.
“We do not accept the requirement of these certificates for local productions, especially as they are not required for foreign films, the letter read. “We consider this to be a form of oppression and censorship.”
“The festival programme was announced weeks ago, and other local films that did not have the registration certificate were screened without problems.”
The IKSV later issued a “call for solidarity […] to the whole sector, festivals and professional organisations to change the Regulation Pertaining to the Basis and Procedures of Evaluation and Categorisation of Film Products, which requires the films produced in Turkey to have registration certificates in order to be screened at festivals.”
Image: Still from the film Bakur (North), directed by Çayan Demirel and Ertuğrul Mavioğlu.