Antalya Festival’s National Competition Spotlights Fresh Faces, Stories

Christopher Vourlias

After bowing Sunday with “Finding Altamira,” Hugh Hudson’s 19th-century period drama starring Antonio Banderas, Turkey’s oldest film fest turns its attention to the national competition, where a crop of familiar faces and newcomers are in the running for this year’s Golden Orange at the 53rd Antalya Intl. Film Festival, which runs Oct. 16-23.

The varied slate highlights the emergence of a number of dynamic new voices in Turkish cinema, with eight of the 12 films in competition marking the feature-length debuts of their directors.

Among them are a biting satire about middle-class morality, a documentary about young wrestlers at an elite boarding school, and a coming-of-age drama set against the backdrop of the ongoing Turkish-Kurdish conflict.

“It’s a very diverse film program right now,” says fest director Elif Dağdeviren.

Antalya holds a special place in the hearts of many Turkish filmmakers, including Soner Caner and Barış Kaya, whose feature debut, “Rauf,” will take part in the national competition after a world premiere in the Berlinale’s Generation Kplus section.

While in post-production last year, “Rauf” won the Work in Progress award at the Antalya Film Forum — a vote of confidence that Kaya says encouraged he and his co-director to “believe [in] what we do.”

“It’s really meaningful to come back to Antalya,” he says. “We feel like we returned back home.”

Newcomer Mehmet Can Mertoğlu, whose feature debut, “Albüm” (Album), arrives on the heels of a Cannes’ Critics’ Week premiere, first came to Antalya in 2007, before he’d even shot his first short film.

Returning often in the years since, he chose the city as one of the principal locations for his movie. The helmer says he’s grateful for the opportunities he’s had in Antalya through the years to hear from such masters as Abbas Kiarostami, Jia Zhangke, and Francis Ford Coppola, who have all attended the festival as guests.

“I have lots of good memories in Antalya,” he says.

The curtain rises on the festival this year in the wake of wider political uncertainty in Turkey, just months after a failed coup attempt against President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in July, which led to a broad government crackdown.

Privately some say that the festival itself was tarnished two years ago by the controversy over Reyan Tuvi’s “Love Will Change the Earth,” a documentary about Turkey’s widespread 2013 protests, which was removed from competition because of legal issues before being hastily returned to the line-up. Amid cries of censorship, 11 of 15 docs withdrew from the festival that year, along with the entire documentary jury.

As the government continues to clamp down in the wake of July’s coup attempt, drawing condemnation from some quarters and silence from others, many bizzers suggest that the politically charged climate in Turkey today has created a bitter rift in the film community.

Still, the industry appears to be drawing strength from such challenges, as a strong crop of films in this year’s national competition can attest.

According to Zeynep Atakan, who produced Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s Palme d’Or-winning “Winter Sleep,” “Turkey has been going through a very difficult time, but…we will continue to make good films, because we always think art is the only solution.”

Ten fiction features and two documentaries will take place in this year’s national competition:

First-time helmer Mehmet Can Mertoğlu arrives in Antalya with “Albüm” (Album), a dark satire about a respectable middle-class family who doctor a photo to hide their adopted child’s identity. Mertoğlu’s debut had its world premiere in Cannes’ Critics’ Week.

“Babamın Kanatları” (My Father’s Wings), director Kıvanç Sezer’s first feature, is a dark tale of a father’s desperation in the face of institutional corruption. The film had its world premiere in competition at Karlovy Vary.

Ayhan Salar and Erkan Tahhuşoğlu’s “Eşik” (Verge) examines the lives of two women dealing with separation, isolation and loss. Making its Turkish premiere, it also bowed in Karlovy Vary.

Directed by Mete Gümürhan, “Genç Pehlivanlar” (Young Wrestlers) tells the story of 26 students at an elite boarding school hoping to find glory on the wrestling mat. One of two documentaries in competition, it had its world premiere in the Berlinale’s Generation Kplus section.

Ümit Köreken’s feature debut “Mavi Bisiklet” (Blue Bicycle), which also bowed in Berlin, tells the story of a 13-year-old boy whose hard-earned savings for the film’s eponymous bike have to be used instead to support his sister’s election campaign for class president.

Turkish leading man Rıza Sönmez makes his directorial debut with “Orhan Pamuk’a Söylemeyin Kars’ta Çektiğim Filmde Kar Romanı da Var” (Do Not Tell Orhan Pamuk That the Movie I Directed in Kars Features the Novel Snow), a humorous docu-drama about life in a city characterized by the Nobel Prize-winning Pamuk.

Soner Caner and Barış Kaya’s feature debut, “Rauf,” is a tender coming-of-age story set against the backdrop of the ongoing Turkish-Kurdish conflict. It had its world premiere in Berlin’s Generation Kplus section.

One of Turkish cinema’s leading figures, Derviş Zaim arrives in Antalya this year with “Rüya” (Dream), the tale of an architect forced to make difficult choices in order to remain relevant in a changing Istanbul.

Seren Yüce will hope to replicate the success of his debut feature “Çoğunluk” (Majority), which won the Lion of the Future award at the Venice Film Festival in 2010 before earning best picture, best director and best actor nods in Antalya. His sophomore effort, “The Swaying Waterlily,” examines the complicated friendship between two families from different classes.

In “Siyah Karga” (Black Crow), M. Tayfur Aydın tells the story of a young woman who fled Iran to pursue an acting career in France, only to return at great peril in order to see her dying father.

Acclaimed helmer Yeşim Ustaoğlu returns to Antalya with “Tereddüt” (Clair-Obscur), a portrait of two women from radically different worlds who are both forced to confront the limitations imposed on women in Turkey today. Ustaoğlu’s sixth feature film, it had its world premiere in Toronto.

Gözde Kural daring debut, “Toz” (Dust), was lensed in Afghanistan, and had its world premiere at the Montreal World Film Festival. It traces the journey of an Afghan woman from Istanbul who returns to her ancestral homeland, only to get embroiled in the secrets of her family’s past.

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