Waiting for censorship at film festivals in Adana, Antalya, Istanbul

At last year’s event, the festival committee censored a scene from the documentary “Love Will Change the Earth,” and filmmakers were divided into two groups, ones who boycotted the festival and ones who attended. This year the situation is the same again. There are many filmmakers who did not even apply to any section of the festival, and there are a few who applied but withdrew their submissions later. Let us try to look at what has happened in the last year and briefly analyze what is going on with commercial screening licenses, which have become censorship tools used by the government.

Earlier this year, the screening of “A Guerrilla Documentary: Bakur/Kuzey” (North) was canceled at the International Istanbul Film Festival. The result was great unity among filmmakers and a declaration in which they stated that film festivals should not demand licenses, and that they would not be handing in any such licenses in future. However, a change in the approach of the government before the election was never to be expected, especially when one considers the political climate in Turkey these days.

So then the Adana Golden Boll Film Festival took place. It involved a national competition with prizes on offer, and most of the filmmakers who signed the declaration did the opposite of what they had pledged. All the films in the competition had screening licenses, but the festival was held without any filmmakers in attendance. This was because the right wing Adana municipality did not want the festival to host any dialogue between the audience and the filmmakers because the topics of peace, the Kurdish issue and/or censorship might have been mentioned. The filmmakers accepted that they could not go but did not withdraw their films. Their excuse was that the Adana audiences would at least be able to see the films. This was a clear loss in the struggle against censorship. The Adana Golden Boll was held silently, without debate or discussion, and of course prizes, some of them cash, were awarded.

There is one difference between the Adana and Antalya festivals. In Antalya, the director who authorized the censorship is still there. This is the reason why there are a lot of filmmakers attending the festival in Adana but boycotting Antalya. However, both Adana and Antalya still demand the commercial screening license. Filmmakers would be more powerful in their negotiations over all censorship issues with the government if they also boycotted Adana and looked for independent ways to reach to audiences by arranging screenings with members of their movies’ crews in attendance.

The International Antalya Film Festival is set to start its 2015 event with little progress having been made on the issues discussed . While there is a “new” government, and the film board announced a new call for film fund applications there are still more questions to ask. Will there be a change in the law regarding commercial screening licenses? Will the Istanbul festival demand licenses as part of its written regulations? What will happen if a film funded by the Ministry of Culture is rated 18 plus? Filmmakers should take action before another “Bakur/Kuzey” incident.


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