Saturday, 6 December 2008

[93] London Turkish Film Festival Opening Gala, My Marlon and Brando Premiere

The 14th London Turkish Film Festival Opening Gala and MY MARLON AND BRANDO Premiere

Last night, I had the pleasure of attending the swanky opening gala for the 14th London Turkish Film Festival. The red carpet reception was held at the Benuga Bar at the BFI Southbank cinema on a chilly, drizzly December night. Nevertheless, the wine flowed and endless trays of nibbles were passed around, and the collected guests (including ex-pats, celebrities, dignitaries and enthusiasts) were in high spirits as they packed into a near-full NFT 1 screen. The opening of the festival would be celebrated with a UK premiere of the award-winning 2008 film My Marlon and Brando (Gitmek).

The screening was introduced by Ercüment Akman, a lecturer at Georgetown University, who spoke of the new wave of young Turkish film directors, represented in the LTFF's programme, who are creating very high quality films in various genres. Festival Director Vedide Kaymak also addressed the audience; she explained how due to an increased amount of interest and funding, this year's festival has expanded beyond its previous home at the Rio Cinema in Hackney, to include showings at the Barbican, BFI Southbank and various Odeon Cinemas throughout London. Finally, representatives of the My Marlon and Brando cast and crew, including actress Ayça Damgaci, director Hüseyin Karabey and producer Lucinda Englehart, were invited onto the stage. Karabey made a short speech, stating plainly that the film is intended to 'bring people together'.

My Marlon and Brando is a perfect film to open such a festival. It is fiercely socio-political and stylistically assured, yet exhibits a warmth and humour that works against and beyond borders (be they cultural, national or linguistic). Based on a true story of a love affair between a Turkish actress (Damgaci) and a Kurdish b-movie star (Hama Ali Khan), who meet on a movie set. Once the shoot is over, they communicate from afar; Ayça writes poetic love letters from Istanbul, and Hama Ali sends effusive, quirky home videos in reply from Sulaimaniya in Iraqi Kurdistan.

With the beginning of the Second Gulf War, Ayça fears for her loved one's life, and decides to travel to Sulaimaniya to reunite with him. Her journey takes her from the modern metropolis of Istanbul, to the dusty Turkish border-towns of Habur and Van, and finally to Iran. She is met at every turn by closed borders, segregated cultures and entanglements that prevent her from reaching her destination. The performance by the real-life Ayça Damgaci is poignant and powerful, yet full of humour and charisma. Karabey's pseudo-documentary approach, mixing archive footage, spontaneous shooting and filmed scenes, gives the proceedings an anchor in reality. As Ayça aspires to be like a gypsy, who can live anywhere with their loved one, the film subtly reveals the Kurdish predicament: a culture spliced by borders, divided between countries. More than anything, My Marlon and Brando calls out for understanding and communion.

And there is no better way to open two weeks of eye-opening cinema from an under-represented, often misunderstood part of the world. In the past, the Turkish film industry rivalled Bollywood as the most prolific (making upwards of 300 films a year). Now it is less so, but that allows more quality films to rise to prominence.

The London Turkish Film Festival runs until 18th December, at various venues throughout the city. The programme showcases a selection of features, shorts, documentaries and animated films from Turkey, including critics' favourite Times and Winds (one of Timesonline's top picks of 2008) and Three Monkeys, winner of the Best Director award at Cannes this year.

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