Friday, 12 December 2008

[97] Alethea (Hakikat) review [LTFF]

The London Turkish Film Festival continues. I went to see a film called Dot (Nokta) at the Barbican on Tuesday evening (write-up forthcoming), but haven't been able to get to many of the showings so far. Yesterday, however, I made it up to the Rio Cinema in Dalston to see one of the programmes of documentaries they are showing as part of the festival. The Rio Cinema is a lovely venue, with a classic auditorium-style screen. I hadn't been there before, but I have the feeling I will go again.

Sadly, the second film in the programme, A Bridge at the End of the World, did not have English subtitles, so I can't really comment on it.

The first film, however, was called Alethea (Hakikat). The documentary was released in 2007, directed by Petra Holzer and Ethem Özgüven, and was concerned with the discovery and mining of a strain of gold found in the rural area of Bergama. When the area around the gold deposits was bought up and developed into a mine by the multinational firm Eurogold, the local villagers were quick to register their complaints against this use of the historic area of great agricultural and scenic worth. Further worry was caused by the controversial cyanide leaching process used by the mining corporation to extract the gold.

The film documents the villagers ongoing protest, which lasts from 1989 until end of production in 2006. Through a succession of talking heads (from the directors' decade-long filming schedule), archive news footage and scratchy, informative black and white intertitles, a chequered history of deceit, court action and intimidation is revealed. The title, Greek for 'truth', is key here, as a consensus about the use of cyanide, and the back-room workings of policy and action is never fully achieved. Scientists differ on the effects of the process, as the viewer is confronted with quotes from news sources such as Reuters and the BBC on spillages, leaks and accidents that led to death or widespread disease. Equally, the villagers protests, and their successful appeals to the state court and the European court of human rights, are seemingly ignored, or simply aren't upheld, due to apathy on behalf of the Turkish government (the Prime Minister never visits the area despite the demonstrations).

The thematic content of the film is fiercely political: the villagers are cast as humble farmers, with the land being their gold. An integral monologue, which nails this aspect, about the systems of power, representation and government in the face of multinational business, is revealed at the last moment to be from philosopher Noam Chomsky. Late 20th century Turkey is revealed as a mid-point between a Western democracy and a developing state. Eurogold and other mining businesses exploit the relatively lax regulations for profit. And, despite certain legal structures being in place, the case of the Bergama protests is powerful proof of the hollow rights and essential impotence of the Turkish people in the face of multinationals. Far from offering any answers or closure, Alethea is more concerned with exposing and bemoaning the futility of the villagers' struggle.

The style of the film is closely tied with this injustice. Breaking with genre conventions, the directors employ hugely expressive, moving techniques, from the stark black and white footage to the jarring transitions between interviews, to keep the audience on their toes. Equally, the soundtrack, written by Alper Maral, is a distorted, warped, horrific form of bass-heavy electronica, full of spine-chilling samples and sharp beats. It was almost close to the industrial experiments of bands like Coil, or Einsturzende Neubauten, or the studio composition of Edgard Varese or Karlheinz Stockhausen. These technical aspects help to create a documentary which is unique and memorable, as well as stirring.

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