Sunday, 14 December 2008

[98] London Turkish Film Festival, Week One Report [LTFF]

We're now over halfway through the London Turkish Film Festival fortnight. In the last week-and-a-bit, the festival has been hosted at the Rio Cinema in Dalston, as well as Central London cinemas such as the Barbican and Odeon Covent Garden.


On Tuesday, I went to see a showing of Dot (Nokta) at the Barbican. A taut, short crime thriller, anchored by its assured technical virtuosity, Dot uses the spiritual, philosophical aspects of calligraphy as a basis for a tale of a man's futile search for forgiveness and absolution. It is set in a Turkish salt lake, as expansive, desolate and unforgettable a location as the American West. Ahmet, a calligrapher recently out of jail, is convinced by his friend to help in the forgery of a priceless edition of the Koran. However, after a couple of hard-edged criminals get involved, the job turns violent. As a result, Ahmet is the only survivor of a bloody encounter with the thugs, and chooses to confront his friend's family, and reveal the truth.

The dot of the title is a reference to a calligraphy myth, where a famous calligrapher did not add an integral dot to an inscription asking for God's forgiveness (either accidentally, or due to lack of ink, or as a sign of defiance). However, director Dervis Zaim takes the style of calligraphy - the beauty of producing art with a single fluid stroke - to heart. The film's cinematography is a technical marvel: the camera weaves and sweeps with dignity and precision, tying together long takes and veiled cuts into a seemingly unbroken shot. The execution of this style is wonderfully impressive, especially in the transitions between steadicam and vehicle dolly sequences. Such an approach places full pressure on the actors, without the safety net of composite edits, and Mehmet Ali Nuroglu provides a conflicted, uncertain, yet compelling performance as Ahmet.

The camerawork also helps the narrative's deliberate, but graceful development, and gives the film a foreboding sense of inevitability that approaches the economy and dread of Greek Tragedy. I don't believe I have seen a film where its disparate aspects (be they technical, thematic or narrative) have gelled together so well.


Later in the week, 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 first film in the programme was called Alethea (Hakikat) and documented the struggle of villagers in the rural area of Bergama against multinational gold mining corporations. 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 title, Greek for 'truth', is central to the film's themes of deceit, corruption and futility. The villagers refer the issue to the State Court, as well as the European Court of Human Rights. Despite both courts ruling against the mining activity, the Bergama mine still stands by the end of the filming process in 2006 (filming started in the mid-90s, whereas the gold was discovered in 1989). The film was also made memorable by its stirring, unsettling production decisions. The soundtrack, for example, sounded like a mid-point between the industrial electronica of Coil and the studio composition of Karlheinz Stockhausen. It creates a moving, horrific experience that fits well with the injustice discussed within the documentary itself. Sadly, the second film in the documentary programme, A Bridge At the End of the World, did not have subtitles. I believe I was the only audience member not fluent in Turkish, so I quietly made my exit.


I soon returned, though, as on Saturday the Rio held its final two screenings: two short film programmes called 'Shorts from the World' and 'Shorts from Turkey'. A marathon in anyone's book, both programmes together featured 19 films, and ran for almost four hours. The opening piece, called Sugar & Spice and All Things Movies, directed by Melih Kancelik, observes an interview between screenwriter Tony Grisoni and Umit Mesut, a Hackney shopkeeper. Not long after it opened 19 years ago, Umit's sweet shop grew into a cinephile's playground, a movie museum filled to the ceiling with 35mm film canisters. They talk of the battle between digital and film projection. Umit is an eccentric, kind man full of passion and enthusiasm. His initially stubborn view of the digital medium is softened, as he admits that the relative cheapness allows more young, independent film makers to express themselves freely.

An inspired opener, Sugar & Spice's central message reverberates through all of the films on offer. The short film, now consigned to film festivals like the LTFF , is nevertheless a perfect format for experimentation, expression and experience. The breadth of material on offer is impressive. There are bite-sized shorts, such as the animated sweetness of the delightful Head, about a man who is a vessel for other people's nagging and experimental tableaux, or the market place music video of Apple and Ei , where the stall-holders shouts and hustling becomes a rhythmic rap.

The longer pieces are just as unique and memorable, such as the Lynchian nightmare of Dimension (Boyut), where a young urban girl finds herself transported to a rural village, and forced to marry a man she's never met, or the quirky Mr. Unhappy Meets the Girl, where a young man with a camera follows a beautiful woman around town, filming her all the while. Possibly most effective of all films shown was a short documentary from 2007 called Refugee (Multeci), which purely focused on the stories told by a handful of Turkish refugees in the UK. Their stories are revealing and moving, and speak volumes about a paranoia that has risen in the country since 9/11. Such short film programmes are like mini-festivals, in that they encompass the whole span of tone, genre and intention. They can be exhausting to sit through, but there are few more eclectic experiences in the cinema.


The festival continues, until Thursday 18th, at the Odeon cinemas in Holloway and Lee Valley. Please consult the official website for more details.

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