Friday, 6 November 2009

[260] 15th London Turkish Film Festival Opening Gala

I attended the London Turkish Film Festival last year, and was surprised at the wealth of quality films on offer in their programme. Some of those films, such as Dot (Nokta) and Times and Winds (Bes Vakit) were among my favourite films of the year. So it was with great anticipation that I boarded the 53 bus, in black tie, to attend the suitably swanky Opening Gala for this year's iteration of the festival, held at the venerable venue of BAFTA Piccadilly.

Now in its 15th year, the London Turkish Film Festival is expanding in an important and graceful manner, by introducing a selection of 'Golden Wings' festival awards. Chief among these is the Digital Distribution Award, which offers the winner a £15,000 distribution contract for UK and Ireland. The award was judged by a panel of industry members, including Jo Blair (Senior Programmer, City Screen), David Parkinson (Journalist, Empire), Jason Wood (Director of Programming, Curzon Cinemas), and Turkish actress Hülya Koçyiğit. Blair addressed the audience, praising the 5 nominated films, for displaying 'a mastery of their craft', and showing the 'depth and diversity' of Turkish cinema, before announcing Asli Özge's Men on the Bridge (Köprüdekiler) as the winner, commending the film's 'documentary aesthetic', and its 'Altman-esque tapestry' of contemporary life.

The inaugural Lifetime Achievement Award was given to actress and pioneer Turkish female filmmaker Türkan Şoray, who is reportedly known to Turkish film fans as 'Sultan'. A third, unannounced award category, the Patron of the Festival, was given to Koçyiğit, as well as the composing and performing duo of Sedat Sarıcı and Suzan Beyazit - whose music soundtracked the evening, in an entrancing arrangement from the Beattie String Quartet.

The Awards ceremony was followed by the UK premiere screening of The Bogeyman (Mommo - Kızkardeşim), a film that was given the Best Film prize at the Turkey-Germany Film Festival earlier this year. With its focus on young children and their life in a rural village, and with themes that encompass generation tensions, innocence and the allure of the urban, The Bogeyman is, in capsule form, quite similar to Times and Winds. However, there are a number of very distinct differences, largest being the shift in scenery and style. Where Times and Winds was warm, poetic and ambiguous, The Bogeyman is impoverished, emotionally-overt and based on a true story.

The key to the film's charm lies in the two central performances from Elif and Mehmet Bülbül as siblings Ayşe and Ahmet, who live in a dusty village in the Konya region of Central Anatolia. With their mother dead, and their weak, slimy father remarried and unwilling to accept responsibility, they are left in the care of their religious, aged grandfather. The film's central question is regarding their standing in life, between family and the care home - lost in the cycles of death and emigration.

However, the vast span of the narrative, directed by first-time filmmaker Atalay Taşdiken, revels in the touching chemistry between Ayşe and Ahmet, quietly doting on their days spent playing together. A series of static, lavishly mounted shots give their hopscotch games, their makeshift swings, whittled out boats and stargazing dreams a sense of moving importance - especially in light of the troubles surrounding their situation. Sadly, the inevitable reality is hammered home in a cathartic conclusion, that betrays the film's initially contemplative trajectory, in favour of manipulative emotional peaks. Nevertheless, The Bogeyman is a strong film to open what looks to be a varied programme of similarly strong cinema.

The London Turkish Film Festival runs for 2 weeks, until November 19th, with screenings at the Rio Cinema Dalston and the Apollo Piccadilly. For more information, visit the official website.

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