The Melbourne Turkish Film Festival debuted this evening, opening with Özcan Alper's Sonbahar (Autumn, 2008). There were a number of formalities, including introductions by the festival director, the Turkish Consul-General (a very happy man!) , the Turkish minister for Trade and Culture (apologies for lack of details like names, or errors in titles) and Richard Sowada, ACMI's head programming dude (also, not his exact title, but you get the drift).
From the introductions, we learnt that since 2004, the Turkish film industry has gone from producing around 12-15 films a year to 40 or more, and that audiences at Turkish films in Turkey have gone from around 15% to 65%. I'm not sure how this inspirational cultural turn-around has been achieved, but it's something our own industry should be looking at.
I was introduced to the festival director after the screening of Autumn, but the lovely Turkish music was playing so loud that I couldn't catch her name. Furthermore, the official website is down, so I can't grab it from there either. Oh well, such is life.
Autumn is an impressive little film, in style not unlike the films of master director, Nuri Bilge Ceylan, whose Üç maymun (Three Monkeys) screens on Wednesday (and I implore you all to see Ceylan's film - it won best director gong at Cannes last year, and you won't see too many films better than this all year).
Autumn is a slowburn, minimalist drama, about Yusuf, a young man who is released from prison after ten years. He was involved in radical student politics and socialism at university and has lost the best years of his life. He returns to his home in a mountainous village in the Black Sea region, an area that is spectacularly beautiful. Some things have changed, some haven't, but Yusuf certainly has.
There's not a whole lot of narrative to the story; rather the film focuses on the everyday existence of Yusuf, his friend Mikail and a Russian prostitute he meets in town. A particularly poignant moment occurs when the prostitute learns that Yusuf spent time in jail for fighting for socialism, something that the Russians were glad to get rid of.
Unlike Australian cinema, politics is an element that European cinema doesn't have an aversion to. It's certainly prominent in many of the Spanish films I saw recently at La Mirada, and it seems to be also true of Turkish cinema. Politics is about as prominent in Autumn as it was in say, Kelly Reichardt's Old Joy. For those of you that haven't seen Old Joy, you'd hardly know that there was a political element to the film - it's very subtle. Autumn acknowledges recent Turkish political history but is, on the surface, concerned with the personal. Yusuf is simply trying to get his life back in order and in the course of his activities, we get an amazing cultural glimpse into a way of life that surely is slowly dying.
Autumn is Özcan Alper's first feature film. He's a talent to watch. The film screens again tomorrow (Monday 20 April) at ACMI and is highly recommended. My friend Nilgün, who kindly invited me to the opening, highly recommends Dry Summer (Susuz yaz), which screens on Thursday, so I'm making a point of trying to see that. If I could, I would see all seven films, but I'll have to settle for four or so. This festival is screening films that appear on face value to be of a very high quality, much more so than most regional festivals. This is a great opportunity for cinephiles to see quality cinema from a part of the world that we sadly don't see enough of.
The Melbourne Turkish Film Festival screens until Friday at ACMI.
[Image: Onur Saylak as Yusuf in Autumn]