Sparks flew briefly Saturday at the awards ceremony of the 13th Istanbul Intl. Film Festival when a local laureate returned his scroll to the onstage jury’s prexy as part of a political protest.

In an emotive speech, telecast live, young helmer Zeki Demirkubuz, 29, whose feature bow “C Block” won a special prize of the national jury, said he didn’t want to be part of a process that gave awards to pix that “profited” from political events of the ’80s.

Reference was to best Turkish film “An Autumn Story,” directed by Yavuz Ozkan , and award-winning director Yusuf Kurcenli’s “Disintegration.” Both pix are emotional dramas set in the years of military rule.

The incident, which surprised jury prez, local actress Hulya Kocyigit, went untranslated by the ceremony’s bilingual hosts, Turkey’s culture minister and his daughter. Event was telecast nationwide for the first time in the fest’s history.

Some 154 pix from 37 countries unspooled during the 16-day event, which concluded Sunday and for the first time registered a drop in tickets sold, to 85 ,000 against last year’s 110,000. With B.O. budgeted at 42% of income, plus a 165% fall in the value of the Turkish lira against the greenback since January, fest faces a loss this year and an uncertain future, according to topper Hulya Ucansu.

Ucansu is already penciling in a scaled-down event next year for the country’s premier fest.

Otherwise, ceremony at the luxurious Cemal Resit Rey Concert Hall in downtown Istanbul passed off without incident in front of an audience including helmer Roger Spottiswoode and actors Jean-Pierre Leaud and Daniel Olbrychski.

The six-member international jury, headed by veteran director Arthur Penn, bestowed its top prize, the Golden Tulip, on Turkish director Erden Kiral’s “The Blue Exile,” a drama about a famed journalist sent to the hinterlands in the ’20 s.

Real champ of the evening, however, was Romanian director Radu Mihaileanu, whose political drama “Betrayal” copped both the main jury’s special prize and a jury award. Pic was also a prize winner at last fall’s Montreal fest.

Other laureates were the Taiwanese drama “The Puppetmaster,” which nabbed the Fipresci international critics award, and “The Serpent’s Tail,” feature bow by L.A.-based Turkish helmer Kutlug Ataman, which got a local critics nod.

General verdict on this year’s stanza was a strong international selection, uneven competition selection, and ho-hum 19-title Turkish panorama with few standouts.

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