KARS, Turkey — No other festival on earth covers as many miles as Turkey’s Festival on Wheels — more than 25,000 of them by the organizers’ reckoning.
Now in its 13th year, the budget is still tight but its success rate in creating audiences and bringing good cinema to provincial cities is nothing short of impressive.
After debuting in Ankara each year, the show literally hits the road, traveling to various regions not just in Turkey but, in recent editions, further afield including Tbilisi, Gerogia.
One city is designated the international hub where filmmakers, journalists and industry folk gather for screenings and workshops. For the past four years Kars, on the Turkish-Armenian border, has been that place.
“When we first came to Kars there were no cinemas,” says fest director Basak Emre, so they brought their own 35mm projector and set up screenings in the local community hall.
The festival was such a success with the locals that Mayor Naif Alibeyoglu, a big supporter, had the hall fitted out with projectors, a good screen and Dolby digital so the city now has a fulltime cinema for the first time in years.
Made famous by “Snow,” the novel by Nobel Prize winner Orhan Pamuk, Kars bears little resemblance to its fictional namesake, and its liberal atmosphere has proved a fertile ground for an appreciation of the European films at the core of the fest.
This year’s edition, which ran Nov. 2-25, in Ankara, Kars, Samsun and Sarajevo, included Estonian pic “The Class,” Romania’s “The Rest is Silence” and Israel’s “My Father, My Lord,” as well as recent Turkish pics and a smattering of classics from Bresson to Antonioni.
Not all cities have always been so welcoming and others took time to nurture an audience.
“No one came from Bursa the first year there” recalls Emre, but repeat editions proved enormously popular with the locals.
Funding for this ambitious undertaking comes from a variety of national and regional sources as well as the fest’s fairy godmother of sorts, Norwegian oil company Statoil.