SARAJEVO, BOSNIA AND HERZEGOVINA — A Turkish film that aims to showcase the talents of five young filmmakers became a media sensation in Turkey when plans to show it at an Israeli film festival provoked controversy.
“Tales from Kars” — an omnibus of five short films set in the Turkish provincial city of Kars — was invited to the Jerusalem film festival earlier this month after it premiered at the Rotterdam festival in January.
Shot on a shoe-string budget with help from top Turkish actors and crew that included cinematographer Ozgur Eken (who shot Semih Kaplanoglu’s “Egg,” “Milk”), the film was produced by Ahmet Boyacioglu and Basak Emre, the heads of a regional film festival based in Kars, the Festival on Wheels.
With films by Ozcan Alper (“Autumn”) and Emre Akay (“Adab-i muaseret”), and debuts from Zehra Derya Koc, Ulku Oktay and Ahu Ozturk, the film was set for a gradual festival circuit release.
Boyacioglu and Emre were traveling back from the Karlovy Vary Film Festival earlier this month unaware that news of the film’s screening at the Jerusalem festival had ignited a media storm stoked by the anger of some Turks following the deaths of nine pro-Palestinian Turkish activists in May when Israeli forces stormed an aid boat trying to break a blockade off the Palestinian Gaza territory.
“The story of our film going to Jerusalem was front page news for three days; I got back to Turkey to learn that everyone involved in the film — except us its producers — had been called,” Boyacioglu told Variety.
The film, which is screening in the Focus sidebar at the Sarajevo Film Festival this week and is due to attend a host of other international festivals including Vancouver and Warsaw, had found itself at the center of a media feeding frenzy.
“We were receiving emails from groups boycotting Israel demanding that we withdraw the film — actors Meg Ryan and Dustin Hoffman had cancelled their attendance at the festival and we were being asked why we were not taking our film away,” Boyacioglu said.
Boyacioglu told Turkish newspaper Aksam that he would not withdraw the film and, although he had not been invited to attend, had that been the case he would still go.
“The situation was very similar to that in Turkey 20 years ago when the country was accused of violating human rights and people were boycotting our festivals. Just as many of our filmmakers then were totally opposed to our government, I know of many Israeli filmmakers today who are against the policies of their government,” he added.
“What would have happened if we had withdrawn our film? Something very stupid.”
In the end, the film screened to a packed audience and positive reaction in Jerusalem and the media frenzy in Turkey ran its course.
For the producers of a film designed to draw attention to the work of five young directors the limelight had not been quite what they had expected.