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Istanbul Festival Cancels Competition After Government Bans Doc ‘North’

At a press conference Monday, April 13, Istanbul Festival director Azize Tan was joined by representatives from the fest’s juries in announcing the cancellation of this year’s International, National and National Documentary competitions as a response to the Ministry of Culture’s effective banning of the out-of-competition docu “North,” directed by Cayan Demirel and Ertugrul Mavioglu. The move comes at a time when freedom of expression is a top concern for many in Turkey.

The public screening of “North,” which follows the lives of Kurdish PKK guerrillas in three different camps in the Kurdish region of northern Turkey, was called off on April 12 after the Ministry told the fest that the pic was not eligible to screen because it lacked a formal registration certificate. A law pertaining to films produced in Turkey states that they need such a certificate in order to be screened at festivals. However, given that the Istanbul fest had already screened several other Turkish films without certificates, many at the festival felt that the implementation of the law where “North” is concerned had more to do with its subject matter and is a mere pretext for preventing it from being seen.

As word of the scrapping of the “North” screening spread, members of the Turkish industry met to decide on their response. Many local producers refused to screen their films in solidarity with the “North” team. Instead, they meet with audiences in the lighted theaters and held discussions.

At today’s press conference, Tan and her colleagues called for an end to the law requiring official registration certificates and for a concerted response from the Turkish film industry regarding the Ministry of Culture’s intervention. By cancelling the competitions of the 34th Istanbul film festival, they aim to show that the entire Turkish industry is standing together in opposing censorship of their works and fighting for freedom of expression. Tan summed up by noting that it was a sad occasion, but also an opportunity to press for an end result that would enable all films to be shown freely.

Turkish filmmakers will hold a public meeting April 14 in front of the Atlas Theater in Beyoglu to further discuss these issues.

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