The Antalya Film Festival, which launched five decades ago to boost production of quality Turkish pics by showcasing them alongside global standouts, albeit separately, is undergoing a revamp and raising its international profile in an effort to counter the country’s current drift toward isolationism.

For its 54th edition Turkey’s most prominent film event has hired British producer and film industry expert Mike Downey as artistic director. His first move has been to merge the fest’s international and national competitions with the intention of forging greater cinematic ties with the rest of the world while also raising the overall bar.

“We are driven by three key buzzwords: global, quality and selectivity,” says Downey, who has long been active in the Balkans.

Accordingly, Antalya this year will open with the world premiere of Turkish-Bosnian co-production “Never Leave Me,” based on a true story about Syrian orphans living in a Turkish refugee camp, directed by Bosnian writer-helmer Aida Begic (“Children of Sarajevo”).

It comes as no surprise that with Turkey now hosting more than three million refugees, mostly from Syria, the global refugee crisis features in four films in the festival’s selection.

Also world-premiering is Turkish director Andac Haznedaroglu’s “The Guest,” starring Jordanian actress Saba Mubarak as a Syrian woman fleeing from war-torn Aleppo with two orphans. Pic marks the first Turkish-Jordanian co-production.

They will compete for prizes alongside Chinese artist Ai Weiwei’s global refugee doc “Human Flow” and Finnish auteur Aki Kaurismaki’s tragicomedy “The Other Side of Hope” in which a Syrian refugee, whose request for asylum in Finland is rejected, strikes an unlikely friendship with a cranky poker-playing Helsinki restaurateur.

“I think it’s very important for the festival to tune in to the global zeitgeist, especially given Turkey’s unique position between East and West … and the role Turkey is playing in the crisis,” Downey says.

Another aspect Antalya’s new artistic director is adamant about is ensuring that titles in his “highly curated” lineup be accompanied by “key creators” so that “the audience can meet the artists close up and personal,” he says.

Oscar-winning French director Michel Hazanavicius is among the talent expected to make the trek for the Turkish premiere of his Jean-Luc Godard biopic “Redoubtable,” as are Mexico’s Michel Franco for his teen pregnancy drama “April’s Daughter”; U.S. director Sean Baker for his U.S. recession social drama “The Florida Project,” along with actors Brooklynn Prince and Bria Vinaite; Georgian first-time director Ana Urushadze for her attention-grabbing drama “Scary Mother,” which has won prizes in Locarno and Sarajevo; and China’s Vivian Qu, who is bringing her dark sophomore feature “Angels Wear White,” the only entry by a female filmmaker to play in competition at the recent Venice Film Festival.

Downey, by contrast, is boasting a 50-50 gender balance in the competition section at Antalya this year, which, aside from the above titles, will also include auteur Naomi Kawase’s “Radiance,” with star Masatoshi Nagase in tow, and “Loving Vincent” for which its co-directors, Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman, are expected.

Sadly, it’s unlikely that Iranian director Mohammad Rasoulof will be able to make the trek to Turkey to present his “A Man of Integrity,” given that Iranian authorities confiscated his passport, without providing a reason, when he returned from the film’s September screening in Telluride. But the “Integrity” acting team is confirmed to attend.

Palestinian auteur Elia Suleiman (“The Time That Remains”) will preside over the jury.

Last but not least, Antalya is taking its cue from Berlin and San Sebastian by launching a culinary cinema section called Cinema and Cuisine. After each screening the audience will be treated to a meal made by a top chef, inspired by the film.

On the industry side the big novelty is that Sarajevo Film Festival director Mirsad Purivatra has joined the Antalya team as an adviser, which bodes well for the Antalya Film Forum’s efforts to boost its role as a driver for the Turkish industry in the international arena.

“The Sarajevo team are a group of consummate professionals and their CineLink experiences are particularly relevant to the Forum,” says Downey. Their previous consultancy work in Qatar with the Doha Film Institute’s Qumra incubator/workshop “has been an excellent example of sharing best practice on a regional basis,” he says.

Meet the Masters
Oscar-winning Bosnian helmer Danis Tanovic (“No Man’s Land”) will hold a masterclass complemented by screenings of four of his works, while late great Turkish auteur Omer Lutfi Akad, who directed more than 100 movies, including 1970s trilogy “The Bride,” “The Wedding” and “Blood Money,” will be celebrated with a mini-retro.

Cinema and Cuisine Section dedicated to culinary cinema docs

Luis Gonzales’ “The Turkish Way,” about Spanish master chefs the Roca Brothers travelling across Turkey; Maurice Dekkers’ “Ants on a Shrimp,” about celebrity chef Rene Redzepi; “Wasted! The Story of Food Waste” by Anna Chai and Nari Kye; and Michael Winterbottom’s “The Trip to Spain,” starring comedians Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, will unspool. After each screening a meal inspired by the film will be prepared for the audience by four different chefs.

Glam Quotient
Oscar-winning French helmer Michel Hazanavicius (“The Artist”), U.S. director Sean Baker (“The Florida Project”), Participant Media president of documentary productions Diane Weyermann (“Human Flow”), Chinese director-producer Vivian Qu (“Angels Wear White”), Japanese actor Masatoshi Nagase (“Radiance”) are all expected to make the trek to Antalya.