If there were a time and place for Turkey to try to put its recent woes behind it, the splashy opening ceremony of the 53rd Antalya Intl. Film Festival signaled that – for the next week, at least – the show must go on.
Framed by two giant replicas of the festival’s golden statuettes, Antalya mayor Menderes Türel took to the stage on Sunday night, paying homage in his opening remarks to what he described as “the unifying power of art.”
“The stars of Turkish and world cinema shine from Antalya this evening,” he said.
Organizers are hoping this year’s fest can overshadow the troubling headlines of recent months in Turkey, which is still reeling from the fallout of a failed coup attempt in July.
With bright red flags flapping across the glittering capital of the Turkish Riviera, the country’s oldest festival promised to give a banner showcase to local filmmakers, with 12 Turkish features in the running for the Golden Orange, including eight by first-time helmers.
As the week unfolds, Turkish bizzers will also be focusing on efforts to turn Antalya into a hub for the growing domestic industry, with local officials courting foreign investors and jumpstarting a host of new initiatives.
“The aim is not only showing films during the festival, but supporting the production of Turkish films,” said fest director Elif Dağdeviren earlier in the week.
Three initiatives form the backbone of those efforts. The third edition of the Antalya Film Forum, which runs from Oct. 19-22, will offer a production and co-production platform for Turkish films, with 26 projects currently in the development stage expected to take part.
The Film Talent Marketing Rounds is a new initiative which offers Turkish filmmakers a chance to promote their movies to a range of TV and online buyers, distributors, and festival programmers from Turkey and around the world.
Lastly, there’s the launch of a new scriptwriting fund, which Dağdeviren says will grow into a residency for five to six scriptwriters whose films are set in Antalya.
The goal of these combined efforts, says the producer, is to offer a pipeline that will help Turkish filmmakers to develop, produce and market their films from start to finish, with the hopes of ultimately landing them on the red carpet in Antalya as they compete for the Golden Orange, as well as to premieres on the Croisette and beyond.
“We’re not only supporting films during the film festival, but before and after,” says Dağdeviren.
The concerted effort to bolster the gains of an industry whose global profile has risen in recent years comes at a time of profound uncertainty in Turkey, in the wake of a string of deadly terrorist attacks that claimed dozens of lives in Istanbul and the capital, Ankara, earlier this year.
Tensions escalated in July, when members of the armed forces attempted to seize power from President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, forcing him to address a panicky nation by calling into a live news program on FaceTime.
When thousands heeded the president’s calls to take to the streets in a show of support for the government, the coup fizzled. In the ensuing crackdown, more than 70,000 people were arrested, with critics accusing Erdoğan of using the coup as an excuse to tighten his increasingly authoritarian grip on power. The country has been in a state of emergency ever since.
At the festival’s helm, Dağdeviren has tried to steer clear of politics, insisting, “I don’t allow this to interfere with the festival. Not at all.”
Still, she says that recent events have underscored Antalya’s mission to promote “social responsibility projects using the power of cinema.”
With millions of refugees fleeing the ongoing war in neighboring Syria, putting Turkey at the heart of Europe’s refugee crisis, the festival has programmed a sidebar, People of Nowhere, with a slate of films addressing the humanitarian toll of the crisis. Another sidebar, The Sun’s Eclipse, features films about life in the aftermath of military coups, offering both a snapshot of dark periods in Turkey’s history, and a glimpse of what might have been had the July attempt succeeded, according to Dağdeviren.
The couture hardly had time to settle Sunday night before the festival offered a none too subtle reminder of the changed world lurking past the edges of the red carpet. As a rousing martial score filled the packed auditorium, a video montage paid homage to victims of the violence that erupted after July’s coup attempt.
“The pain in our hearts is still alive,” said Türel, while a Turkish flag rippled across the massive screen behind him. He later added, “Our pain is also our pride.”
With a ceremony that paid tribute to departed legends of Turkish cinema, such as iconic leading man Tarik Akan, and handed out a lifetime achievement award to screen doyenne Emel Sayın, the night offered a reminder that for all the country’s woes, Antalya is still a focal point of Turkish cinema past, present and future.
“This is what we have to protect,” said Dağdeviren. “This is the place everybody meets. This is the place we should talk about cinema.”

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