2014 was a memorable year for Turkish cinema; Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s Winter Sleep snagged the Palme d’Or, the most prestigious prize at the Cannes Film Festival. This year, Vancouver’s Vancity Theatre will host the inaugural Vancouver Turkish Film Festival, which runs from January 23-25, showcasing fourteen films–the best that Turkish cinema has to offer–from surreal tales for obsessive cineastes to gritty, urban adventures for the city-dwelling film lover. Zouch editor Shazia Hafiz Ramji caught up with Hakan Burcuoglu, director and co-founder of VTFF to learn more about the films at VTFF:

Why did you decide to create the first Vancouver Turkish Film Festival?

VTFF-WEB-left-side-date-110A Turkish Film Festival in Vancouver has been a long time coming. We had organized a Turkish Film Event in 2012 to “test the waters” and it was a great success. The amazing response and turn-out really encouraged us to think about executing this on a much larger scale in the hopes of showcasing Turkish cinema in a larger venue like Vancity Theatre and in front of a much larger audience.

As cineastes and avid cinephiles, our main source of inspiration has always been Turkish movies. Coincidentally, 2014 has been one of the most internationally successful and prolific years for Turkish films. As we celebrate the 100th year of Turkish Cinema, 2014 also constitutes another milestone, in the form of a Palme d’Or for Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s Winter Sleepthe highest accolade awarded to a Turkish film director since Yilmaz Güney’s Yol was the Palme d’Or winner in 1982.

In this regard, the arrival of the 1st Annual Vancouver Turkish Film Festival (VTFF) coincides, one might say, with the reignited, golden era of Turkish Cinema. It is evident that the time is ripe, and the atmosphere conducive, to hosting a film event of this caliber in Vancouver—a city full of film lovers of all kinds.

How would you describe the identity of the VTFF?

VTFF has deemed it a mission to showcase the best Turkish Cinema has to offer to Vancouverites—no matter what genre or form. Apart from the obvious goal of promoting Turkish art & culture, we also want to kick start the commencement of constructing artistic ties between Turkey and Canada.

The inaugural year is of paramount importance. I think we have a solid, internationally acclaimed line-up of great Turkish movies ranging from short films to documentaries, and mainstream films to those art house films every cinephile reveres. The idea is for VTFF to be of a perpetual nature and eventually become (hopefully) a yearly staple on the city’s arts calendar.

At last year’s VIFF, the line up for Winter Sleep was three blocks long! Please share your thoughts on the enthusiasm for Winter Sleep.

I was there and I actually counted 5 blocks 🙂 All kidding aside, it was a very proud moment for me (and for many other Turkish people, I presume). It was the highest accolade any Turkish film won in my lifetime since I wasn’t yet born when Yilmaz Guney received the Palme d’Or in ’82 for his film Yol.

Still from Winter Sleep

Still from Winter Sleep

Winter Sleep was the cherry that topped Turkish Cinema’s centennial. I’m sure the film instilled positive things about Turkish cinema in people’s minds here, and our only hope is for that excitement and buzz to carry over to our Festival. The energy in the crowd that night (and all throughout VIFF) gave us all a lot of hope for the potential turn out for VTFF.

What are some of your favourite Turkish films?

Eskiya (Bandit) – Dir: Yavuz Turgul

Muhsin bey (Mr. Mushin) – Dir: Yavuz Turgul

Hersey Cok Guzel Olacak (Everything’s Going to be Alright) – Dir: Omer Vargi

Arabesk (Arabesque) – Dir: Ertem Egilmez

Yol (The Road) – Dir: Yilmaz Guney / Serif Goren

Once Upon a Time in Anatolia – Dir: Nuri Bilge Ceylan

Zugurt Aga – Dir: Nesli Colgecen

Duvara Karsi (Head-On) – Dir: Fatih Akin

Yellow Mercedes – Dir: Tunc Okan

Kac Para Kac – Dir: Reha Erdem

Cogunluk (Majority) – Dir: Seren Yuce

Thou Gild’st The Even – Dir: Onur Unlu (At VTFF)

Are there any debut filmmakers and films at the VTFF?

Kaan Mujdeci brings dynamism and a very fresh perspective to the Turkish art house scene with his debut feature Sivas, fresh out of Venice, having won the Special Jury Prize. Director Ali Aydin’s poignant film Mold, also his first feature, won him the “Lion of the Future” Award at last year’s Venice Film Festival.

Still from Mold, directed by Ali Aydin

Still from Mold, directed by Ali Aydin

Tell us a bit about the art house films offered at VTFF, including shorts, and films that offer marginalized perspectives.

What excites us very much is the selection of internationally acclaimed art films, which have garnered many accolades in the international festival circuit this past year. We’re especially looking forward to people coming out for the VTFF Venice and Cannes Showcases.

Headlining our VTFF Venice Showcase is Sivas (Dir. Kaan Mujdeci), a starkly photographed, electrifying film chronicling the relationship between a young village boy and his majestic fighter dog in Eastern Turkey. Sivas not only clinched the Special Jury Award Prize at the 71st Venice Film Festival, but also won the 9-year-old non-actor Dogan Izci the Premio Bastio D’Oro award for Best Male Actor. (Going to the film’s premiere at Venice was the boy’s first time outside his village, let alone on an airplane!)

As part of the VTFF Cannes Showcase, Palme d’Or-winning short film Silent (Dir. Rezan Yesilbas) makes its Canadian debut alongside two other acclaimed Turkish Shorts.

Other internationally acclaimed art films include auteur director Reha Erdem’s genre- defying Singing Women and Ali Aydin’s Venice-certified poignant film Mold. A special mention needs to be made for Thou Gild’st the Even, written and directed by Turkey’s enfant terrible, Onur Ünlü. Widely acclaimed as one of the most daring and unorthodox films to ever emerge from the Turkish film scene, Thou Gild’st the Even is a fantastically surreal fable depicting the existential ennui of the superpower possessing residents of a rural Aegean town. The film centers on Cemal, a chronically anxious young man who falls deeply in love with the beguiling Yasemin after a failed suicide attempt. Laden with a heavy Shakespearean influence that imbues magical realism into quotidian life, and bearing intense outbursts of sporadic violence that may even put Tarantino to shame(!), this film is a true cinematic gift to the sincere cinephile! If you’re a film student—it’s a MUST see film!

Trailer for Singing Women:

Headlining our Cannes Showcase is Silent which won the Palme d’Or in the short film category at the 65th Cannes Film Festival. It chronicles a day in the life of a Kurdish woman who pays a visit to her husband in prison. It’s a very strong film that portrays the oppression witnessed by Kurdish minorities in Turkey, especially in the 1980s.

The LGBT-themed My Child features the struggles that parents of LGBT individuals have had to face in a predominantly Muslim (albeit secular) country like Turkey. Director Can Candan has told us that the film’s been received very well in Turkey and we would like to follow suit by drawing particular attention to LGBT and Queer associations in Vancouver!

What are some films you’re hoping will remain memorable after the festival has wrapped up?

Thou Gild’st the Even The most shocking/charming/surreal/interesting film to ever come out of Turkey. It will shock you. When I said we’re not defined by our stereotypes, and that we wanted to surprise Vancouver, this movie came to my rescue.

Sivas Provocative, raw, hardcore, dynamic. The director’s all kinds of nuts and I like it, not to mention the cinematography is second-to-none.

My Child This film gives me tremendous hope that people are sticking together and that one day we can just all accept each other’s differences.

Butterfly’s Dream Turkey’s official Oscar submission for last year, it’s the most expensive film to ever get made in Turkey. In this regard, it’s already a milestone. It’s heartfelt, and the most accessible film in our line-up. It’s a film I’m proud to showcase at VTFF. The score by renowned composer Rahman Altin is insanely beautiful.

Why is Coming Soon the Gala film?

Coming_Soon at VTFF

Everyone in Turkey reveres Cem Yilmaz—the writer, director and protagonist of Coming Soon. I grew up reading his caricatures, watching his stand-up shows and comedies. For lack of a better comparison, he’s practically the Robin Williams of Turkey. In my opinion, he’s a world-class humorist. Coming Soon is a very charming film that is his love letter to Turkish Cinema and all the veterans who are a part of it—so what better way to launch the first-ever Vancouver Turkish Film Festival!

On first glance, the film Sivas brings to my mind Ken Loach’s film Kes. Would you say they are similar?

I can definitely see the resemblance. Apart from the protagonists being troubled young boys who find a sense of solace in their caring for an animal, that sense of stark realism omnipresent in Loach’s cinema definitely reigns in Sivas. Sivas is not for the faint-hearted but is a must see for the avid cinephile. As I mentioned earlier, the performance of Dogan Izci, the 9-year old non-actor village boy (who won the Premio Bastio D’Oro Prize for Best Actor) is mind-blowing.


Still from Mold, directed by Ali Aydin

The stills from Mold are breathtaking. I could frame them! What kind of person do you think would love this film?

I think this film plays to the heartstrings of those who may have lost someone very dear to them. It’s about never losing hope. Apart from that I just think it’s a very well made film—a “small” story that resonates on a universal level.

Thanks for talking with Zouch, Hakan, and see you at VTFF!