The Vancouver Turkish Film Festival (VTFF), screening at VIFF Vancity Theatre November 25-27, is back for its third season, and Artistic Director Hakan Burcuoglu promises it’s their best line up yet.
This year, the festival received funding from the Turkish Ministry of Culture, allowing Hakan and his team to expand the scope of their film selections and guest invitations. This means audiences will have access to Q&As with a few the film’s stars, and they’ll have a chance to meet Turkey’s top chef, Maksut Askar, who will be giving a speech about Turkish gastronomy on opening night before the Gala film “The Turkish Way.”
Whether you’re a true cinephile, or you’re interested in exploring the POVs of other cultures, the benefits of attending, and therefore supporting, the VTFF cannot be overstated. This festival was initiated by Hakan, a VFS Film Production grad, who wanted to bring the exceptional and unique Turkish film culture to Vancouver audiences. It’s a chance to watch incredible films and support a truly great initiative.
We had a chance to ask Hakan about the festival, what’s going on with his own filmmaking project, and details on how to attend the festival. Enjoy!
What inspired you to initiate the VTFF festival?
Hakan: I moved to Canada in 2003 for university and haven’t lived in Turkey ever since. Around the time I left Turkey for Canada, after an almost twenty-year hiatus, the Turkish film industry had just started picking up—an exciting new wave of young directors were coming out of the woodwork.
I lived in many different countries growing up and Turkish films, naturally, helped curb my longing for home. My parents were always afraid that I’d lose my Turkish, so they’d pop in an old VHS tape from time to time. They were classics—great films!—but films that didn’t quite resonate with members of my generation. As I grew older, it became harder to relate to these type of films.
Now, it’s a different story. The Turkish film [as well as television] industry is in full bloom, witnessing its own renaissance. There’s never been a better time for Turkish filmmakers, or filmgoers. The box office success of [mainstream] homegrown films is astonishingly high, but more importantly, Turkish art cinema continues to garner lots of attention on the international stage, in major festivals like Cannes, Berlin, Venice, Sarajevo, and more recently at TIFF.
Although Turkish cinema has had an affinity for minimalism, this, in fact, has been its blessing in disguise—it’s the universality of the subject matter and stories, the relevance of the themes being probed that resonate with an international audience.
The world is a better place with Turkish cinema in it, and it’s this proliferation, coupled by its successes, that motivates our team year after year to share the best of our cinema with Vancouver cinephiles.
In addition to being the AD of the Vancouver Turkish Film Festival (VTFF), you were recently shortlisted for the MPPIA Short Film Pitch at the Whistler Film Festival – congrats! Can you tell us about your film?
Hakan: Thank you.
The last time I’d directed a film was four years ago. Since then I’ve been preoccupied with filming more corporate, freelance stuff, which doesn’t necessarily feed the soul. Organizing VTFF also takes up a lot of my time.
I can’t say I’m a prolific filmmaker but when I decide to pursue a story, it definitely has to be something I’m personally invested in and very passionate about.
My film that got chosen as a finalist for the MPPIA award at Whistler is called ‘BREAD’, and it chronicles the day in the life of Fiona—a stoic, resilient young woman taking care of her bedridden husband, living in the confines of a mobile home in the BC wilderness. Fiona’s deaf and there’s pretty much no dialogue in the film. I’ve been doing lots of research into deaf culture and I am mesmerized by the prospect of working with a deaf actor. I want to do justice to her character.
I’ve been obsessively contemplating, for many years now, what constitutes good story and also, what stories are conducive to the genre of short film. Many shorts I watch these days seem more like stepping stones to feature-length projects, rather than honouring the genre of short film.
I’ve written many screenplays which have never seen the light of day, but as I get older, I find myself subtracting and simplifying—which, for me, is feeling more to be the essence of cinema. For me, that’s the hardest thing to do.
Why should people come out and support the VTFF?
Hakan: It’s been an upsetting couple of years for Turkey and Turkish people. It’s always these turbulent times however that serves as the most conducive to auteurs. Turkish artists don’t fool around—they’ve got no time for fluff. The subject matter is pretty hardcore and they approach it in a very direct way. The spirit of artistry is commendable, second to none.
So, to answer your question, in light of what’s been going on in Turkey, Turkish filmmakers are bringing to the forefront their most evocative works that are sure to resonate with audiences here. Turkish art cinema is a cinema of reflection—a mirror onto ourselves. If you want to know how Turkish people are feeling, it’s all in the characters’ faces. Just come and witness it. We need the love now, more than ever.
What are some of the films being featured this year? Do you have a favourite? If yes, which one?
Hakan: This is the strongest line-up we’ve ever had. We watched over 50 films to narrow our selection down to 9. It’s difficult because you always need to make critical choices.
My favourite film of the line-up is “Cold of Kalandar.” It’s Turkey’s 2017 submission to the OSCARS. It’s a film of epic proportions. Shot over four seasons with immense production challenges, it’s a survival story of a family living in isolation, on the idyllic hills of Turkey’s northern Black Sea region. It’s a cinematographic masterpiece that draws out tour-de-force performances from its entire cast, especially star [non-actor] Haydar Şişman, who’ll be in attendance for an intimate Q&A.
Another gem is “Blue Bicycle” which recently swept the International Antalya Film Festival—Turkey’s largest—winning Best Film, Best Director, and Best Screenplay. It’s set in picturesque, rural Anatolia, and tells the story of 12-year-old Ali—an endearing pupil who masterminds an underground campaign to reinstate Elif—his flame—as class representative in defiance of the school’s stern headmaster. Essentially, it’s the beguiling tale of a young boy's fight for justice. Actress/Producer/Cowriter Nursen Çetin Köreken will be joining us for a Q&A, talking about her experiences on making the film.
Coincidentally, this year is one of legendary auteurs and the EMBER by Helmer Zeki Demirkubuz is definitely not one for the faint of heart. A psychological slow-burner that delves into themes such as guilt, shame, and hypocrisy, Demirkubuz meticulously navigates familiar territory that culminates in a critique of modern day Turkish society. Masterfully photographed in chiaroscuro, Ember is a must see for the sincere cinephile.
This is the VTFF’s third year of operation. How has it grown from previous years? What’s new/different?
Hakan: Our bread and butter has always been the film curation, and this year I think we’ve done our best job ever. I’m a filmmaker with a marketing background, hence I have a pulse on what’s going on in Turkey and the world, and have a strong sense of what resonates with film-going audiences here. Linda Gallo, our Creative Director, is a huge film and literature buff and we’ve had this great synergy working together in organizing this event year after year. It’s very addictive actually. We argue a lot about the film selection process.
This year, for the first time, we’ve received direct funding from the Turkish Ministry of Culture. It’s important because this funding allows us to increase the scope of the event by inviting more guests in the ultimate hope of bridging the Canadian-Turkish artistic gap.
We’re bringing three special guests to VTFF this year: Actress Nursen Koreken of “Blue Bicycle”, Star of “Cold of Kalandar” Haydar Sisman, and the most exciting chef in Turkey today, Maksut Askar, of Istanbul’s prized Neolokal. Maksut will be giving a speech on the past, present, and future of Turkish gastronomy on our opening night before the delightful Gala film “The Turkish Way.”
The Prime Minister recently penned a letter in support of the VTFF. What does it mean to you — and for the festival — to receive that kind of acknowledgement?
Hakan: We were all smiles the day we received Prime Minister Trudeau’s letter—it was quite surreal, and made us very happy, very proud. His acknowledgement of our festival and validation of our efforts means a lot to myself, our committee, and I’m sure to the Turkish community as a whole.
Where do you see the VTFF in five years?
Hakan: A job interview question!
I’ll be frank—it depends on Turkish filmmakers, as well as Vancouver audiences. As long as Turkish filmmakers tackle important issues of relevance in their subject matter, employing their quintessential, reactionary artistic spirit, the cinema will always warrant an audience.
Our vision is to bridge the Canadian-Turkish artistic gap, and I think we’re doing great at that so far. Personally, I’d love to feature more Turkish-Canadian filmmakers in our line-up. There’s some solid talent there, which we’re looking into.
I’d also like to see more of a Turkish contingent at VIFF. They’re our biggest community partner and it's a pleasure to be cooperating with an organization of their stature. In light of VTFF’s successes (and the subsequent success of Turkish titles at VIFF), I suspect that they may have more Turkish flavours in their line-up next year.
What do you hope audiences take away from their experience attending the festival?
Hakan: Many people in the Western world have a residual bias of Turkey and Turkish culture. Our cinema is the best outlet to show those people that they are dead wrong.
Turkey’s a country of 80 million people with different backgrounds, ethnicities, cultures, religions—a crossroads of civilizations which is vividly reflected in its cinema. The cinema is as diverse as the population. Just take a look at this year’s line-up.
The animated film BAD CAT is a good one to explain this—It’s the most profane, vulgar, graphic animated picture I’ve ever seen. It makes Sausage Party look PG. Also gives any PIXAR flick a run for its money. One hundred percent Turkish, made by the creatives at Istanbul’s anima studios. People need to see this kind of variety (and production quality) coming out of Turkey. These are exciting times! A breath of fresh air!
What are the details for those interested in attending the festival?
Hakan: The 3rd Annual Vancouver Turkish Film Festival takes place at VIFF Vancity Theatre November 25 - 27. Tickets are available through viff.org and our official web page. For more details, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram!