Turkey: Film festival censorship controversy and cancellations

16 April 2015


Solidarity and debate about censorship in cinema have arisen within the Turkish film industry, instigated by the culture ministry’s ban of the film ‘Bakur’ / ‘Kuzey’ (The North) at Istanbul International Film Festival.

The makers of 23 domestic Turkish films withdrew their movies from this year’s 34th İstanbul International Film Festival on 12 April 2015 to protest the removal of a documentary from the festival lineup, prompting programmers to cancel the national and international feature and national documentary competitions of the 2015 event, as well as the weekend’s awards ceremony and closing gala, in solidarity with the ‘North’ team.

On 14 April 2015, the Turkish Actors’ Union President Meltem Cumbul read a statement signed by 390 film professionals and 38 cinema institutions during a gathering at the Atlas movie theater in İstanbul. The entire theater was packed with members of the industry.

“The government has still not understood that censoring a film, a book, or a work of art does not make it go away.”
Ertugrul Mavioglu, journalist and co-director of ‘Bakur’


“Why did the Istanbul Film Festival cancel its 34th annual competition? The answer: freedom of expression.”
Ryan Lattanzio, Thompson on Hollywood


“Art cannot thrive where there’s censorship; creativity and freedom of expression cannot exist where art doesn’t exist. No one would want to live in such a country, and no one does.”
Cem Erciyes, publishing director, the Radikal daily, which sponsors an annual audience award at the festival


“What we are faced with here is an arbitrarily enforced regulation being used to prevent the screening of ‘undesired’ films.”
Azize Tan, festival director

The documentary ‘Bakur’, the first set in the camps of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in Turkey, had been scheduled to open on 12 April 2015, but was cancelled only hours before the screening after festival organisers received a letter from the Turkish ministry of culture claiming that the film did not have the required registration certificate. A law pertaining to films produced in Turkey introduced in 2004 states that all films need such a certificate in order to be screened at festivals. However, numerous films had already been screened with this particular certificate.

The organisers’ decision to comply with the ministry’s orders prompted immediate outrage. The following day, more than 100 film-makers, including the most recent laureate of the Palme d’Or in Cannes, Nuri Bilge Ceylan, published an open letter in the Turkish media, accusing the government of “oppression and censorship”.

Directors Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Erden Kıral, Tayfun Pirselimoğlu, Onur Ünlü, Reis Çelik and Yeşim Ustaoğlu, as well as the organisers of the İstanbul Independent Film Festival and the Ankara Film Festival were among those who signed the letter addressed to the ministry.

Solidarity has been expressed throughout the Turkish cinema industry, and questions regarding ways to express further solidarity and possible future action to overcome censorship are currently being debated.

» Today’s Zaman – 13 April 2015:
22 films withdrawn from İstanbul festival in censorship outcry

» The Guardian – 14 April 2015:
Film-makers withdraw from Istanbul festival in censorship protest
Dozens of Turkish directors withdraw films after documentary Bakur is removed from programme

» Today’s Zaman – 14 April 2015:
İstanbul film fest director says police visited festival offices

» Cihan – 14 April 2015:
İstanbul film fest director says police visited festival offices

Reuters – 14 April 2015:
Filmmakers pull out of Istanbul festival over censorship row

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