New Films, New Directors: Turkey 2017

The Festival on Wheels Turkey 2017 section features four award-winning films that have made a splash at national and international festivals, three of them by first-time directors.

First-time director Onur Saylak’s More (Daha) was adapted for the screen from the novel of the same name by Hakan Günday. Set in a small seaside town on Turkey’s Aegean coast, the film deals with the struggle of a 14-year-old boy to break free from his bullying father and find his own identity. This may be essentially a father and son story, but looming large in the background is the migrant trafficking racket that both have become mixed up with. In the event, Saylak confronts us with a series of burning questions about the ‘emergency’ Syrian refugee situation and humanitarian values in general. Premiering at the Karlovy Vary Film Festival, the film came away from Turkey’s Adana Film Festival with the Yılmaz Güney, Audience and SIYAD (Turkish Film Critics’ Association) Awards, in addition to Best Film and Best Actor Awards in the national competition.

Pelin Esmer’s Something Useful (İşe Yarar Bir Şey), which she co-wrote with Barış Bıçakçı, was screened for the first time at the 2017 Istanbul Film Festival, where it picked up the FIPRESCI PRIZE. Leyla, a lawyer and poet, meets Canan, a young student nurse, on an overnight train, and their journey together ends somewhere quite different from what each was expecting. Esmer’s third feature earned Best Actress, Best Cinematography and Best Screenplay Awards at the 24th Adana Film Festival and stands out in particular for its poetic narrative and superb camera work.

Emre Yeksan’s debut film, The Gulf (Körfez), tells the story of a middle-aged man who returns to his parental home in Izmir following a bitter divorce and confronts his mysterious past; but it is also functions as an allegory of the mindset and democratic regression currently gripping Turkey. Where do people run after fire ravages a tanker anchored in the gulf? What is the stench that has everyone reaching for a gas mask and where does it come from? Well received at the Venice International Critics’ Week, the picture earned Yeksan the Special Jury Prize at this year’s Adana Film Festival, along with Best Screenplay in the national competition.

Another of the first-time films in this section comes in the shape of Fikret Reyhan’s Yellow Heat (Sarı Sıcak), which collected four awards at the Istanbul Film Festival, Best Film among them, as well as Best Director at the Moscow Film Festival. The narrative drama takes up the story of a patriarchal family who struggle to make a living through traditional farming methods while the youngest son, İbrahim, dreams of shaping his own destiny.