Films from Tuncel Kurtiz’s Years of Exile Make their First Appearance at the Festival on Wheels!

Run by the Ankara Cinema Association with the support of the Turkish Ministry of Culture & Tourism, the Festival on Wheels promises audiences at its 26th edition two hitherto unseen films from Tuncel Kurtiz’s years of exile in Sweden. Both Hair and Baby will screen in ‘Tuncel Kurtiz: Years of Exile’, a section of the Festival program sponsored by the Swedish Embassy in Ankara. The Festival will set off in Ankara from 26 November-2 December, then travel to Sinop between 3-5 December and to Kastamonu from 6-8 December.

Having drawn attention to ‘fellow traveller’, Tuncel Kurtiz’s persona as a director and producer in previous special screenings, the Festival on Wheels is now exploring his as yet undiscovered years of exile. After attending the premiere of Hope (Hope) at the Cannes Film Festival in 1971, Kurtiz chose to pursue his career in Europe, a decision that translated into enforced exile until 1993 following the 12 September 1980 military coup in Turkey. Over the course of these 22 years, which he spent in countries around Europe and further afield, the multi-talented artist put his name to dozens of notable projects. Archives at the Swedish Film Institute have Kurtiz on record as having appeared in nine films during the period in question.

Hair to screen at the Festival on Wheels for the first time in 45 years!

After an eventful mission to track down the film, the Festival on Wheels has finally got hold of a copy of Hair, in which Tuncel Kurtiz travels to almost every village from the Taurus Mountains to Central Anatolia, beginning in the village of Değirmenli, Niğde, in the autumn of 1976. The documentary, which was broadcast on Swedish Television in 1977, will now be shown for the first time in 45 years.

In an interview with Mehmed Kemal of the national daily newspaper, Republic, in 1977, Tuncel Kurtiz summed up the main theme of the film as follows: “We have seen how treasured a commodity hair is for Turkish women since the age of Homer’s epics. When a man died, his wife or lover would cut off her hair and bury it with the body of her beloved. So there is a sacred aspect to hair. Despite that, the fact of being able to sell your hair today in times of economic hardship is testament to the change in traditions and manifold sacred customs.”

Hair sets up the parallel stories of its two main characters, one a hair collector in Anatolia, the other a migrant worker who dreams of selling the hair to the Swedish market. Besides its documentary credentials, the film also merits attention for its near-fictional structure. Highlighting the desperation of young women forced by economic hardship to sell their locks, Hair should be contextualized within the ethos of 1970s cinema. Gani Turanlı takes the credit as cinematographer, while Zulfu Zivaneli composed the score.

Baby, an adaptation of the Yaşar Kemal story

The second film in Tuncel Kurtiz: Years of Exile is Baby (Baby), a piece by Barbro Karabuda, the Swedish author and director who, despite having more than 20 books and numerous television films and documentaries to her name, remains underappreciated to this day. The film was karabuda’s first adaptation of a story by her close friend, Yasar Kemal, and did much to gain international recognition for the writer, who has since been published in multiple languages around the world. Tuncel Kurtiz stars alongside Aliye Rona, Rahmi Saltuk and Tunç Okan, with Güneş Karabuda taking on the role of cinematographer.

One of the factors that makes Baby stand apart is that circumstances drove the film crew to reproduce Kemal’s world in the Algerian town of Zeralda. But equally striking are the performances given by Harriet Andersson, a name familiar from the films of Ingmar Bergman, and other Swedish stars, in particular the delivery of their lines in close to perfectly accented Turkish.

Baby tells the story of the hopeless villager, İsmail (impressively played by Tuncel Kurtiz) and his wife, Zala, who farm their own fields. When Zala dies in childbirth on her own at home, İsmail goes looking for a wet nurse to keep the baby alive, while also having to work to pay off his debt to the landowner. This Anatolian film is waiting to be rediscovered 48 years after its making.