Turkish Film Community, Shattered by Earthquake, Says it Needs Support

The powerful magnitude 7.8 earthquake that recently struck the Turkish-Syrian border, becoming the deadliest disaster in the region’s modern history, is not reverberating much at the Berlin Film Festival.

At least not according to the co-chiefs of Turkey’s Antalya Golden Orange Film Festival.

“The festival’s opening ceremony started with Ukraine, ended with Ukraine and touched on Iran. But I don’t think they ever mentioned Turkey,” said Ahmet Boyacıoğlu, president of the fest that has historically always been the country’s prime local cinema catalyst.

The Berlinale points out that its invitation to the opening ceremony had a written appeal to make donations for the Turkish earthquake relief effort to the humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders.

“While I’m here, if a meeting doesn’t start with mention of the earthquake, I feel particularly depressed.  And unfortunately that is happening,” noted Antalya’s artistic director, Başak Emre. “And also in social media we are not feeling support.”

Not that they feel that the Turkish film community was getting lots of love from the Berlinale, and other European film festivals, even before the quake that has killed more than 43,000 people, at the latest count, and left tens of thousands homeless.

“To be honest, Europe is just not very interested in Turkey at the moment. We are somehow outsiders,” said Boyacıoğlu. He points out that in the Berlin selection there is only one Turkish film, ironically titled “Forms of Forgetting,” by experimental director Burak Çevik. He also notes that there is also “not a single Turkish jury member” at the Berlinale.  

Meanwhile, production in Turkey has practically ground to a halt as top companies have sent all their caravans and lighting equipment to the site of the earthquake, a vast swathe that comprises 10 cities in the southeast. And while government funding “was already practically nonexistent, now it will be even worse. So going forward there will be practically no opportunities for co-productions,” noted Boyacıoğlu.

Not that Turkish people are that concerned about movies right now. Boyacıoğlu, who is also a film journalist for Turkish newspaper Gazete Duvar, says his editor told him he would not be taking anything from Berlin.

“They say it’s not the proper time to write about films, festivals, parties. Newspapers don’t even have a culture page right now,” he noted. “Everything is focused on the earthquake. What’s going to happen now? The people who survived, and so forth. And this will last for a while.”

Still, Boyacıoğlu and Emre have high hopes of being able to hold the Antalya fest in October and to donate proceeds from ticket sales for earthquake relief.

On the Syrian side of the border, exiled Syrian filmmakers Talal Derki (“Of Fathers and Sons”) and Heba Khaled, who are premiering their new documentary “Under the Sky of Damascus” in Berlin, recall how they were on the phone with their co-director Ali Wajeeh when the tremors rattled his house in the Syrian capital — more than 250 miles away from the earthquake’s epicenter in Turkey.

The duo has tried to raise relief funds and awareness of the quake’s devastating toll in a country where, after more than a decade of civil war, images of death and destruction have become sadly normalized.

But among Syrians who remain deeply divided after that brutal conflict, “something united them — even if it is a disaster,” said Derki. “I wouldn’t say that this is a positive thing, but it is something that reminds us that we are all Syrians.”

This is an appeal that was read aloud during the The Equity and Inclusion Pathways Seminar held at the European Film Market. It has also been making the rounds on social media.

As you might already know, on February 6, there was a devastating earthquake that was immensely felt across Southeastern Turkey and Syria. Only in Turkey, 10 cities inhabited by more than 14 million people were affected by it. Thousands of buildings are wrecked, and thousands of people are still waiting for help. There are still problems in reaching victims and sending help to rescuers in affected areas. 

To the International Community of Filmmakers and Film Organizations:

We are in a situation of widespread mobilization of financial and in kind support. We are in great help of our international community in this process. Aside from monetary donations, we know from experience that the process of healing will take very long time. We kindly request you to be aware and stay in touch with your fellow filmmakers from Turkey. Your collaboration and cooperation will be important. Filmmaking never happened on one’s own, we are used to collective thinking. We are only stronger as long as we are together. 

Support us, and keep in touch with filmmakers from the region for anything you can do.

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