Antalya Golden Orange Festival: 50 Years of Films, Fiscal Fights and Politics

Kirmizi Hali Oguz - H 2013

Kirmizi Hali Oguz - H 2013

Turkey's most important film festival celebrates a half century of survival, despite the odds.

ANTALYA – When the 50th International Antalya Golden Orange Film festival closes on Friday with a big gala and $320,000 in prize money changing hands, it can look back on half a century of excellence in Turkish cinema -- but also on one of its most cash-starved editions in recent years.

The reason for this dearth of funds has very little to do with the world-economy and nothing to do with art. As Mustafa Akaydin -- the mayor of Antalya and thus president of the city's film festival -- explains, it has everything to do with politics.

"We get no support at all (from the Turkish government),” Akaydin says. “(It's just) shortages and limitations -- organized by the government.”

Akaydin points to the numbers: in 2008, when the festival was run by a mayor from the same political party -- the AKP -- as the Turkish national government, the festival's budget was $14 million, including  $3.4 million from the ministry of culture and other government funds. When Akaydin, a member of the opposition party CHP, took over, funding dried up. This year, federal government support added up to just $125,000.

"This is the style of democracy that is being lived in Turkey,” says Akaydin, whose municipality had to make up the shortfall. They even managed to increase the award money for best feature debut at the festival from $27,500 to $50,000.

But the cuts have had an effect. There were few international stars at this year's event and a distinct lack of the lavish parties that characterized past editions.

"Outside Turkey, the Golden Orange festival is not as well known as Cannes, Berlin or Karlovy Vary," Akaydin said, explaining why, to attract celebrities in the past, the fest used to pay for VIPs to attend. "Most of those guys, I don’t want to name names, came to Antalya for lots of money, at least $100,000. They stayed at the hotel and drank alcohol, but didn’t have any contact with the Antalya community. This is not my way, not my policy,” he said.

There were a few famous faces at Antalya's anniversary edition. Oscar-winning Iranian director Asghar Farhadi (A Separation) attended and the 50th anniversary was a who's-who of Turkey’s acting-royalty. Dozens of stars from the country’s cinematic golden age received lifetime achievement awards on Saturday.

Two of those veterans --  actress Isik Yenersu and director Serif Goren -- used the ceremony to speak out against the current political climate in Turkey and show their solidarity with anti-government protests that started in Istanbul’s Taskim square this May.

"Resistance is everywhere,” said Yenersu, paraphrasing the slogan of the Taksim movement. Goren, whose drama Yol (1982), won Cannes' Palme d'Or, took the stage wearing a T-shirt bearing the anarchist symbol of a circled A and spoke out against censorship.

"I’m not supporting that sort of behavior,” mayor Akaydin said, before giving a mischievous smile and adding: “but it can happen.”

The future of the Antalya festival, like its past, will be shaped by politics. Akaydin is up for re-election. If his AKP opponent wins, the festival can probably count on substantial support from the federal government and, perhaps, a return to earlier, free-spending ways. Ever the politician, Akaydin refuses to speculate.

"I’m not sure. Let’s wait and see. In a democracy like Turkey,  politics are very important – even in the arts.”