Istanbul fest boasts talent, depth


ISTANBUL, Turkey -- Films from Turkey are the rising star of Mediterranean cinema, and the 27th International Istanbul Film Festival confirmed there is a wellspring of talent waiting to move from major film festivals to art house pick-ups.

Fests have developed admiring audiences for a range of recent titles, from delicate mood pieces like Reha Erdem's "Times and Winds" to canny parables of religious politics like Ozer Kiziltan's "A Man's Fear of God" (Takva).

Even the American majors are turning an interested eye in Turkey's direction, attracted by the country's large youth demographic and the market's growth potential. And where better to feel the pulse of local filmmaking than at the Istanbul film festival, a bustling, sunny event held in the heart of the old city. It wrapped Sunday, April 20 after screening 200 films in 15 days to a collective audience of 170,000.

For the international press and fest programrs, it came as no surprise that a Turkish film received this year's Golden Tulip from a jury led by cinematographer Michael Ballhaus, beating a field of international titles.

The winner, Semih Kaplanoglu's "Egg," is not new; it has been a popular festival item since its premiere at Cannes last May. But its poetic take on a child trying to grow up bursts with the universal appeal that makes new Turkish films so appetizing.

Winning the national competition was another charmer, "Summer Book," an adult drama seen through the eyes of a small, serious boy. This first film directed by Seyfi Teoman was unveiled at the Forum in Berlin and has been booked for a slew of international festivals.

Also grabbing attention was "My Marlon and Brando," which gingerly touches on the Kurdish issue in a funny-sad love story between a politically committed theater actress and a Kurdish smoothie who sends her love letters on videotape. After Rotterdam, it is Tribeca-bound.

Also flirting with cultural taboos is the modern-looking "Ara," inspired by Harold Pinter and headed for the Moscow festival. It focuses on two couples who exchange beds, and one man discovering he's gay.

It's interesting that Istanbul's audience award went to the same "Egg" that intrigued the international jury.

The festival, while not as rich as it once was and tormented by a competing event in Ankara, is still one of the most enjoyable Mediterranean events. A pity that the most important new films were either not ready in time for the festival or being held back for Cannes. Directors lost a golden opportunity to grab the undivided attention of foreign visitors.

We will have to look for the new films by Nuri Bilge Ceylan ("Daydreams" is on its way to Cannes), Reha Erdem, Yesim Ustaoglu and Kaplanoglu's upcoming "Milk" later in the summer.