Press: Film Review

Realist chronicle of Turkish newspaper conveys sadly undeniable truths.

One journalist’s motto, that the “truth is bulletproof,” in from writer-director Sedat Yilmaz's film about reporters covering the Turk-Kurd conflicts in the early 1990s, reveals itself to be disastrously false.

TAORMINA — The dangerous travails of journalists covering Turk-Kurd conflicts in the early 1990s are depicted with haunting sincerity in the low-budget realist drama, Press. This first feature from writer-director Sedat Yilmaz reveals the daily grind of reporters working under miserable conditions, political censure and death threats to get their stories out. Despite what was clearly a minimalist production, the film makes its message heard loud and clear. More fests beckon after a Taormina competition slot.

Less a full-blown narrative than a documentary-like portrait showing the inner workings of a small news outlet in the southern, Kurd-dominated city of Diyarbakir, Presshas a simplicity of exposition and storytelling that harks way back to post-war Neorealist Italian films, stabbing at its truths through pertinent detail, hard-nosed characters, and a backdrop of poverty and war.

Taking place predominantly in the cramped apartment-cum-newsroom of Günden(The Free Agenda), a paper chronicling government misdeeds and assassinations, the plot focuses on a wide-eyed Kurdish intern, Firhat (terrific non-pro Aram Dildar), who makes the tough climb from handyman to full-fledged reporter as his colleagues are either arrested or knocked off. Indeed, as closing titles chillingly indicate, dozens of journalists were killed during a period, which saw the Turkish military quell an uprising of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, who were fighting for a free and separate state.

Yet despite such a potent subject matter, Yilmaz never lets his characters stoop to the grandstanding of many a political movie: they are simply trying to do their job, and one journalist’s motto that the “truth is bulletproof” reveals itself to be disastrously false. Instead it’s the little things that count here, such as a broken fax machine, which becomes the team’s only way of both filing copy to Istanbul and receiving facsimiles of its banned pages, or a second-hand photo enlarger that Firhat eventually uses to blow-up pictures of a dead coworker.

The poverty of the bureau’s means is echoed by the production itself, which employs 16mm imagery and raw mono sound in a way that has been rarely utilized since the dawn of digital cameras. The crude technique allows Yilmaz and d.p. Demir Gokdemir to provide some memorable visuals, especially for sequences shot in the city’s desolate streets, though its amateurish side will make international distribution a hard sell. Like its terrorized paper, Presshas the merit of simply existing at all.

Venue: Taormina Film Festival
Production companies: Karincalar Production
Cast: Aram Dildar, Engin Emre Deger, Kadim Yasar, Sezgin Cengiz, Tayfur Aydin, Asiye Dincsoy, Bilal Bulul
Director, screenwriter, producer, editor: Sedat Yilmaz
Executive producer: Ufuk Tambas
Director of photography: Demir Gokdemir
Production designer, costume designer: Nevin Dogan
Sales: Karincalar Production
No rating, 102 minutes