Moviegoers attend the first film festival in Istanbul to highlight Kurdish cinema. Photo: Rudaw
ISTANBUL, Turkey – For the first time, Istanbul is hosting a film festival where tens of Kurdish movies will be screened. Some of the films feature the oppression of former Turkish governments and others tackle social issues of Kurds around the world.
“It is very exciting to come to Istanbul for the first time to the festival,” Iranian Kurdish director Kaveh Moeinfar told Rudaw.
He noted the achievement of the festival that is gathering Kurdish actors, directors, and producers from around the world.
Mezopotamya Cinema Collective is sponsoring the festival that kicked off on Wednesday and will continue through Sunday, screening
about 30 movies.
Kurdish movies have frequently been restricted in Turkey in the past, especially those that touch on politics.
One of the movies being shown at the festival, 14 Temmuz
, tells the story of Kurds and leftists held and tortured in Diyarbakir prison after a 1980 military coup. The Kurdish prisoners were forced to say, “Happy is the one who says I am a Turk.”
A group of the prisoners went on a hunger strike.
A screening of the film was banned in Sulaimani late last year.
The festival is unprecedented in Turkey.
“Due to the political situation of Turkey, such a big festival has not been possible in Bakur,” actor Nazmi Kirik told Rudaw, referring to Kurdish provinces in southeastern Turkey.
After 2014 local elections, Kurdish mayors tried to promote the language and culture. Most of the officials were ousted and replaced by pro-government trustees after the coup attempt of July 2016. Signs and place names in Kurdish were removed or replaced.
“They wanted to hold it in Amed [Diyarbakir] once, but because the government controlled our municipalities, it did not take place. This is the first time in Istanbul, so it makes us nervous. As a Kurdish actor, I am very happy for it,” Kirik added.
Millions of Kurds live in Istanbul, the metropolis Kurdish director Hasim Aydemir calls “the city which encompasses the majority of Kurds.”
Aydemir described the festival as a “very big step,” hoping for better things in the future.
The festival will not conclude with an award ceremony, reportedly because of government restrictions.
Friday – International Women’s Day – will feature films directed by women.
Bad Hunter tells the story of a girl who is accused by her family of extramarital sex. It was produced in Kurdistan Region’s Duhok province.
Other movies tackle the ban on Kurdish language. The documentary A School in Every House tells the story of people who want to be educated in their mother-tongue, but are not allowed.
Turkey is under fire for its repression of freedom of expression. Amnesty International noted that people “widely practiced self-censorship” out of fear of losing their jobs or facing prosecution on “trumped-up terrorism-related charges.”
Human Rights Watch notes that Kurdish media is under particular stress, “obstructing critical reporting from the southeast of the country.”