11th European Film »Festival on Wheels« — Bursa Turkey

By all counts, the Turkish-sponsored »Festival on Wheels« — aka »European Film Festival« — is a unique event on the film calendar. Picture a festival that runs twenty days in four successive cities across the length and breadth of Turkey. For those hearty enough to join this cross-country caravan, the 11th Festival on Wheels (11-30 November 2005) begins in the capital city of Ankara (November 11-17), where festival director Ahmet Boyacioglu maintains an office at the Ankara Cinema Association. Six days later, it moves on to Bursa (November 18-24) in the northwest, the first capital of the Ottoman Turks back in 1320. At this juncture, again a six-day stopover, the festival becomes an international event (for the second year in a row). For the foreign guests this means a picturesque drive down from the Istanbul Airport to a ferry-boat crossing the Sea of Marmara, then on to a five-star thermal hotel in Bursa aptly called the »Kervansaray« (read »caravanserai«).

Afterwards, those guests with a yen for more sightseeing were invited to board a plane and fly off to Kars, a city in northeastern Turkey near the border to Armenia. There, the Festival on Wheels celebrated another three days of movie magic (November 25-27) — enhanced by the presence of Turkish cult director Zeki Demirkubuz (Fate, Confession, The Waiting Room) shooting the last scenes for his new film. Then the entourage flew back across the entire breadth of Turkey to Izmir (historically Smyrna) on the Aegean coast. One cannot imagine a better place to wrap a festival (November 25-30) than in Izmir, one of the oldest cities in the Mediterranean world. It also happens to be the birthplace of the late great Henri Langlois (1914-1977), the pioneer of film preservation and cofounder-director of the Cinémathèque Française. Jacques Richard»s Le Fantôme d'Henri Langlois (Henri Langlois: The Phantom of the Cinematheque) made a monumental documentary tribute to the person and the cinematheque.

When I asked Ahmet Boyacioglu at my own stopover in Bursa why on earth he would want to program such a far-flung film festival, he gave a direct answer: »Because it’s fun!« Coming from a doctor who gave up surgery for cinema, it has to be taken at face value. In other words, said Ahmet, »those typical twelve-day festivals in Cannes, Venice, and Berlin are simply too short. Just when you are beginning to enjoy yourself, the fun is over!«

The more you listen to Ahmet, the more you see things his way. Back in 1995, when was programming the Ankara International Film Festival, he approached some film buffs in the European embassies to help him spread the word beyond just the Turkish capital. The response was enthusiastic, Overnight, the »European Film Festival« was born. In the years to follow, the nicknamed »Festival on Wheels« went to Istanbul, Izmir, and Eskisehir, then to Bursa and Kars. Year by year, with the help of sponsors, the budget grew to a healthy cushion of circa $ 150,000. Asked how his small staff at the Ankara Cinema Association (the trio of Ahmet Boyacioglu, Basak Emre, and Berival Dural) could coordinate the whole affair, he credits the mass of volunteers wherever the festival goes.

But there’s more to the story than just that. The »Festival on Wheels« thrives on tributes, retrospectives, restored prints (12 to date), shorts and documentaries, its own subtitling system, a circulating archive of Turkish classics and popular hits on video and DVD, and a series of book publications on the cinema. Ahmet Boyacioglu takes pride in another roadshow of his own making: »Ten Best Turkish Films,« a collection of new and restored prints. Programmed successfully at the 2004 Karlovy Vary International Film Festival, the package of Turkish film classics includes a trio of films by the legendary Yilmaz Güney (1937-1984): Zeki Ökten’s Sürü (The Herd) (1978), scripted and produced by Güney; Umut (Hope) (1970), scripted, directed, and starring Güney; and Serif Gören’s Yol (The Way) (1982, Golden Palm Cannes), scripted and storyboarded by Güney. The seven other »Best Turkish Films« number Metin Erksan’s Susuz Yaz (Dry Summer) (1964). Lüfti Ömer Akad’s Gelin (The Bride) (1973), Atif Yilmaz’s Selvi boylum al yazmalim (The Girl with the Red Scarf) (1977), Ömer Kavur’s Anayurt oteli (Hotel Motherland) (1986), Zeki Demirkubuz’s Masumiyet (Innocence) (1997), and Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s Uzak (Distant) (2002).

As for this year’s European Film Festival, it opened in Ankara with a special screening of Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin (USSR, 1926) with live orchestral accompaniment by the Baskent University Orchestra. The late great Ömer Kavur (1944-2005), whose Encounter premiered in the competition at the 2004 Cannes festival, was remembered in a memorial. The »Cinema & Anarchy« retrospective featured Dadaist classics by Jean Vigo, Man Ray, René Clair, and Emak Bakia. Italian screenwriter Tonino Guerra was honored as »the poet of the cinema« in a book publication for his collaboration with Michelangelo Antonioni (La notte, 1961), Francesco Rosi (Il caso Mattei, 1972), the Taviani Brothers (Chaos, 1984), and Federico Fellini (Ginger e Fred, 1986).

One rainy day, we were treated to an excursion to Iznit, historically Nicaea, on the banks of a picturesque lake. It was here in 325 AD that Emperor Constantine presided over the Council of Nicaea, the first general council of the Christian Church, at which the Nicene Creed of religious beliefs was formulated. Nicaea/Iznit is not much of a tourist attraction today, but this is where 212 bishops knocked heads over a way to slot on the church calendar a moveable feastday for Easter Sunday. »The first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox« goes the formula — a compromise vote, church historians say, to settle an ongoing dispute among the feuding patriarchs in Syria, Egypt, and Rome. But you won’t find that historical riddle unraveled in Dan Brown»s The Da Vinci Code.

Ron Holloway