!f Istanbul 2015, Istanbul’s premier independent film festival, wrapped up recently at Nu Pera in Beyoğlu. It wasn’t like you would expect, if the only film award ceremonies you’ve seen are the Oscars. This was more of a fun night out at a bar with a break in the middle to recognize some very important films.
The evening started with an exciting discovery: the ceremony had an open bar. It was like waking up on Christmas morning and seeing the present you didn’t even bother asking your parents for because you just assumed you wouldn’t get it, sitting under the tree, staring you in the face. After my initial childlike delight, I settled in and listened to the opening act of traditional Turkish, Kurdish, and Armenian music. Good music was a theme running through the event — after the awards ceremony there was a DJ (and a lot of really good finger foods). The organizers definitely executed every part of the evening’s festivities very well.
Now, for the awards ceremony itself, the mood was extremely different from the rest of the night. The first award was The Audience Short Award, which went to Orhan İnce’s Adem Başaran, a film about a twelve-year-old boy who is forced to migrate in 1992 and must make some difficult choices while living in adverse living conditions. The director dedicated his award to all the children killed in past, present, and future wars. This opening acceptance speech set the tone for the next hour of the ceremony.
This solemn and powerful tone took a turn towards the sentimental when the Love & Change award was presented to Silvered Water – A Syrian Self Portrait. The film was unanimously awarded the $10,000 prize for it’s on-the-ground look at the horrors that are ongoing in Syria. Wiam Simav Bedirxan, the Syrian Kurdish co-director from Homs, tearfully accepted the award with co-director Ossama Mohammad. She said it was a film for “all of humanity.” Bedirxan was a school teacher in Homs, one of the cities hit hardest by the ongoing civil war in Syria, who was only able to escape from the city and meet Muhammad for the first time at the film’s premiere at Cannes. The film is a collection of first person accounts taken by Bedirxan and other people on camcorders and cell phones, together with reflections from Mohammad, who is living in exile from his home country.
The !f Inspired Competition winner, with a cash prize of $15,000, for the “Year’s Most Inspired Director” went to Gabriel Mascaro and his film August Winds (Ventos de Agostos). The award is given to first- or second-time filmmakers. Mascaro received the award because, according to the panel, he used captivating images and “punky sounds” to explore ordinary life in a remote part of the world. In their opinion, he created a simplistic and subtle film, “whose major strength is the creation of a dark undercurrent that outstandingly captures the tensions and uncertainties between all the living and the dead.”
The final award given out that night went to Batin Ghobadi and his film Mardan. The Turkish Film Critics Association presented the award to Ghobadi because of his film’s depiction of the complicated and painful history of the Kurdish people. To them, the film was inventively shot; Ghobadi doesn’t just show the characters as victims, he also presents a critical view of his own people and their identity, which allows the viewer to come to their own conclusions. The film follows the title character, a Peshmerga, who attempts to find a woman’s husband who has gone missing, whilst also coping with his own childhood trauma. This film was Iraq’s submission as Best Foreign Language Film at the 2015 Academy Awards.
Aside from the big winners of the night, there were many more notable films screened at the festival. Big names such as Birdman and Dear White People were shown, as well as hyped up independents like A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, an Iranian black and white vampire film that was on many critics top ten lists for 2014. Also included in the Love & Change category was the film Tarlabaşı & Me, which was shot only a few miles away from where the ceremony took place.
Overall, the ceremony was an emotional, but triumphant night for everyone involved. It seemed to point out the strife in the world, while also recognizing how people from all over are coming together to try and improve it.
David Jaques is a contributor to Yabangee