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Istanbul Film Festival Innovation and inspiration in Istanbul

RITA DI SANTO reports from the Bosphorus on a film festival triumphing against the odds

GERMAN film director Valeska Grisebach’s Western carried off the Golden Tulip top prize at this year’s Istanbul Film Festival.

Focusing on a group of German workers tackling a demanding job in the Bulgarian countryside, it's the story of how working in a foreign country awakens the men's sense of adventure and it also explores how they confront their own prejudice and mistrust in a film merging landscape and character with unforgettable power.

The jury prize went to Nelson Carlo de los Santos Arias’s Cocote, about a gardener who returns to his home town for his father’s funeral after he was brutally murdered. A profound film about religion, class conflict, violence and revenge, it introduces a powerful voice in new Latin America cinema.

The top award in the national competition went to Vuslat Saracoglu’s Debt. It tells the story of Tufan who, when his next-door neighbour falls ill, takes her into his home to look after her.

Hugely empathetic, it's not a flawless film, but it holds the attention throughout.

Best first feature prize went to Banu Sivaci’s The Pigeon, a sensitive and intelligent work about a young man and the birds in in his dovecote, directed with skill and precision.

Another remarkable Turkish debut was Tuzdan Kaide’s Pillar of Salt. With an all-woman cast, it centres on a 30-year-old woman’s search for her sister. The narrative leaves space for multiple interpretation as it moves into surrealistic territory in a blend of horror, ghost story and romanticism.

Idiosyncratic, and provocative, it's a powerful study of womanhood and kinship, evoking Von Trier, Antonioni, Godard, Weerasethakul and Mungiu. A debut film that's already a cult.

It's undeniable that the Turkish authorities are trying to create their own partisan agenda in the film industry, as they have already done with the media, and each film screened in the festival had to have approval from the government.

But the liberal-minded Turks who packed the screenings in Istanbul have never needed the festival more. Every year it searches long and hard for Turkish film-makers whose work will be shown alongside their international contemporaries and the last thing a country with a struggling democracy needs is to shut down its cultural life.

While it's true that the films at the festival have to gain the approval of the censors, this makes the impact of their creativity against the odds even stronger.

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