Balık Arts has been inundated with film submissions for its four-day Turkish film festival in September. The Cambridge-based film charity received an astonishing 1,469 submissions from filmmakers hopeful of being included in the official selection for this year’s Taste of Anatolia – Films from Turkey.
Festival Director Yeşim Güzelpınar said the application process had been “free to make it accessible for more filmmakers”, which has led to submissions “from all around the world.” As a result, she and her selection team now have “an incredibly diverse range of films to choose from.”
Launched in 2018 and now in its third year, after a year’s enforced break due to the pandemic, Taste of Anatolia – Films from Turkey (TOA) is the UK’s only independent Turkish film festival.
Its patrons include Turkish acting legend Kadir İnanır, actress Selda Alkor and actor Cengiz Bozkurt – himself a former Balık Arts tutor, British actor Bhasker Patel, singer Çiğdem Aslan, producer Ahmet Baydar, and Cambridge academician and politician, the Baroness Julie Smith.
This year’s festival will run entirely online from 2nd to 5th September, with all films – a mixture of feature films, shorts and documentaries – free to watch for registered viewers. The programme will be announced next month.
The demise of the long-running and highly popular London Turkish Film Festival due to a lack of financial support means TOA has become an even more important cultural event for people from Turkey and North Cyprus in Britain.
The festival aims to give the UK’s Turkish-speaking communities, estimated to be at least half-a-million large, “greater visibility and voice”, claiming that they are often “overlooked and denied a cultural presence in the British mainstream”.
Since its inception, TOA’s selection of films from Turkey has sought to bring a real insight into the complexity of the country, its peoples and cultures to audiences in the East of England and beyond. It is also seeking “to challenge the negative misconceptions about the country.”
“Few in Britain” the TOA press release claims, “appreciate the ethnic mosaic of Turkey, which includes Turks, Kurds, Laz, Circassian, Greeks, Armenians, Arabs, and Turkish Cypriots, each with their own distinct cultures, languages and faiths.”
Alongside the diverse people and rich cultures of Turkey, TOA films also showcase the country’s striking geography, from big cities such as Istanbul and Adana, to its Aegean and Mediterranean coastlines, the Black Sea Highlands and Anatolian plains.
Perhaps most significantly, the festival has also acquired a strong reputation for its bold programming, shining a spotlight on vital themes: political protest, crime, alternative lifestyles, youth culture, class, migration, refugees, religion, rural life, urbanisation, and human rights.
“Turkey has a long tradition of cinema and is home to an active independent film sector, which is sadly little known in Britain as Turkish films are rarely given public screenings outside of London, keeping filmmakers in obscurity and audiences largely ignorant,” explained Güzelpınar.
“One of Taste of Anatolia’s principal aims is to introduce British audiences to film from Turkey, so they can immerse themselves in what will be for many, exposure to a new and different culture. We also want to counter commonly held stereotypes and misconceptions about the country,” she continued.
Having taken “the difficult decision to screen all films online” this year, TOA’s organisers are offsetting the disappointment of not having any physical interaction for audiences and filmmakers by ensuring the virtual film festival is open to a bigger audience. All films on the 2021 programme can be watched across the UK, with many also available to viewers worldwide.
One of the big success stories of the British Turkish community in the new millennium, Balık Arts has been quietly making an impact on the film scene for the past 15 years.
Initially established in North London to help young people from the Turkish-speaking communities integrate in Britain using film the charity, led by Güzelpınar, has broadened its remit to engage all young people through a mixture of transnational film projects around heritage and identity.
These projects have enabled young British people to engage with their peers in Cyprus, Turkey, Italy, and Germany, with upcoming projects including the Caribbean.
Balık Arts’ expertise in Turkish film culture and management continues to be eagerly sought out. A decade ago, they helped the London Turkish Film Festival expand from a small North London community festival to a red carpet gala event in the West End.
In 2014, they initiated the Golden Island International Film Festival in North Cyprus, and later this year, the team will launch the first international film festival in Yozgat, in central Anatolia.
Balık Arts also curates Turkish films for the Dhaka International Film Festival in Bangladesh and Cambridge Film Festival. They have also collaborated with the Watersprite Student Film Festival, the Sochi International Film Festival, Rainbow Film Festival and East End Film Festival for joint screenings, jury work, programming, and workshops.