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Identity remains at the core of the 2022 Vancouver Turkish Film Festival

Turkish-German filmmaker Cem Kaya
Turkish-German filmmaker Cem Kaya will speak at a panel discussion about representation in cinema at the SFU Goldcorp Centre for the Arts on Saturday (November 19). Photo by Cem Kaya.

Like so many people living in Canada, Nural Sümbültepe has a multiplicity of identities. She’s a schoolteacher and a film curator. In addition, Sümbültepe is a wife, mother to a Canadian daughter, a daughter-in-law to Canadians, a Turkish immigrant, and a voracious reader. She speaks Turkish fluently and teaches languages at Simon Fraser University.

But when Sümbültepe first moved to Vancouver and revealed her Turkish roots, people often brought up the Ottoman Empire.

She found this troubling. After all, Sümbültepe was born in the southern Turkish town of Alexandretta, also known as İskenderun, which has been home to people of different cultural backgrounds for centuries.

According to Sümbültepe, Alexandretta is the only municipality in Turkey with a Christian mayor. Moreover, Christians built their first church in the world in the nearby town of Antioch. She points out that many Christian and Alawite Arabs live in this part of Turkey.

“I feel like I have this burden of the Ottoman Empire on my shoulders,” Sümbültepe says. “I thought ‘Wow, this is how people decided to identify me—not as Nural, not as a person, but as someone who belongs to this big empire that died way before I was born.”

Furthermore, whenever Sümbültepe saw her hometown depicted in Turkish films and TV series, the community’s diversity was erased.

“I never saw the true representation of all those people,” she states. “They were all homogenous and Turkish and Sunni [Muslim]. And I thought ‘Why is that?’ at this day and age.”

Sümbültepe’s keen interest in identity and the diversity of Turkey has driven her to spend countless hours nurturing the Vancouver Turkish Film Festival. The ninth edition will feature two days of screenings of Turkish films at the SFU Goldcorp Centre for the Arts on Saturday (November 19) and Sunday (November 20).

Sümbültepe is the festival’s assistant director and panel coordinator. This year, she’s thrilled that the festival will present a discussion at 2 p.m. on Saturday on representation in cinema.

Vancouver Turkish Film Festival panel

Moderator specializes in media and identity

It’s moderated by SFU associate professor of global communication Adel Iskandar. Panelists include Turkish-German filmmaker Cem Kaya, actor-author-playwright Carmen Aguirre, filmmaker Baljit Sangra, and Turkish actor Belçim Bilgin.

Each speaker brings tremendous credentials to the event, which takes place at 2 p.m. on Saturday at the SFU Goldcorp Centre for the Arts.

Iskandar’s academic work, for instance, focuses on media, identity, and politics. He coauthored the well-regarded book Al-Jazeera: The Story of the Network That Is Rattling Governments and Redefining Modern Journalism.

Kaya’s newest film, Love, Deutschmarks and Death / Aşk, Mark ve Ölüm, opened the festival on September 17. It’s about previously unknown music created by Turkish guest workers in Europe.

Sümbültepe and Kaya both had fathers who endured great hardship as migrant labourers in European countries that did not provide a path to citizenship.

Meanwhile, Aguirre’s family fled to Canada to escape the Pinochet dictatorship in Chile. She’s long advocated for better representation of Latinx on-stage.

Sangra’s films, including the documentary Because We Are Girls, examine cross-cultural issues. And Bilgin is a very prolific actor who’s worked in Hollywood as well as in Turkish cinema.

“I think she’ll be talking about her ethnic background and working as a woman—and how women are represented,” Sümbültepe says.

“The whole idea came to me three years ago,” she continues. “I’ve wanted to do this because I come from a very multicultural part of Turkey on the Syrian border.”

The festival includes several award winners.

Love, Deutschmarks and Death / Aşk, Mark ve Ölüm

Directed by Cem Kaya

This documentary shows how an independent Turkish musical culture developed in Germany in the 1960s and 1970s after the arrival of guest workers in the country. It won the Panorama Audience Award at the Berlin International Film Festival.  (Opened the festival on November 17)

Burning Days / Kürak Gunler

Directed by Emin Alper

This thriller focuses on a young prosecutor appointed to a small town enmeshed in a water crisis and political turmoil. The Cannes Film Festival honoured Burning Days / Kürak Gunler with “un certain regard”. In addition, the film snared best director, best actor, and best cinematography honours at the 2022 Antalya International Film Festival. (7 p.m. Saturday)

Rabiye Kurnaz vs. George Bush / Rabiye Kurnaz George Bush’a Karşi

Directed by Andreas Dresen

This is a dramatic yet true-to-life account of a colourful Turkish mother’s struggle to free her son from the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay. It captured awards for best screenplay and best actress at the Berlin International Film Festival. (2:30 p.m. Sunday)

You Me Lenin / Sen Ben Lenin

Directed by Tufan Taştan

A small-town mayor wants to erect a statue of Vladimir Lenin to attract tourists. However, problems arise when it’s stolen. This comedic tale won a special jury prize at the Istanbul Film Festival. (5 p.m. Sunday)

The Snow and the Bear / Kar Ve Ayı

Directed by Selcen Ergun

This drama revolves around a man who disappears on a cold night. The townspeople come up with various explanations, resulting in more mystery and intrigue. It won best first film and best actress at the 2022 Antalya International Film Festival. (7 p.m. Sunday)

Pancouver advises people to wear masks inside movie theatres because COVID-19 is most often transferred via the airborne route. Follow Charlie Smith on Twitter @charliesmithvcr. Follow Pancouver on Twitter @PancouverMedia. For more information on the Vancouver Turkish Film Festival, visit the website.

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Charlie Smith

Charlie Smith

Pancouver editor Charlie Smith has worked as a Vancouver journalist in print, radio, and television for more than three decades.

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