The assistant director of the Vancouver Turkish Film Festival is proud that this year’s event will shine a spotlight on Turkish women. Nural Sümbültepe tells Pancouver by phone that five of the 10 films being screened from Friday (November 24) to Sunday (November 26) are directed by women.
They include Melisa Onel’s Suddenly. It’s about a 40-year-old married woman who deliberately goes missing in Istanbul. Suddenly won awards at the Vancouver International Film Festival and festivals in Rotterdam, Tokyo, and Antalya.
Another woman-directed film is Ümran Safter’s Guilt. It’s about a teen grappling with her first period who’s also being required to perform religious rites. Guilt captured the best debut film award at the Bosphorus Film Festival and special jury prize at the Adana Film Festival.
Then there is Elyem Kaftan’s A Day, 365 Hours. It’s a documentary focusing on two young women who form a bond after both suffered horrific abuse within their families. A third woman, Ayssa, is also a former victim of abuse within her family.
“Turkish women are actually quite strong women—very strong,” Sümbültepe says. “But this, unfortunately, doesn’t stop domestic abuse and violence against women.”
Sümbültepe, a B.C. teacher, will emcee the gala on the festival’s opening night. She’s pleased that the festival will showcase many films about women in light of the Turkish government’s decision to pull out of the Istanbul Convention in 2021.
“We are showing three films that deal with spousal abuse, domestic abuse, and sexual abuse,” Sümbültepe says.
Women protected by convention
Members of the Council of Europe signed the Istanbul convention in 2011. It outlined a comprehensive approach to combat gender-based violence through legislation, education, and criminal prosecution.
Sümbültepe maintains that far right wingers justified the withdrawal from this treaty by saying they needed to protect local traditions.
“I mean, how is not protecting against violence a local tradition?” Sümbültepe asks. “I don’t understand—I mean, women are forced to stay in relationships by law. They’re forced to stay in relationships with their abusers.”
When Türkiye withdrew from the Istanbul Convention, Amnesty International declared that this would put millions of women and girls at greater risk of violence. In addition, Amnesty International said that this marked the first time in history that a Council of Europe member had pulled out of an international human rights convention.
Kaftan focuses on justice for women
Sümbültepe says that violence against Turkish women has soared in the last decade. Furthermore, she insists that there are not many deterrents against perpetrators.
This is one reason why she’s inspired by A Day, 365 Hours’ focus on justice for victims of abuse.
“In Eylem Kaftan’s film, two of three mothers were quiet about the incest,” she notes. “One of the women wasn’t. So, these three women were very brave to come forward…with their own faces. I think this film is very encouraging for girls and women in the same situation.”
The festival is also presenting female director Somnur Vardar’s Drifting, which is a documentary about two young men at a construction site. The fifth female director is Ayşe Polat. Her Istanbul Film Festival best film award winner, In the Blind Spot, is a haunting drama addressing paranoia and intergenerational trauma in northeastern Türkiye.
Meanwhile, men directed two films anchored by female characters. Fikret Reyhan’s Glass Curtain focuses on a mother who’s living with her four-year-old son and juggling a relationship with pressures from an ex-husband. And Selman Nacar’s Hesitation Wound revolves around the moral choices faced by a female criminal lawyer. It’s a Zurich Film Festival feature film award winner,
The festival’s opening night film, Black Night, was made by celebrated Turkish director Özcan Alper. It won best film and best scenario at the Antalya Film Festival and best film, best director, and best actor at the Bosphorus Film Festival. In addition, Black Night was honoured with best director, special jury prize, and SIAYAD best film at the Ankara Film Festival.
Lost in Darkness addresses earthquake
The festival will also present director Can Diker’s 37-minute documentary, Lost in Darkness, about the magnitude 7.7 earthquake that killed more than 50,000 people in Türkiye in February. This film focuses on Antioch, which isn’t far from Sümbültepe’s hometown of Iskenderun (Alexandretta) in the southeastern part of the country. Antioch is where Christians built their first church in the world.
She describes Lost in Darkness as a good film, which was shot professionally. It also made use of drones and includes several interviews.
Sümbültepe has been a critical voice in Canada about what happened in Türkiye in the aftermath of the earthquake.
“Lives would have been saved if the buildings were safe and sound, if they were done according to code,” she says. “Even after the earthquake, the emergency response was extremely slow.”
Sümbültepe lost many family members in the disaster. And she says that her nephew and niece spent five days trying to find a crane to rescue some of them.
In contrast, she witnessed how quickly Turkish military officials responded to another deadly earthquake in 1999. Sümbültepe recalls that in the first three hours afterward, they had set up a kitchen and a rescue station.
“This time, it didn’t happen,” Sümbültepe states. “The government was too centralized. The military did not feel free to act… So, my family could have been rescued.”
The Turkish Canadian Society and SFU Woodward’s Cultural Programs will co-present the 10th annual Vancouver Turkish Film Festival from November 24 to 26 at the Goldcorp Centre for the Arts at SFU Woodward’s. For tickets and more information, visit the festival website. Follow Pancouver on Twitter @PancouverMedia and on Instagram @PancouverMedia.