By Ayşe Acar
As an Istanbul-born-raised Vancouverite who immigrated to Canada seven years ago, my favorite time of the year is coming up. No, it’s not Christmas; it’s the 10th Vancouver Turkish Film Festival. From November 24 to 26, I will lock myself into SFU Goldcorp Center and time travel to my homeland, get into the shoes of the movie characters, and wander around the beautiful streets and landscapes of Türkiye: sometimes with joy, adventure, and hope, sometimes with despair and fear.
I’ll tear off a piece of bread and dip it into my sunny side-up egg while I get a mouthful sip from my çay. I’ll hear the screams of the seagulls of Istanbul*, and they will flutter their wings in my heart. I’ll smell the mixture of seaweed, salt, and fish—the perfume of my childhood—while the Bosphorus breeze blows my hair. I will get lost in the dark, crowded streets in Beyoğlu where neon lights brighten my face. My friends are waiting for me in the meyhane where street musicians play joyful melodies of my land. After a few sips of raki, I will probably find myself dancing on the table.
I, along with thousands of British Columbia residents from Türkiye, am waiting for the Vancouver Turkish Film Festival to start to re-bond our culture and traditions in our mother tongue. The festival is also an opportunity for Canadians who want to visit Türkiye and discover Turkish culture, history, and politics but haven’t yet found the time.
But, of course, living in your country through films is not always as joyful and fun as I described above. A moment will come when seagulls in my heart fly away and leave their place silently to a dark void. Presented by the Turkish Canadian Society and co-presented with SFU Woodward’s Cultural Programs, the 10th Vancouver Turkish Film Festival covers women directors’ movies that tell women’s stories.
Festival director Eylem Sönmez reflects, “For the last 10 years, we have presented the most distinguished and award-winning films of Turkish cinema in Vancouver. This year, we are pleased to present the films of female directors such as Eylem Kaftan, Melisa Önel, Somnur Vardar, Ümran Safter, Ayşe Polat, and movies that tell women’s stories such as A Day, 365 Hours, Suddenly, Guilt, and Glass Curtain in a world where still few movies portray strong female figures and even fewer have women at the helm as director, producer, or writer.”
Watch the trailer for A Day, 365 Hours.
A Day, 365 Hours
Eylem Kaftan’s A Day, 365 Hours had its world premiere in the Documentary Competition Programme of Sarajevo. It deals with domestic violence and sexual abuse cases in Türkiye through the real story of Leyla and Reyhan, who decided to take legal action and fight against their abusive fathers. Although the movie starts like a horror movie, women’s solidarity, strength, and power warm your heart and set an example for women of how the legal mechanisms work when the victims themselves take the first step.
“Can you change your DNA?” Leyla asks Reyhan when they are chatting on the balcony of their apartment. Leyla is disgusted to be carrying her father’s flesh and blood. She disgusts herself, thinking she is his extension.
Reyhan tells her that what makes her is not her DNA but her brave, good heart. That black void in my heart lightens up and fills with hope, seeing these young women helping each other in their battle for justice.
Watch the trailer for Glass Curtain in Turkish.
Director Fikret Kaya is looking at the women of Türkiye through Glass Curtain. Nesrin is a single mother who lives with her four-year-old son and struggles with her ex-husband Ömer’s oppressive behaviour. Not only do her ex-husband and his family demand a life from her that fits their conservative norms, but the society she lives in also thinks that she can’t open up her patisserie shop as a woman, drive a car, or even choose the car she wants to buy.
Throughout the movie, I was in Nesrin’s shoes; I held my breath and felt like I was being watched and followed. According to the We Will Stop Femicide Platform, men killed 126 women in the first five months of 2023 in Türkiye, while 101 women were found dead under suspicious circumstances over the same period. I wish that the unseen “glass curtain” existed and protected women from ex-husbands and lovers who won’t hesitate to kill their so-called loved ones in the blink of an eye.
Watch the trailer for Suddenly.
Do we lose ourselves if we lose one of the primary senses in our body? One day, Reyhan wakes up with a sudden loss of smell, which happened to millions of people during COVID-19. She decides to leave her husband, deliberately going missing in Istanbul, walking her path and looking for answers in her past. In director Melisa Onel’s hands, going missing in Istanbul is not a horror story but an inspiring self-journey of a 40-year-old woman shaped around new friends, a new job, arts, music, and dance.
Other women’s stories at the 10th Vancouver Turkish Film Festival include Guilt. Director Ümran Safter works through her own experience with oppression and intimidation, which many girls in strict conservative communities face from an early age.
In, A Hesitation Wound, director Selman Nacar who studied law himself, looks through the justice system in Turkey through defence lawyer Canan’s eyes. Canan confronts herself defending a murder suspect.
Watch the trailer for Hesitation Wound.
Is geography destiny?
In Turkey, we keep saying, “geography is destiny,” meaning the unavoidable cycle of bad news, natural disasters, and economic and political crises hit and change our lives almost on a daily basis.
Are we really victims of our circumstances? Do women have to be killed in the streets, or do cities have to be knocked down with thousands of dead in a devastating earthquake? Is this our destiny, or does this mean we don’t take the actions and measures and build the regulations that every society needs to feel safe and secure? I want to return to Leyla’s question in A Day, 365 Hours: “Can we change our DNA?”
My DNA and my geography go back generations in Türkiye. Although I live in Vancouver now, I am deeply connected to my roots and people. I will continue to feel the strength, courage, joy, and pain of Turkish women in everyday life, speak up at every chance I find, and continue to hope they will be protected not by an imaginary “glass curtain” but the Istanbul Convention**, which is a human rights treaty to prevent and combat violence against women and domestic violence, itself. The Istanbul Convention can save the lives of women in Türkiye and will change the destiny of many for the better. So, let’s start with that one.
* I spoke to Melisa Onel when she came to Vancouver for the North American premiere of Suddenly at the VIFF. She told me that the soundscape of the movie was done in Germany. When it came to seagulls, Onel didn’t think that the sounds of these birds in Germany would do justice, so they recorded seagull sounds in Istanbul.
** The Istanbul Convention was opened for signatures in Istanbul in 2011. Hence, it is known as the Istanbul Convention. Türkiye played a leading role in its inception, and it was the first state to sign and ratify it. All EU Member States have signed it. In 2021, Türkiye became the first and only country to withdraw from the convention after denouncing it on March 20, 2021. Following its denunciation, the convention ceased to be effective in Türkiye on July 1, 2021. The government justified its decision with spurious claims that the Istanbul Convention was being used to “normalize homosexuality” and that, as such, it was “incompatible with Türkiye’s social and family values”.
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.
Ayşe Acar is the festival’s communications coordinator. She’s also a journalist and author of Anneee! Anne Oluyorum! (Mooom! I’m becoming a mom!) and “Kanadalılaştıramadıklarımızdan mısınız? (Not Canadian Enough?).