Sayed Abdel-Meguid , Tuesday 5 Apr 2022

After a two-year hiatus because of Covid, the Istanbul Film Festival is back, reports Sayed Abdel-Meguid from Istanbul

The Last Birds of Passage
The Last Birds of Passage

For 10 days starting tomorrow, the 41st round Istanbul Film Festival is being held at its usual time – late March to mid April – for the first time in two year. With Covid still cause for concern, the 41st Istanbul Film Festival will invove precautionary measures such as social distancing at the seven movie theatres where screenings are held, regular sanitisation and mandatory masks.

According to Görgün Taner, the head of the Culture and Art Centre known by its acronym IKSV, it is an event “we badly need, for through its films we can look forward to spring”. Many film lovers are eager to reconnect with the silver screen for films from all over the world that they only see on this annual occasion. According to the festival administration, in 14 sections, the programme includes 135 fiction and 22 short films representing 43 country. They include new work by major directors and classics that have made a mark on cinematic memory.

In its 17th round, the three-day Bridge section (15-16 April) will continue to endorse cultural and generational exchange as well as provide opportunities for coproduction, training and networking by bringing together producers, directors and screenwriters. The Bridge spotlights new and experimental approaches and developing projects through workshops as well as providing technical and financial grants.

Ironically, on the first day of the festival, two films decrying Russia and US, respectively, are being shown. The Ukranian documentary Reflection, written, directed and photographed by Valentyn Vasyanovych (winner of the Gold Tulip, Istanbul’s grand prize, for his 2020 Atlantis), was made a good year before the war but seems to foresee it by focusing on Russian violence and abuse in Donbas.

The opening film, Andreas Dresen’s Rabiye Kurnaz vs George W Bush – a German-French coproduction – revolves around a woman named Rabiye, who is struggling to secure the release of her son held on trumped up charges in Guantanamo. The film had its world premiere last year at the Berlinale where it won the a best actress (Meltem Kaptan), best screenplay and FIPRESCI award.

Another Ukraine-focused film, Elie Grappe’s Olga, is about a 15-year-old Ukrainian Olympic champion exiled to Switzerland, where she was forced to abandon her dream of a gold medal following the Orange Revolution.

Of the International Competition’s 10 films this year, the Brazilian film Mariner of the Mountains, directed and cowritten (with Murilo Hauser) by Karim Aïnouz, has an Algerian theme. The American film Land of Dreams is by two woman directors of Iranian descent, Shirin Neshat and Shoja Azari. Ukraine is competing with Rhino, a German-Polish coproduction written and directed by Oleh Sentsov. The jury is headed by the Norwegian filmmaker Ben Hamer, and brings together the Romanian filmmaker Radu Muntean, the French producer Marie-Ange Luciani, the Iranian filmmaker Ali Asgari and the Italian director of the Venice Film Festival Gaia Furrer.

In the Festival Selections section, Hany Abu-Assad’s Huda’s Salon, a Palestinian-Egyptian coproduction with music by Jeffrey Van Rossum is being screened alongside the German-Iraqi-Qatari coproduction The Exam, directed and cowritten (with Mohamed Reza Gohari) by Shawkat Amin.

The section named Mined Zone, which is made up of unusual, experimental, technically and stylistically pioneering fare, this year includes 13 long and three short films revolving around the theme of horror as part of a project funded by the British Academic Research Fund.

The festival is celebrating the great Italian filmmaker Sergio Leone (1929-1989), the producer and screenwriter as well as director credited with inventing the spaghetti western in mid-1960s Europe. Seven of his films including The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966), cowritten with Luciano Vincenzoni, Agenore Incrocci and Furio Scarpelli and starring Clint Eastwood together with Lee Van Cleef and Eli Wallach.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 7 April, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.

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