Filmmakers pull out of Istanbul festival over censorship row

Reuters News
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Posted: Apr 14, 2015 11:10 AM

By Can Sezer

ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Nearly two dozen filmmakers and a group of international critics have pulled out of the Istanbul Film Festival after the government prevented the screening of a film about Kurdish militants, in the latest outcry over censorship in Turkey.

At least 22 films from the roughly 200 submitted were withdrawn this week and the festival competition canceled, according to organizers, over "Kuzey/Bakur" (the Turkish and Kurdish words for "North") which documents the lives of militants from the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).

The Ministry of Culture said in a statement on Monday the film could not be shown because the producers had failed to obtain the necessary paperwork, adding that 'PKK propaganda' had no place in a democratic society.

"It is clear that both the festival organizers and film producers did not initiate the legal process required to screen the film," the ministry said.

Festival director Azize Tan said the government rarely asked for such paperwork and did not require it from foreign film filmmakers. "What we are faced with here is an arbitrarily enforced regulation being used to prevent the screening of 'undesired' films," she said.

The International Federation of Film Critics said its members would not participate in the festival's jury.

"The Ministry of Culture's censorship harms Turkish filmmakers and the festival alike," it said in a statement.

Turkey's frequent crackdowns on political expression critical of the government's position -- including on social media -- have alarmed activists.

Last week authorities blocked access to Twitter and YouTube for several hours to prevent circulation of photos of a prosecutor held hostage at gunpoint.

On Monday a Dutch journalist was acquitted by a court after being tried for disseminating "terrorist propaganda". She had been accused of posting messages on social media in favor of the PKK.

The Union of Turkish Cinema Producers said the blocking of the film was the latest example of censorship of cinema and the arts.

Shot in PKK camps in Turkey and parts of Syria and Iraq, the documentary depicts the daily life of militants.

Classified as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States and Europe, the PKK has waged a three-decade insurgency for greater autonomy for ethnic Kurds.

A 2012 peace process has brought a shaky halt to most of the hostilities, but occasional violence continues. At least five militants were killed over the weekend when they clashed with the security forces, the military has said.

"The realities of what we shot in the movie cannot be destroyed by bullying and bans," Ertugrul Mavioglu, co-director of the movie, told CNN Turk television.

First organized in 1982, the festival has introduced audiences to new filmmakers and provided a venue for local producers to establish links with international distributors.

(Additional reporting by Humeyra Pamuk; Editing by David Dolan and Raissa Kasolowsky)