Turkish Film Festival offers immersion into a country in turmoil

Doğan İzci (center) steals the show in "Sivas," part of the Seattle Turkish Film Festival this weekend.
Doğan İzci (center) steals the show in “Sivas,” part of the Seattle Turkish Film Festival this weekend.

With a forecast full of rain and no Seahawks game in sight, this weekend is perfect for a trip to the movies. But before you Fandango the closest blockbuster movie, why not consider a film about crime in Istanbul, dogfighting on the Anatolian steppes or draft-dodging during The Ottoman Empire?

The Seattle Turkish Film Festival (STFF) kicks off at Pacific Place on Friday night. Now in its third year, the festival has joined the growing constellation of country-specific film festivals offering Seattleites insight into parts of the world most often viewed on the news.

“Right now when you look at the news, you don’t get a good picture of Turkey,” says Emek Erarslan, STFF Director and a Microsoft software engineer by day. “It sounds like a place [where] you don’t want to live.”

He mentions the recent bombing in the country’s capital, Ankara, as well as a controversial election last week, as examples that might give a one-dimensional impression of his home country.

Erarslan believes that film can provide a multifaceted view of a country and its people. And the selection at this year’s festival speaks to the scope and diversity of contemporary Turkey.

The festival opens with Let’s Sin, the story of an imam forced into the middle of a murder mystery when a worshipper is shot dead during prayers. There’s also That’s The Deepest Desire about sex and love among urban elites; a moody modern day Anatolian fable in Thou Gild’st the Even; and Consequences, a contemporary film noir set in the dark streets of Istanbul.

In addition, a short film competition held by STFF and judged by local cinephiles and film critics attracted over 100 submissions from Turkish filmmakers this year. The top 12 will be screening Sunday afternoon, and the director of the first-place film, Dogus Özokutan Çiftçiolu of Random Attempts, will be in attendance.

A featured movie at the festival is the award-winning international hit Sivas.

It’s a film that follows a taciturn boy through a bleak rural landscape as he suffers cruel teachers, disloyal friends and an indifferent family, ultimately befriending a snarling fighting dog abandoned by its owner.

And while at first glance Sivas may seem specific to the Turkish experience, director Kaan Müjdeci, who is visiting Seattle for the first time as a festival guest, says it’s a universal story with themes that resonate across borders.

“This is a story of how a child turns into a man,” wrote Müjdeci in an email interview. “How a community pushes a kid to be a man not in terms of sex but in terms of the conventions of gender.”

When I asked Müjdeci how he imaged Seattle might relate to a film set so far from our own misty corner of the world, he wrote, “I believe Seattleites are not so different from other people. Sivas takes human and animal nature and [the] soul into consideration. This is an international subject.”

We may not be so different from other people, but we do have a unique appetite for film, and increasingly foreign film, Erarslan says.

He estimates that almost half of audiences at STFF aren’t Turkish. And he adds that a growing community of smaller film festivals — often supported through The Seattle International Film Festival, including Polish, ItalianSouth Asian, and Latino fests — have inspired the Turkish festival’s organizers.

“There is a good film community in Seattle. And for a person who likes film, it doesn’t matter if the film is from Turkey, the U.S. or anywhere in the world,” says Erarslan, who himself won a short film festival hosted by The Seattle Times in 2008. “They just like to see good films.”

And, anyway, that new “Hunger Games” movie isn’t out for another two weeks.


Opening gala is Friday, Nov. 6, at Pacific Place at 6:30 p.m. Movies and related events run through the weekend at various theaters around town. Find out more here.

Sarah Stuteville

Sarah Stuteville is a print and multimedia journalist. She’s a cofounder of The Seattle Globalist. Stuteville won the 2011 Sigma Delta Chi Award for magazine writing. She writes a weekly column on our region’s international connections that is shared by the Seattle Globalist and The Seattle Times and funded with a grant from Seattle International Foundation. Reach Sarah at sarah@seattleglobalist.com.