The world is awash in film festivals. Filmfestivals.com reckons that there are around 6,000. Los Angeles alone has around 50. Some are quite substantial, like Film Independent’s Los Angeles Film Festival, showing dozens of domestic and international films over two weeks. Others are smaller, more specialized, “boutique” affairs—perhaps even stretching the notion of “festival” a bit.
One of these less-well-known-than-they-ought-to-be jewels is the South East European Film Festival. SEEFest focuses on a corner of the world off the beaten track of well-known cinematic centers—the countries of the Balkan Peninsula and surroundings. This year the festival presented shorts, features and documentaries from and about Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Greece, Hungary, Montenegro, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, and Turkey.
Turkey? Is that in the Balkans? Well, yes—western Istanbul and a bit of Thracian real estate constitute European Turkey.
SEEFest’s closing night gala at UCLA’s James Bridges Theater on May 7 was devoted to two Turkish films. The first was a clever documentary, Coffee Futures (Neyse Halim Çiksin Falim). Apparently Turks read coffee grounds rather than tea leaves. We’re talking about thick Turkish coffee, which leaves a satisfying, gooey residual to interpret. The director, Zeynep Devrim Gürsel, spoke to a lot of fortune tellers who assured her that they don’t really believe that stuff—It’s a conversation starter, we just tell each other what we want to hear—but it seems like they’re taking it pretty seriously. They give Gursel romantic advice, but with skillful editing it becomes the story of Turkey’s 50-year courtship first of the European Economic Community (EEC), and then the European Union (EU). A playful, wryly humorous film.
This was followed by the serious, sometimes slow-moving Future Lasts Forever (Gelecek Uzun Sürer), directed by Özcan Alper. Sumru, a doctoral student in ethnomusicology travels from Istanbul to Diyarbakir to collect folk elegies. Diyarbakir is the urban center of Turkish Kurdistan, and Sumru becomes emotionally caught up in the conflict, as Kurdish women describe the atrocities committed by the Turks. She meets Kurds, Lazi, Armenians, all of whom show what many Turks labor to deny: that Turkey is a multi-ethnic country with minorities that deserve recognition. Turkey’s Ministry of Culture deserves credit for supporting a film so explicitly critical of the ideology of “Turkism.”
Future Lasts Forever has beautiful cinematography and fine acting, but perhaps suffers a bit from a few stretches of too much not-much-happening for some tastes. Still, an excellent film, and an excellent film festival.