"The heart of Turkish Cinema": An interview with Antalya Film Festival Artistic Director Başak Emre

As she gets ready to kick off the 58th edition of the festival in Turkey on October 2nd, MIME caught up with Başak Emre for an insightful talk about Turkish cinema, the role of the festival in its landscape and being a woman at the helm.
"The heart of Turkish Cinema": An interview with Antalya Film Festival Artistic Director Başak Emre

Başak Emre is a producer, a festival curator as well as the Artistic Director of the Antalya Golden Orange Film Festival, also known as the Antalya International Film Festival. The event has been held in the beautiful city, on the Mediterranean southern coast of Turkey, since 1963.

We wanted to catch up with Emre as the opening day of Turkey's longest running festival is fast approaching.

What made you want to take over as Artistic Director of Antalya Film Festival?

We have been organizing film festivals, film weeks for 30 years with my professional partner Ahmet Boyacıoğlu. On 2019, when the new mayor of the Municipality of Antalya, Muhittin Böcek, contacted us to take over the Festival, we thought it was an honour to take on the direction of the Antalya Film Festival which is Turkey’s oldest and most prestigious film event. Before we came into the picture, some political turbulence was felt in Antalya; the national competitions were banned and the Turkish cinema professionals boycotted the festival’s 2017 and 2018 editions. Our first action as new head of the festival was to reinstate the national feature, documentary and short competitions. “Return to the Roots” was our mantra. Then our first year became a celebration. Our opening ceremony was held with the attendance of 10.000 people.

Your background is as a producer, but you also are the Director of Festival on Wheels, a wonderful initiative which since 1995 has been bringing cinema to audiences that didn’t have a chance to watch movies before this. What do you bring from that to Antalya FF?

Festival On Wheels is like my baby. We created it together with Ahmet Boyacioglu. It is such a great excitement to bring cinema where there was a serious lack thereof. Some cities where we were organizing the festival did not even have cinemas. So people there are more excited to see us than in the big cities. This always gave me the enthusiasm to continue. We tried to bring the spirit of the Festival on Wheels to Antalya, trying to be closer with the audience and guests, trying to create an atmosphere where the soul of the festival can be felt. We also created the Golden Orange Film School for university students who mostly come from Anatolian cities. This was a project that had worked very well in Festival on Wheels. We believe that we have managed to bring the enthusiastic and dynamic soul of the Festival on Wheels and its close and loyal relationship with its audience to Antalya. This very soul makes it possible for the celebration of cinema to become a festivity, and at its very core lies the nourishment of its audience.

"In a sense, watching films is to get to know and immerse myself in human stories from all over the world"

What have been the lessons learned running Festival on Wheels?

The Festival is a dynamic organization, you are learning something new in every edition. The most important thing I learned from the Festival on Wheels is that you have to love your job. And I do. To be in direct contact with the audience, to observe and fulfill the direct needs of the audiences, to enjoy the different reactions of people to the same films in different cities, to manage to work efficiently with less people, to create miracles with low budgets, to make good friends after each festival…

Additionally our years with the Festival on Wheels have shown us that there is a great divide in cultural access between regions and even cities. At times we have experienced the indifference of local and central governments towards this issue despite the enthusiasm shown by the audience. Unfortunately culture and access to cultural events is not perceived as a part of development. We are a team that has personally witnessed the cost this perception has on the people.

And how has Antalya held up to your expectations since 2019 when you joined them?

Antalya is really more than a festival. It is the heart of Turkish Cinema, we are aware that we have a big responsibility. The pandemic has indeed affected us as well, though we were able to organize the festival. There are of course limitations; as we are only able to use the open-air cinemas we had to downsize our program and invite a limited number of guests. However, despite these limitations, Antalya has become once again a renowned international festival where industry professionals can come together. We strongly believe that this identity will only grow stronger once the pandemic is over. 

Do you think as a woman, one of the few who is an Artistic Director of a festival at the moment, you bring a certain point of view? What are the advantages of being a woman in this field?

I always liked and preferred to work with women. The new crew of Antalya is made up of 80% women. This year in our international competition out of ten films, five are directed by women. Personally I strongly believe that the existence of women in any organization is very motivational for other women. They become a part of it or take similar career paths as well. The juries, awards and competitions will become less "contentious," the more women there are in certain positions within the industry. Similarly, women can reverse the trend of conservatism in the cultural field. 

What do you believe are the biggest misconceptions about Turkish cinema to those who haven’t had a chance to watch a lot of it?

There was a perception that Turkish cinema was divorced from social and political discourse, and this was indeed not completely wrong. However, for a long time now, there is a trend that films focus again on the problems of the "common people" and create striking and minimalistic stories out of them. There is an emerging new generation of directors. They often transgress the boundaries between documentary and fiction. Therefore, new documentary films are often as exciting as the fiction features.  

What is the greatest gift of cinema?

I find myself very lucky to be doing what I am doing. When I tell people that I am watching films everyday and this is my job, some people cannot comprehend it. The joy of bringing cinema to people, to touch them somehow has been what enabled me to go on for 30 years in this business. I also like to meet my friends from cinema, to exchange ideas. In a sense, watching films is to get to know and immerse myself in human stories from all over the world. This is the most precious gift that cinema can give us.

And what do you wish to accomplish with this edition of the festival?

Last year after the first peak of the pandemic, Antalya was the first festival where the Turkish Industry came together again and it had a healing effect on everyone. For the first time, after deep isolation, we came together, we watched films together and we talked about cinema. We want to continue that spirit at this year’s edition.

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