German-Turkish film festival defies the odds

The Film Festival Turkey Germany kicks off this year without any financial backing from Turkey. Ankara withdrew funding at the last minute from an event that it seems to perceive as far too critical.

The bad news came just a few weeks before the start of the festival on Friday.

Without naming a reason, the Turkish Culture Ministry dropped its financial backing, which in the past amounted to up to €60,000 ($74,400). Last year, Turkey had already cancelled the subsidies retroactively, so the news of a complete withdrawal this year didn't come as a total surprise, festival director Adil Kaya told DW.

Financial backing from the German Foreign Ministry, the Goethe-Institut, the Robert Bosch Foundation and the State of Bavaria helped make sure that the 23rd edition of the Film Festival Turkey Germany could nevertheless take place as planned from March 9 to March 18, 2018.

Read more: Turkey: State broadcaster censors music

Plakat 23. Filmfestival Türkei Deutschland

Film lovers can look forward to 43 movies

No interest in intercultural dialogue

The Turkish Culture Ministry's stance is probably "too national," says Kaya, adding that Turkey is currently not very interested in intercultural dialogue but is focused on national cultural content.

In times of crisis in particular, events that keep cultural dialogue up and running are important, the festival director argues. "At least the German side continues to see it that way."

Read more: We must speak up for free expression in Turkey

The cancellation comes at a time of tension between Germany and Turkey, where policies have become increasingly nationalist under President Erdogan. It is difficult for filmmakers to express themselves in Turkey these days, Kaya says, adding that many are frightened. That's why they come to Germany. "They need these festivals in order to breathe."

The festival director says Turkish film directors have become more cautious, and often let deceased cultural leaders speak for them. This year, the festival presents documentaries on Turkish writer Yasar Kemal (1923-2015) and film director Yilmaz Guney (1937-1984) — both don't mince words in the films.

Over the next 10 days, the festival will show 43 films — short films, documentaries, feature films. Most reflect on the world we live in, says Frank Becher, a curator and member of the festival's management. The films are political, he adds, "even if they don't seem to be about politics at a first glance."

Film Das deutsche Kind

The protagonists face controversy and prejudice in the film "The German Child"

Becher is aware that the 2018 festival mirrors the current political and social situation in Turkey, including restrictions on the freedom of opinion and democracy — "a freedom that today, many of the artists presented at the festival over the years can only dream of, be it for economic or political reasons."

Related Subjects

Christian Petzold's "Transit," which just premiered at the Berlin Film Festival, is one of the 10 feature films presented in Nuremberg this year. Some films focus on refugees, escape and displacement, others on German-Turkish relations, prejudices, and the life of a young girl in eastern Turkey.

Financial backing from the German Foreign Ministry, the Goethe-Institut, the Robert Bosch Foundation and the State of Bavaria helped make sure that the 23rd edition of the Film Festival Turkey Germany could nevertheless take place as planned from March 9 to March 18, 2018.

Read more: Elif Safak tells writers how to support democracy in Turkey and the world

Filmfestival Türkei Deutschland Ehrenpreisträger Halil Ergün

Turkish actor Halil Ergun studied political science before he became an actor

Honorary prize for Volker Schlöndorff and Halil Ergun

The festival kicks off with an honorary prize for two champions of German and Turkish film: Oscar-winning director Volker Schlöndorff is honored for a lifetime of cinematic works marked by "great intercultural understanding."

Halil Ergun is portrayed as "one of Turkey's most creative actors" who reinvented himself again and again over his 40-year career and was always much admired by the audience even when he played in critical productions.

"He was the audience's conscience, always a critical voice with a courageous political attitude based on adhering to democratic principles," according to Kaya, who concludes that the homage to Halil Ergun is clearly a message in the present context.


The Böhmermann affair

March 31, 2016: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan filed charges against German comedian and satirist Jan Böhmermann over his "defamatory poem" about the Turkish leader. German prosecutors eventually dropped the charges on October 4, 2016, but the case sparked a diplomatic row between Berlin and Ankara.


German lawmakers pass resolution to recognize 1915 Armenian Genocide

June 2, 2016: The resolution passed almost unanimously. In response, Turkey recalled its ambassador in Berlin and Germany's Turkish community held protests in several German cities. Turkey had repeatedly criticized the use of the term genocide to describe the Ottoman-era Armenian killings, arguing that the number of deaths had been inflated, and that Turkish Muslims also perished in the violence.


Tensions following failed coup in Turkey

July 15, 2016: A faction of the Turkish military tried to overthrow President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, but ultimately failed. Ankara accused Berlin of not taking a clear stand against the coup attempt or not doing anything about exiled preacher Fethullah Gulen's organization, who Erdogan blames for orchestrating the failed coup.


Germany criticizes post-coup purge

Immediately following the attempted coup, Turkish authorities purged the army and judiciary, detaining thousands of people. The purge expanded to include civil servants, university officials and teachers. German politicians criticize the detentions. Turkish diplomats, academics and military members fled the country and applied for asylum in Germany.


Kurdish rallies in Cologne

Erdogan's post-coup crackdown has also been condemned by Kurdish protesters at several mass demonstrations in the west German city of Cologne. Often the rallies have called for the release of Abdullah Ocalan, the jailed leader of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which Turkey considers to be a terror group. Ankara has accused Berlin of not doing enough to stop PKK activities.


Arrest of German citizens in Turkey

February 14, 2017: Deniz Yücel, a correspondent for the "Welt" newspaper, was taken into custody in Turkey. Other German nationals, including journalist Mesale Tolu and human rights activist Peter Steudtner were detained in Turkey for what Berlin dubbed "political reasons." Turkey accused them of supporting terrorist organizations. All three have since been released pending trial.


Germany bans Turkish referendum rallies

March 2017: A number of German localities blocked Turkish ministers from holding rallies in their districts ahead of an April referendum in Turkey to enhance President Erdogan's powers. The Turkish leader then accused Germany of using "Nazi tactics" against Turkish citizens in Germany and visiting Turkish lawmakers. German leaders were not amused by the jibe, saying Erdogan had gone too far.


Spying allegations

March 30, 2017: Germany accused Turkey of spying on hundreds of suspected Gulen supporters as well as over 200 associations and schools linked to the Gulen movement in Germany. Turkish asylum-seekers have since accused officials working in Germany's immigration authority (BAMF) of passing on their information to media outlets with ties to the Turkish government.


Erdogan urges German-Turks not to vote for 'enemies of Turkey'

August 18, 2017: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan slammed three of Germany's main political parties as "enemies of Turkey" and told Turks living in Germany not to vote for them in September's general election. He singled out Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU), the Social Democrats (SPD), and the Greens. Merkel said Erdogan was "meddling" in Germany's election.


Merkel says Turkey should not become EU member

September 4, 2017: German Chancellor Angela Merkel said during an election debate that she didn't think Turkey should become a member of the European Union and said she would speak with other EU leaders about ending Ankara's accession talks. In October, she backed a move to cut Turkey's pre-accession EU funds.


Turkey's military offensive in Afrin

January 20, 2018: The Turkish military and their Syrian rebel allies launched "Operation Olive Branch" against the Kurdish-held enclave of Afrin in northern Syria. The move was criticized by German politicians and prompted large protests by Kurdish communities in Germany.


Journalist Deniz Yücel released from prison

February 16, 2018: Turkey ordered the release of German-Turkish journalist Deniz Yücel after he'd been held for over a year without charge. According to Turkish state media, Yücel was released on bail from pre-trial detention. Prosecutors asked for an 18-year jail sentence for Yücel on charges of "terror propaganda" and incitement.


Özil quits

July 2018: German footballer Mesut Özil quit the national team following the fallout from his meeting with the Turkish president. Özil said he was being made a scapegoat for Germany's forgettable performance at the FIFA World Cup in Moscow because of his Turkish heritage. Erdogan praised Özil's decision and slammed the "racist" mistreatment of the footballer.


Travel ban lifted

August 2018: A Turkish court removed the travel ban on German journalist Mesale Tolu, who was arrested last year on terrorism-related charges. But the trial against Tolu, who has since returned to Germany, is set to continue. Her husband, Suat Corlu, who is facing similar charges, has been ordered to remain in Turkey.