03/03/2010 | Writer: Kaos GL

February 17, 2010<br />Hurriyet Daily News <br /><br />When films around the theme of gays and lesbians began to screen nine years ago in Turkey, it caused a public debate. But !f International Independent Film Festival proceeded to feature them despite some negative public reactions

Nine years ago, Turkey's first independent film festival, !f Istanbul, added a special section titled "Rainbow," highlighting the Turkish taboo on freedom of sexual expression.

Sexuality is still regarded as a taboo in Turkish society. People are still marginalized and excluded from society for their sexual preferences. When the film festival included the new category in its program shining light on alternative lifestyles, the issue created a stir in public opinion.

The films in this section were very different from others in terms of their plots, as the section aimed to bring Turkish audiences together with productions of international directors highlighting different sexual alternatives.

Despite harsh criticism from the public, the festival management did not step down. The section was expected to be followed by mostly gays and lesbians, but it has drawn interest from many festival attendants. Turkish cinema audiences have succeeded at dropping societal taboos and becoming a tolerant audience for the "Rainbow" films along with gays and lesbians.

They said it was too risky
Speaking to the Hurriyet Daily News & Economic Review, the festival's co-director Serra Ciliv said: "When we first started, lots of people told us to give up on the Rainbow theme idea. They said it was too risky."

Despite these warnings, Ciliv said festivalgoers provided the best answer. "Our audience's response was incredibly positive. The Rainbow section has been a festival staple since our first year. We felt it was important in terms of creating visibility and awareness and to help promote tolerance for different kinds of lifestyles. Turkey is changing fast; it is not just the festival. We have a young and dynamic population."

Homophobic view on different lifestyles
Speaking about the festival, Begum Bastas, a representative of Lambdaistanbul, a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender, or LGBT, solidarity association, said: "The increase of such festivals is important in terms of visibility. Audiences realize social problems thanks to these films."

Like Bastas, Ugur Yuksel, who represents the International Flying Broom Women's Festival, thinks the festival has an important role in terms of visibility. He said there was a homophobic approach to gay and lesbian films nine years ago, adding that many films could not have been screened because of this approach.

He said the situation was overcome in recent years, but problems continue. "Because of both commercial and moral principles, the only space for gay and lesbian films is festivals. But the number of these festivals that add these type of films to their program is almost nonexistent," he said, adding that the Flying Broom in Ankara and !f International Film Festival in Istanbul are doing their best. "But unfortunately Bursa and Antalya film festivals have not paid any attention to it."

Our directors hesitate
Ozcan Alper, who has won many national and international awards for his film "Sonbahar" (Autumn), pointed out another fact about gay and lesbian films in Turkey. He said Turkish directors had a different point of view on life. "Unfortunately, our directors have hesitated on some issues. There are already very few films in Turkish cinema. This is why the variety of plots is too limited."

Theater director Dilruba Saatci, who recently staged a play on the topic of transsexuals called "Uc Kurusluk Mahalle Dersleri," said she believed prejudice could be removed as high quality and sincere art products are made.

Alex Sabuncu, a citizen who does not hide his homosexual identity, said the use of gay and lesbian themes in festivals created empathy and removed prejudices to some extent. "This society should understand we are a part of this society."

Original Link of this News Article: Gay, lesbian films no longer a problem for Turkish audiences

Tags: arts and culture