As the global count of coronavirus (COVID-19) cases tops 200,000 and Turkey announces its first two deaths from the virus, the country’s major cities are slowly turning into ghost towns. On March 17, Turkey’s Interior Ministry announced that cinemas, theaters, and other venues would be temporarily closed alongside cafes, restaurants, bars, and nightclubs.
While many people are still (for now) required to go work and many streets remain packed with grocery shoppers, Turkey’s usually thriving artistic and cultural scene has been brought down to a whisper. For those with the luxury or necessity of self-quarantine, artists and event organizers are trying their best to bring the arts directly into people’s homes. Or more accurately, to their computer screens.
Art lovers across the world can now digitally visit the Metropolitan Museum, British Museum, Louvre, Musei Vaticani, National Gallery of Art, and many other museums and galleries. Similarly, the New York Metropolitan Opera and the Berliner Philharmoniker are live-streaming performances for free. Turkish venues have followed suit, with the independent playhouse Kumbaracı50 streaming theater performances every weekday from 8:30 to 10:00 pm on their YouTube channel.
For those attempting to stay home and flatten the curve through social isolation, perhaps the art form best suited to being transferred online is cinema. Aside from the International Documentary Filmfestival Amsterdam, Queens World Film Festival, and Glasgow Short Film Festival, Turkey-based film festivals have also organized digital screenings.
On March 16, the International Filmmor Women’s Film Festival was set to celebrate its 18th anniversary. Since 2003, Filmmor has traveled to 26 cities screening a total of 859 films. On March 12, the organizers announced the festival would be “postponed as a precaution to prevent the spread of Covid-19, declared as a pandemic by WHO.” Yet they decided to keep the show going through an online format. Every day at 4:00 pm, Filmmor makes a film from its 2020 catalog available online for 24 hours.
If you’re already tired of binging the typical Netflix offerings, Filmmor’s selections bring stimulating and important content straight to your living room.
Their first online screening on March 14 was Women’s Rebellion (İsyan-ı Nisvan), a 2008 documentary by Melek Özman, a co-producer of the festival. The film narrates the growth of Turkey’s modern feminist movement in the 1970s.
On March 15, I had the pleasure of watching another Melek Özman documentary, 70-80-90 / Innocent, Insolent, Enticing (Masum Küstah Fettan), which shows the dark side of Yeşilçam, Turkey’s mid-century film industry. With clips from cult films from the 1950s to the 1980s and interviews with actors and directors from that period, the documentary challenges the harmful and repetitive stereotypes of women that marred the industry whilst describing the actors who attempted to subvert its misogyny. The film also introduced me to the both fantastic and offensive 1967 film Sözde Kızlar (So-Called Girls, based on a Peyami Safa novel), which shows Turkish teens listening to rock ‘n’ roll and losing their minds in the vein of Blackboard Jungle.
The cinematic offering on March 16th took a more historical turn with the short films of Alice Guy-Blaché: a French director born in 1873 who produced the first fiction film in cinematic history. Filmmor also made available her fascinating 1906 film The Consequences of Feminism / In The Year 2000, which time-travels to a future world ruled by women.
March 17 was a heavy evening, as Filmmor presented A. Ayben Altunç’s Eylül’ün Kadın Yüzleri (2014), a documentary narrating the period of the 12 September 1980 coup from the perspective of women who survived it. Historical footage and interviews with 32 women (including Oya Baydar, Sevim Belli, Gaye Boralıoğlu, Melike Demirağ, Ayşegül Devecioğlu, Gültan Kışanak, and Melek Ulagay Taylan) form the backbone of the film. They describe women’s active role in the left-wing social movements of the 1960s and 1970s, critique the sexism they faced from their male comrades, and then describe in painful detail the torture and abuse women activists experienced in the aftermath of the 1980 coup, during which thousands of people were arrested, 50 executed, upwards of 300 murdered in custody or disappeared, and 30,000 sent into exile. The film also describes how the military regime destroyed Turkey’s artistic life.
Throughout March, Filmmor will continue to make available a variety of local and foreign documentaries and feature films. While not every film can legally be streamed in this format, the festival catalog promises many more stimulating selections. The organizers are also conducting interviews with some of the directors which are shown live on the Filmmor Instagram account. (One shortcoming of moving the festival online is that not every film or interview is uploaded with the English subtitles that the festival is normally so fastidious about including.)
Being able to enjoy a film festival from the safety of your living room is a comforting prospect. Beyond Filmmor, the KuirFest (Queer Fest) festival will also begin screening its films online beginning on March 22. For quality commentary on some of the most-discussed movies of the day, the critics at FilmLoverss are also live-streaming their roundtables.
While “meeting” online cannot be the same as meeting in person, it is heartening to see that event organizers are facing the challenges of this global crisis with the means at their disposal. Let’s just hope that with so many people at home streaming, the Internet holds out. A recent comment from the general manager of Türk Telekom recommended that subscribers not “unnecessarily increase their web traffic” and “avoid sharing videos.” In such desperate times, that’s unlikely!