Ayvalık's unique film festival

Ayvalık now hosts an international film festival. The Ayvalık Film Festival, organized for the second time this October, differs from ordinary film festivals as it does not have a film competition but emphasizes discussions and workshops bringing together students from 6 universities and 4 cities.

Mehveş Evin

Ayvalık has long been known as a resort town to which Istanbul and Ankara residents flock during summer. Its Aegean architecture, cuisine, and culture as well as its balmy climate continue to lure local and foreign tourists.

Many prominent businessmen such as the Koç, Sabancı and Boyner families, as well as artists have bought second residences in Ayvalık.

What is more, Ayvalık now hosts an international film festival. The Ayvalık Film Festival, organized for the second time this October, differs from ordinary film festivals as it does not have a film competition but emphasizes discussions and workshops bringing together students from 6 universities and 4 cities.

We spoke to Azize Tan, the Project Director of Başka Sinema (Another Cinema) about the Ayvalık Film Festival and the difficulties of independent film-making.

For many years you worked with IKSV (Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts) which organized Turkey's first international film festival of Turkey, you were the film director of the festival. Was it an adventure to move to Başka Sinema?

Every change one makes after having been in one place for a long time is an adventure! I spent 20 years at IKSV. It is definitely a big part of where we are today... Başka Sinema is an independent film distribution company founded in 2013. I was following their work with appreciation. I have been working for Başka Sinema since 2016.

Isn't independent cinema very difficult in Turkey?

It's actually difficult anywhere in the world. It has become very hard to find financial resources. For independent film makers, it's more about surviving and making films, rather than making money. We have some problems like the Ministry of Culture being the only source for funding, so we can't make the films we want... Turkey also lacks access to certain funds because it's not a member of the EU. The budget goes up in the case of a joint project.

The new cinema law regulation is criticized for monopolization and censorship...

I wish the industry had arranged commercial relationships internally, rather than through a law that came from above. We should also be talking about lack of dialogue within the industry itself. A movie theater chain becoming a monopoly, deciding film distribution all by itself, these could have been prevented with a better organized industry. Başka Sinema was partially founded for these reasons.

Let's talk about Başka Sinema. How was it founded?

When there were not enough theaters to distribute Haneke's "Amour" back then, the two partners of Başka Sinema, Bir Film and Mars Production came together to create a new alternative distribution platform. This new structure was then sponsored by the Kariyo & Ababay foundation, founded by two cinema lovers. The founders are two cinephiles: Dürin Ababay and Sami Kariyo.

First they made a deal with four theaters. The potential was noticed when "Amour" reached 30 thousand ticket sales in these four theaters... That's how the independent film distribution company Başka Sinema was founded in 2013.

Başka Sinema was founded so that more alternative and independent productions could have a place within commercial circulation and be distributed to more locations and larger audiences. It started with four independent theaters in Ankara and Istanbul. As we are going through times where cinemas are being transformed by the digital era, Başka Sinema covers this cost for theaters and in return controls the schedule for three years. Because the results were satisfactory for both parties after three years, not only all four original theaters remained but new cities and cinemas were also added.

How many cities and theaters have you reached today?

As Başka Sinema, we are currently screening in 20 theaters in 7 cities around the year. Most theaters are in Istanbul and most visitors are in Istanbul and Ankara. Izmir, Bursa, Eskişehir, Diyarbakır and Konya are other cities where we have continuous screenings. There are also 17 other cities where we are not always present but where we have partnerships with theaters to organize screenings under the name "Başka Çarşamba" (Another Wednesday). At times, on these days, we reach a number of visitors that we would normally reach within a week. By hosting audiences on these Wednesdays, we create a habit. We screened over 400 films in six years and attracted close to 3.5 million visitors. The slogan is accurate: "every day is a festival to us!"

It really is, Başka Sinema has a fan base.

There is an incredibly sense of community. Cinema communities find us. They find us from Kars, Lüleburgaz, Ardahan. We are also present in Mersin, Adana, Hatay, Uşak, Manisa, Muğla, Edirne, Kocaeli, Düzce, Antalya and Trabzon. We try to be in as many cities as possible through the Başka Çarşambalar program. It's not easy for a brand to gain such a reputation within such a short time.

Do you have trouble finding theaters?

Sometimes. But we reach wider audiences by cooperating with film communities, municipalities and universities. We have screenings at Boğaziçi, Koç, Sabancı and Eskişehir Anadolu universities. We try to go to a lot of places with a small team. We created the program for UNIQ open air festival and all year round program at Bomonti Ada. When we saw that that wasn't working out, we decided to create our own film festival!

Let's start with a classic: Why Ayvalık?

First of all, in a small location, the town becomes the festival itself. No matter how much money you spend, one gets lost in the big city.

Ayvalık is an ideal location. It has incredible potential due to its architecture, history, cuisine and culture. For me the important thing is that this is an audience festival. Ayvalık has that potential. Yes there are people who have settled here coming from Istanbul but the local population is also very interested in culture and arts. It's also a very beautiful town, easily reachable. This year people arranged their yearly leave so that they could come to the festival from places like Samsun or Kaş.

We also attracted local filmmakers and guests from abroad.

Is the festival going to grow?

We don't want to turn Ayvalık into Cannes. We want Ayvalık to be known as "Ayvalık". We will have a certain number of screenings, more would be difficult to follow. One understands the value of quality over quantity.

We wanted to create a bit of a different concept. That's why we don't have a competition. Frankly, festivals in Turkey have become a little toxic.

Why toxic?

We forgot why we were organizing festivals. Premiers, competition - sometimes a film is forgotten instantly after a screening. We are trying to create a platform where films are discussed. We have planned "discussion spaces" for this. Vural theater, the only independent theater in town, was our first location.

What were the other screening locations in Ayvalık?

Owners of the Ma'adra Building, which used to be a factory, agreed to let us use it, so we turned it into our festival center and cinema. This is not common practice in Turkey. There is also a KRAFT pub across the street, an old building turned cafe bar. It's natural meeting spot day and night. We are very meticulous about technical infrastructure. We set up the whole system ourselves. Our curtains are new, sound system and projectors are rented. People have commented "We just happened to be here thinking Ayvalık is a small town, we couldn't believe the sound and image quality."

How much of the cost do ticket sales cover?

Not even a tenth of it, it's not possible without sponsors. Kariyo&Ababay Foundation (KAV) is the main sponsor, "Kültür için Alan" (Space for Culture - a joint initiative by Germany, Netherlands, Sweden and France to support culture and arts) are also significant supporters. With their help we are able to accommodate students. Last year we had students from 3, this year we had students from 6 universities. We hosted 60 students from İzmir, Istanbul, Gaziantep and Diyarbakır. We organized meetings and panels with filmmakers. Kendine Has joined us this year and it was great. The American Embassy and the Danish Culture Institute are among other contributors.

Were you able to hold open air screenings in October?

Yes, but this year the weather was chilly and rainy. We had the closing day at Cunda market square, the "Bizim İçin Şampiyon" team were there too. It was an unbelievable crowd and the enthusiasm was very high. the film was about a family from Ayvalık too. Before the festival, our August open air screenings were at an incredibly beautiful location by the sea. There was a lot of interest. Because of these I'm always looking for sponsors (laughs).

Why don't you hold a competition?

Because then the focus becomes something other than film, other matters get discussed. Filmmakers are also very happy, there is no competition pressure. Not every festival has to be the same. Ours is a different festival! The Kariya & Ababay Foundation Director of the Year prize was started by our sponsor to support films and filmmakers. This year Emin Alper won the prize with "Kız Kardeşler".

What makes Ayvalık special?

We don't have red carpets or unreachable filmmakers. We unite the film community with the audience. We intend to turn Ayvalık into a small film center. Our support and solidarity network is strong. Ayvalık Arts and Culture Education Foundation is a very important supporter. Ofis Cafe and Manzara Ayvalık are other local supporters. We hope the number of local supporters will increase.

I work with a great team. We are a small team of 10 people, festival consultant Fatih Özgüven at the helm of it. Despite all difficulties and the lack of resources, they all come up with solutions in their respective fields. Some of the team live in Ayvalık. We try to make use of all local resources possible. Of course it's a great advantage to have Başka Sinema backing the festival.

Returning to İstanbul... You are also a program consultant for the new modern art museum of the mega city, Arter. What's on the program?

With Jonas Mekas, we have started a retrospective at the end of October. He is considered the founder of American avant-garde cinema, he has works in the Arter Collection as well.

There will be film screenings every Tuesday afternoon and evenings. The films selected will be connected to current exhibitions. Until the end of February, we have selected films parallel to the "Kelimeler Pek Gereksiz / Words are Unnecessary" exhibition curated by Selen Ansen and the "Saat Kaç / What time is it?" exhibition by Emre Baykal and Eda Berkman.