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Why is Turkey’s Antalya Golden Orange Film Festival in the midst of a censorship crisis?

The documentary Kanun Hükmü (The Decree) by Nejla Demirci was removed from the fesitval line-up, then reinstated following backlash
The documentary Kanun Hükmü (The Decree) by Nejla Demirci was removed from the fesitval line-up, then reinstated following backlash Copyright Ney Film
Copyright Ney Film
By David Mouriquand
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"It is deeply regrettable that in such an important festival, there is a possibility of using the power of art to propagate FETÖ terrorist organization propaganda under the pretext of victimization."

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Turkey’s oldest film festival, the Antalya Golden Orange Film Festival, has been thrown into turmoil after jury members resigned and filmmakers withdrew their work from the competition over accusations of censorship.

In an unprecedented move, the producers and directors of 27 entries at the Antalya Golden Orange Film Festival on Wednesday announced they were pulling out, days after 20 members of the festival jury quit over the organizers’ removal of a documentary.

Kanun Hükmü (The Decree) by Nejla Demirci focuses on two public employees, a teacher and doctor, who were dismissed from their jobs under the state of emergency imposed in Turkey following an attempted coup in 2016.

Turkey’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) government initiated a massive purge of state institutions following a coup attempt on 15 July 2016. More than 130,000 civil servants were fired from their jobs through emergency decrees. The authorities said they lost their jobs due to suspected ties to “terrorist organizations”, but critics have alleged a general crackdown against anyone viewed as opponents by the government.

Festival director Ahmet Boyacıoğlu said the documentary had been removed from the national documentary film category because of ongoing legal proceedings against one of the people featured.

“For this reason, it has been decided to exclude the film from this year’s selection in order not to affect the judicial process and impartiality,” he said.

However, Demirci said that was an “excuse” and “outright censorship.”

Ney Film
Poster for Kanun HükmüNey Film

Faced with a storm of criticism, with filmmakers calling for respect for the freedom of expression and the Free Art Assembly, which represents artists across many fields, describing the film’s exclusion as “an assault on artistic expression and creativity and a move to normalize censorship across artistic fields,” the documentary has been reinstated into the program of the Antalya Golden Orange Film Festival.

The ministry made the following statement on its social media account: "The Ministry of Culture and Tourism is dedicated to working with the vision of preserving, developing, and strengthening Turkey's cultural and artistic values. In line with this vision, it supports hundreds of cultural and artistic events held both within the country and abroad."

"One of the most significant events in the field of Turkish cinema, the 60th Antalya Golden Orange Film Festival, is currently in the process of being organized. In the documentary competition section of this festival, the documentary titled 'Kanun Hükmü' is included," continued the statement. 

"It is deeply regrettable that in such an important festival, there is a possibility of using the power of art to propagate FETÖ terrorist organization propaganda under the pretext of victimization. Our ministry will not be a part of any effort to discredit the heroic struggle our nation waged on July 15th, or to use art as a means of provocation. For this reason, we announce our withdrawal from the Antalya Golden Orange Film Festival."

Additionally, Antalya Metropolitan Municipality Mayor Muhittin Böcek issued the following statement: "For the past four years, the Antalya Metropolitan Municipality has not interfered in the formation of selection committees, the selection of juries, the content of films, or the decision of whether a film wins or not, and it will not do so in the future. The national competition category, which was previously removed from the festival's scope by the previous administration, has been reintroduced during our term with great effort and the belief in restoring the festival to its essence. This decision is the clearest indication of our stance against censorship."

The festival, which has been run since 1963 in the Mediterranean city of Antalya, is a highlight of the Turkish cultural calendar. This year it is due to run from 7 – 14 October. 

It is not yet known whether the festival will go ahead as planned or whether the filmmakers who have withdrawn their films will attend now that Kanun Hükmü has been reinstated.

Additional sources • AP

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