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Erden Kiral Tribute

1.  A Season in Hakkari / Erden Kiral, Turkey-Germany
2.  Conscience / Erden Kiral, Τurkey
3.  On the Fertile Lands / Erden Kiral, Turkey
4.  On the Road / Erden Kiral, Turkey-Bulgaria
5.  The Blue Exile / Erden Kiral, Germany-Turkey-Greece
6.  The Canal / Erden Kiral, Turkey
7.  The Golden Horn / Erden Kiral, Turkey
8.  The Hunter / Erden Kiral, Turkey
9.  The Mirror / Erden Kiral, Turkey-Germany

Erden Kıral. An International Turkish Filmmaker

Erden Kıral is one of the major directors in the history of Turkish cinema. He belongs to the second generation of Turkish auteurs who, influenced by Yılmaz Güney, began making films in a climate of political upheaval. Kıral’s generation – which includes Ömer Kavur, Şerif Gören, Zeki Ökten, Ali Özgentürk, et al. – contributed, during the 70s and 80s – to the development of a sociorealist tradition, critically addressing the country’s social problems, such as class inequality, social injustice, internalmigration, economic underdevelopment and the feudal, patriarchic relations of rural Turkey.
Kıral’s cinema is anthropocentric, with its own, idiosyncratic style and language. He draws on Turkish reality and literature, uses realistic, poetical and symbolic narratives, and tackles subjects such as the struggle of ordinary people to survive, the lack of development of theTurkish provinces, the resilience of feudal relations, the lot of the intellectual, and exile. Relying on his cultural heritage and sensitively conveying the sociopolitical conditions of his country, without once falling into the trap of exoticism, Kıral succeeds in addressing an international audience, thanks to the honesty of his gaze, the universality of his concerns, and the artistic integrity of his films.
Clearly influenced by hismentor, Yılmaz Güney, his two first films are unequivocally left leaning. Based on a true event, Τhe Canal (1978) portrays and critiques the landowning and water management systems in force at the time in rural Turkey. In his next film, On Fertile Lands (1980), Kıral adapted Orhan Kemal’s novel for the screen. In it, with feeling and realism, often bordering on the documentary, he chronicled the trials and tribulations of the workers at the cotton plantations, their moving to the cities, their quest for a better future, their loss of principles in the new, urban environment. Transcending the personal tales of the characters, Kıral manages to present a wider image of post-fifties Turkish social reality. A relentless indictment, the film describes a world that denies its inhabitants any kind of humanism, even the possibility to dream.
The military coup of 1980 and the ban on his two first films – in fact, the copies of On Fertile Lands were stolen and the negatives were found 28 years later, in Sweden – drove Kıral into self-exile in Germany, where he carried out a series of co-productions. In 1983 he presented one of the most significant films of his career, A Season in Hakkari, based on the novel by Ferit Edgü. The film, which won the Silver Bear at the Berlin Film Festival and made Kıral known throughout Europe, explores with the simplicity of a documentary the culture shock suffered by a teacher – an intellectual– in an isolated village deep in the Turkish hinterland. Allowing ample time to the development of the narrative and basing himself on his powers of observation, Kıral records with ethnographic precision and effectiveness the cultural encounter between the film’s hero and the villagers – through the otherness of whom the protagonist will discover his real self. Next came The Mirror (1984), yet another poetic narrative that examines the psychology of its characters. Based on a popular legend, the story oscillates between dream and reality, reminiscent of Latin American magical realism. It is an elegy of the people of the countryside and their efforts to survive amid a hostile nature, under medieval living conditions and the fear of the aga, which underscores their repressed emotions as well as their sense of honor and dignity.
In 1987 he made Dilan, focusing on people’s inner conflicts through the story of a woman who’s waiting for her lover – but he never comes. This was followed in 1988 by a Turkish production, Time to Hunt, which portrays the period before the 1980 coup, and, after that, yet another European co-production, The Blue Exile (1993). Based on the autobiography of the Turkish intellectual and journalist Cevat Şakir (1890-1973), the film chronicles his long journey into exile – recreating the atmosphere of the period during which Ataturk founded the Republic – as well as the hero’s personal, inner journey of self-knowledge and purification of his past. The film is a poetic meditation, not only on the life of the author, but also on the essence of life itself, and on the things that people should consider important, regardless of social pressures.
His next film, The Hunter (1998), is based on a popular legend about a beautiful woman whose grave is in a lake. Kıral tells her story from different viewpoints, creating a fairy tale atmosphere and placing emphasis on the power of the gaze – an element that often recurs in his work and is indicative of Güney’s influence.What interests him here is the relativity of truth, the origin of violence, human emotions pushed to the limit, and repressed sexuality.
On the Road (2005) is Kıral’s most personal film to date. It involves the fictional representation of an actual event from the life of director Yılmaz Güney. Its starting point is a trip the two filmmakers took together, when Güney was being transferred to another prison, while he was working on his film The Road, the direction of which Güney had originally assigned to Kıral but then changed his mind. Against the backdrop of Turkey’s sociopolitical situation and through the symbolic use of theTurkish landscape, the filmtreats the concepts of alienation and freedom, scrutinizing the psychology and the complex relationship between teacher and student: on the one hand the repressed creativity of the imprisoned Güney, who assigns the direction of his films to others, and on the other hand, the student Kıral’s need to rebel and become intellectually independent of his influence.
Kıral then made Conscience (2008), a film which was especially sensuous for Turkish cinema standards. It tells a tale of passion, obsession and desire between three working class characters with a disastrous outcome. Golden Horn (2010), his last film so far, was the first documentary of his career. Inspired by the black and white photography of Aras Güler, Kıral portrays the Golden Horn in all its magnificence, underscoring the multiculturalism and the peaceful co-existence of different peoples. The camera follows the mental thread of the narrator, a Greek from Constantinople who returns after many years to the place of his birth, blending his childhood memories with the present day.
The Thessaloniki International Film Festival, wishing to honor this great Turkish filmmaker, presents the most extensive tribute to his work ever shown in Europe. Undoubtedly, his complete oeuvre being screened for the first time in Greece is a unique opportunity for the Festival’s Greek and foreign audiences, who have always embraced Turkish cinema.

Dimitris Kerkinos

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