In Conversation with Alin Taşçiyan, President, FIPRESCI

A Potpourri of Vestiges Feature 

Alin Taşçiyan, President, FIPRESCI
On a cool afternoon, during the 18th Mumbai Film Festival, organized by Jio MAMI, we caught Alin Taşçiyan, President, FIPRESCI (The International Federation of Film Critics) in an interview.

Here is the interview. A transcription of the same is posted below. The sound quality and erratic camera are regretted. This is what happens when the cameraman takes the seat of the interviewer!

Credit: Sanket Roy on Camera and Sound

A Potpourri of Vestiges: Hi! We're with Alin Taşçiyan, film critic and the President of FIPRESCI, from Turkey. She started her career as a film critic, writing for different newspapers and magazines. She was the film critic for Star newspaper in Turkey. She's interested in serious cinema. She is a cinephile. She has served as jury member for different film festivals, the most famous festivals across the world. We would like to know her views her views about contemporary Turkish cinema, as well as her role in FIPRESCI and how we are going to see democratic changes in film criticism today.

Hi Alin! Is this your first trip to India?

Alin Taşçiyan: Yes, this is my first trip.

PP: How do you like Mumbai?

AT: Well, I have just arrived at the hotel, and haven't yet stepped out. Just found myself in the middle of the press conference. I can say how I like Indian press. They are very sympathetic, warm and curious people. 

PP: Just yesterday, a big film festival in Istanbul got over - a festival to which you are connected. Can you tell us about that film festival?

AT: It's not Istanbul. It is Antalya film festival. Antalya is a city in the south of Turkey.

PP: It's an international film festival. Is it the biggest film festival in Turkey?

AT: It is the oldest. 

PP: Must have been really hectic for you to finish the work there and fly to Mumbai on the same day?

AT: Yes. I'm a programmer and international press agent, as well as the Director of almost all the press conferences and masterclasses at the Antalya International Film Festival. We're doing this job for three years for this team. But, in the past, I have worked, with intervals, for this festival, for more than a decade. I have been with other festivals as well - other International film festivals. In the past, I worked for seven years for Istanbul International Film Festival. I'm the curator of the Filmmore Woman's Film Festival, Istanbul too.

PP: You started as a film critic?

AT: Yes. 

PP: How did it start? You were an avid film viewer since childhood?

AT: I was a cinephile. I adored cinema. I still do. All these years haven't changed my great love for cinema, of course. Well, I wanted to become a cultural journalist. That's why I studied in the faculty of communications. I started out as a cultural journalist writing art reviews and editing the newspaper's cultural page for two years. I was their reporter. Then, because of my love for cinema, they asked me to write reviews. Thus, I started my career as a film critic. Altogether I've been a film journalist for twenty-five years now, twenty-three years out of that writing film reviews!

PP: That's really impressive! Twenty-five years' career as a film critic! Do you see a marked change in film criticism between the time you started and now?

AT: In criticism, in Turkish cinema, as well as in the world cinema, there have been big changes. When I started, there was video. But, we didn't have the slightest clue that the digital cinema would take over and we would arrive at this, called HD, We never imagined that 35 mm would disappear, that there would be something called internet. There would be changes in film language. How could we know there would be websites that you could change at one click. 

We were working in a world where everything was printed. Films were printed, newspapers were printed. Whatever you did stayed there for ever. Everybody worked with the notion that everything was eternal. But, now anything is possible. You can make, remake, erase, rewrite - everything. I think, this is a big change.

PP: A lot of people are watching world cinema these days because of torrents, and piracy, I am not going to ask you if you support piracy or not...

AT: You can ask me about this. I really get angry angry with film critics who use these things. 

PP: But, a lot many people have access to world cinema now. It was not so easy before, in countries like India, even in big cities such as Kolkata or Mumbai. Lots of potential cinephiles were there, they are still there, in these cities. Today, they have access to a wide number of films because of torrent, and piracy. They are watching films, and in turn practicing criticism. What's your take on this?

AT: I come from a different generation where we didn't have this, and we watched more films. This is very important. In India also, in this time, there were cinematheques, cine clubs, cultural centers. If I could have access to all kinds of films, in the early 80s, in Istanbul, in a country where there was a military junta, just when we were taking the first step to democracy; if I could watch like one film here, another screening there, a third screening at some other place, then everyone can do so. So, I don't think this is democracy, or this is equality. No! This is just easy.

This is just easy! And it's killing independent cinema, because Hollywood, the world's biggest film industry, produce 3D films. They have huge productions. They have all kinds of projections at their service, the channels, and all sorts of things. And on the other hand, there are these poor people who somehow manage to get things together to make one film that is going to get released on one screen, they are the victim of piracy.

People always say, We don't have money to buy tickets. But, we always see them spending on other things. If you see a nice ring, if you see a nice gift inside the jeweler's case, do you go and steal it? Then don't steal films. I'm very strict on film piracy.

PP: In the last ten years, FIAPF has accredited many new film festivals. Is the standard for internationally accredited film festivals going down?

AT: In international film festivals, in general, we always maintain a standard regarding round-the-year activities, good projections, security regarding film theft (a full list may be checked here). If these standards are not met, we have to simply say NO. IT is also exciting to find a film festival with many cinephiles in the audience who want us to encourage new themes, first films by filmmakers. There is no end to it.

We have more than seventy juries all around the world, and we have about fifty countries as our members. Although it's very difficult, we must keep this going. Throughout all these, we must see who we discover through these festivals. This is going for many years, since even before I was born. But, FIPRESCI, that is the film critics, discover new talents through such festivals. After a decade, when we come back to take note, we see that the filmmakers we discovered are dominating the international arthouse scenario. This is what counts.

PP: When we come to Turkish cinema, some common names such as Güney and Nuri Bilge Ceylan are passed around. Beyond a handful of such names, we don't usually know much about Turkish cinema. But, Turkey is a land of very old culture, Istanbul was a melting pot of the cultures from all corners of the world. So, obviously, Turkey has a prominent storytelling tradition just like India. We want to know more about that. Ironically, it's not so prominent to us. We know about a few filmmakers. But, beyond that, the others are not so well known. 

AT: It is same for India to a Turk. We know about Gandhi. In Cinema. we know about Ray, when it comes to India. But, beyond that, it's all beautiful faces. Most countries have strong traditional cinema. 

In Turkey, the film producers didn't reinvest in cinema. When TV arrived in Trukey, in the 70s, they began to lose. The political turmoil, the 1980 military coup, prohibitions on cinemas, on filmmakers had their toil. The very first article I remember reading on Turkish cinema was about Whether the Turkish cinema was dead or not. That was the discussion in mid 80s. How sad. Isn't it? Suddenly, in the mid 90s, I had already become a film critic, and we were talking about the (Turkish) New Wave. The new faces, who were coming up, who were doing cinema in the line of the great Yilmaz Güney. We marked the Directors who were standing out in the 80s. Most of their films were forbidden, They made films without any budget, with the help of their friends. They were to create their own images. Nuri Bilge Ceylan emerged out of this. In 1994 he made his first short film. In 1997, his film Kasaba (Small Town) won critical acclaim and the Caligary prize. HE became one of the most prominent filmmakers of our time. He created his own vision on the screen. If you look at any of his films, you know who the director is. You can identify him by one single frame, by one single cut. That is very important. 

We are from the generation. He was probably six seven years older than me. And he has done that. Suddenly we moved. And he influenced the commercial filmmaking. They saw him making films just like that, out of the blue. So, they pumped more energy into, say, the consumer's way of filmmaking. And suddenly the film industry came to full bloom, producing more than hundred films per year.

I can complain about the quality of the commercial film, of course, as a film critic. But, it's good to have all this vivacity back again. So, this is a brief history of the Turkish cinema. And this is the reason why we are very excited to promote the cinema which was born out of its ashes.

PP: After the Turkish cinema is resuscitated, how much government support does it get? Or is it a collaboration between the government and the private parties (that drives the industry)?

AT: It is totally government support. In 2004, the cinema law passed. The government founded the film subsidizing committee. Now, every film, in every screening, the first thing you see is the logo of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism because almost all of them are done only with that money. The well known directors get funding from outside. But, all the first features get only the government subsidy. All of them start their film on the basis of 300 Lira that they get from the government.

PP: My last question to you. How is the state of film education in Turkey?

AT: Well, I must admit that there are too many schools. When I started out, apart from the Communications Faculties, where they had some cinema studies, there were four major film schools. Now, all Communication Faculties have their own Cinema departments. Now, we have private universities. All of them have Cinema sections. We have more than twenty film schools. I am not sure this is so good. I don't know if there are enough academics who have been in the field, made films and can share their experiences to students who want to become filmmakers, and not film critics. They need experience and practice. Sp, I don't think this many film schools are very helpful. Probably, they need people, employees, for the big sector - camera, focus puller, dolly etc. But, I'm afraid everybody wants to be just filmmakers.

PP: The condition is similar in India. Anyway, thank you for joining us in India, at the Mumbai Film Festival.

AT: Thank you. I am very happy to be here.
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