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Istanbul International Film Festival Kicks Off

People view an exhibition by leftist Turkish victims of the Sept. 12, 1980 military takeover that shows a replica of the gallows used to hang suspects, torture devices as well as letters, newspapers, clothes and photographs of comrades who died, went mi

This week the city of Istanbul is hosting a ground-breaking international film festival. Called "Crime and Punishment," it is focusing on military coups. Turkey is no stranger to coups with its military seizing power three times since 1960. Even though the army last took power in 1980, coups have remained a taboo subject.

The opening speeches of the "Crime and Punishment" festival address the painful legacy of Turkey's history of military coups, in which thousands of people were detained and tortured and hundreds more disappeared.

For decades that legacy was buried. The army was strictly off limits to journalists, documentary and filmmakers.

"For 20 years you could not talk about anything, you could not create about that issue," said festival film organizer Hulya Sungu. "It was just taboo. Actually it was so hard to organize this kind festival in Turkey without a Turkish film about military coups, because it was not so easy to make a movie about the coup itself. But we just tried to gather all of the country's movies, like Venezuela Argentina and Peru, get their military coup reflection on cinema, and get them together."

17 Hours

The festival opened with the Spanish film 17 Hours. Set in 1981, it tells the story of a failed military coup which lasted 17 hours, against Spain's fledgling democracy.

Director Chema de la Peria pointed out that in order for democracy to function, countries needed to confront their past.

"This film is a political thriller," he said. "It makes you think how your country can change one way to another. For people it’s very important to know that if you live in a country where you are free, it’s not very easy because some people have fight maybe have died for these human rights."

Issues of social injustice

Accompanying the films are a series of panel discussions organized by Istanbul University that allow the film festival to address wider issues of social injustice.

A scene from the Venezuelan film Brother is about two football players, playing for a team in the slums of Caracas. While not an ostensibly political or socially critical film, using sports helps to circumvent pressures from the authorities.

"If I want to be critical about what’s going on in my country, Yes, it would probably make it more difficult for me to make it about that," said film director Marcel Rasquin. "Because our country is in such political turmoil at the moment, we filmmakers are still being wise. I don’t like to consider my film is a social criticism, even though it does have a lot of social criticism. My film goes beyond that to the human aspects of it."

Problem with Censorship

The problems of censorship and self-censorship are issues that Turkish filmmakers are well aware of, says festival organizer Sungu.

Although, she says, the taboo on the military has been eased, problems remain.

"There are some issues with which we still have problems," said Sungu. "But it not military coups, we can show everything about military coups now. There are some issues , like ..Still we don’t get over the censorship of everything kind of movies."

Timing of festival

Despite the problems, Spanish director Chema de la Peria says the fact that Turkey is hosting this type of festival at such a critical time, is particularly significant.

"For me it was very interesting that happened here in Turkey," he said. "Because I think the way democracy arrives to Turkey is the good example for all of the orient and the other Arabic countries. And Turkey is between the orient and the occident and it would be a good opportunity to lead this movement."

With most of the performances of the films sold out, the "Crime and Punishment" festival is already being seen as a success. Festival organizers are already planning for next year, aiming to address other contentious issues in Turkey.