New Film Fund in Turkey Aims to Strengthen Independent Film Sector
Since February 2015, independent producers and directors of the film industry in Turkey have an additional opportunity to receive grants for their productions and films in development. A new funding body called Yeni Film Fonu (Engl.: New Film Fund) sets out to promote and develop the independent film sector in Turkey by supporting innovative non-fiction films focusing on subjects such as diversity, human rights, minorities and the freedom of expression.
The New Film Fund is a partnership of Anadolu Kültür, a Turkish institution fostering cultural diversity, and the !f Istanbul International Independent Film Festival. The fund has just completed its first selection round and plans a second call in September supporting a total of 22 filmmakers in 2015. EDN had the opportunity to talk with Zeynep Güzel, Project Coordinator of the initiative, about aims, plans and objectives of the New Film Fund.
EDN: First off, thank you for taking the time for this conversation and congratulations for successfully launching this new initiative. How would you describe the situation of the independent film sector in Turkey and what were the circumstances that led to the creation of the New Film Fund?
ZG: Thank you for giving the opportunity for this conversation about the New Film Fund. The independent film sector in Turkey has been flourishing for more than two decades. It is distinctive in its subject matter, style, acting and cinematography. It also plays an important role in inspiring action on many social issues in Turkey. Moreover, it is being appreciated at international festivals and global screenings. Thus, the independent film sector has been attracting more and more attention in Turkey and around the world.
With the emergence of independent films, the film sector in Turkey has also adjusted itself to the needs and expectations of independent filmmakers. The sphere of influence has, over the years, also expanded to film critics, academics and institutions of civil society. Yet, it is still hard to make films on political and social issues even though the emergence of the independent cinema led to an increased amount of new productions which is, of course, much appreciated by cinema audiences. On the other hand, the civil society in Turkey has been developing extensively in the last 10 -15 years, bringing in many activists and institutions working on those issues.
At this point, we need to talk about the distinction between fiction and non-fiction in independent filmmaking. Although I am personally not a proponent of strict rules dividing genres and ways of producing, I eventually have to admit that there is a difference in practice, in production and in perception of these two. Even the field of non-fiction is highly progressive and amusing at the same time both in content and style. In Turkey, the fiction genre is perceived as profitable whereas non-fiction is considered to be non-profitable. This makes life for non-fiction filmmakers rather complicated in terms of financing their projects. Let's not forget that it is already difficult enough for independent filmmakers to distribute their films in Turkey, let alone to finance the production of a non-fiction film. However, this view is changing, thanks to the diligent efforts of non-fiction filmmakers with their success and initiatives throughout civil society. These efforts have led to strong communities that support the production and screening of non-fiction films.
This is where the idea of the New Film Fund emerged from. The founding partners of the program have already been supporting independent films for many years. The !f İstanbul International Independent Film Festival brings together various films from around the world since 2001. Anadolu Kültür has been supporting the development and production of films since its establishment, but especially after 2009 with a more structured grant under its Small Grants - Film Support Program. The New Film Fund is the colloboration of these two initiatives.
The aim of the fund is to provide different types of supports to non-fiction films more systematically and in a more sustainable way. Doing this will hopefully mean to establish an alternative, permanent and independent support for directors and/or producers in Turkey who have limited access to financial resources in the development and production of their films. But it also aims to promote action in human rights issues -in its broadest sense- to increase awareness through a global art form.
EDN: What kind of films and projects fall under the support scheme of the New Film Fund and what is the rationale behind specifically focusing on non-fiction films?
ZG: The New Film Fund reflects the founding partners’ desire to create a platform that supports films of solidarity that hold freedom, peace, social justice and equality as their common values and enables filmmakers to find their unique voice. It aims to support stories that display a transformative quality in form and content, narratives that challenge borders between genres, and projects that bring different encounters and experiences to the fore. In addition to its goal of supporting films that will create awareness, the Fund also aims to promote the production of films displaying universal standards by filmmakers from Turkey.
The only public support available in Turkey for documentary, fiction and short films is the Fund for the Support of Cinema Films coordinated by the Directorate General of Cinema under the Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism. However, due to its structure and scope, this fund fails to fulfill the needs of this rapidly growing field in terms of scale and diversity. Very few of the award winning films in recent years could take advantage of this fund. Especially non-fiction films, or the films with controversial themes, have difficulty in acquiring funding in Turkey. Thus, this situation is not very encouraging for filmmakers. Beside its other purposes, the New Film Fund has focused on supporting non-fiction films, aiming to establish an alternative opportunity for non-fiction filmmakers who don't have access to public grants. But, of course, this does not mean that the fund doesn’t support the films that secured the public grant.
EDN: What can the fund do for filmmakers and who can apply? Are there any special requirements to take into account?
ZG: The grants under the fund are being announced twice a year and the applications from directors and/or producers from Turkey are evaluated by a jury consisting of professionals from different fields of the film industry and civil society. The fund supports films in the development, production or post-production stages. In each round of selection shorts, feature or middle-length films are supported either with USD 2.500 – 10.000 each or an in-kind post-production studio support. These are the numbers for 2015.
Although the fund is only open to directors and/or producers from Turkey, the film projects can take place in any country and the films can be in any language. Film projects should not exceed a total budget of maximum 300.000 TL and projects at the production and/or post-production stage are expected to have secured funding or resources for at least one third of their budget. More details can be found on our website.
EDN: What are the main difficulties and challenges documentary producers are facing in Turkey today?
ZG: The main difficulty is to acquire financial means where the opportunity of support is limited as I mentioned before. The public support of the Ministry for documentaries is offered once a year. Thus, the filmmakers whose schedule is not compatible with the dates of public support had to start their production with their own sources hoping to compensate it later with the public support. Whereas, in some cases, the amount of public support does not fully cover the production expenses. As a result of financial shortages, the productions are not developed the way they should or could be. And in many cases, producers need a secured financial support from Turkey in order to be successful in receiving international grants or finding co-producers. Besides, it becomes a challenge to develop an idea, taking a certain time to conduct preliminary research, do the shootings, circulate it on international development workshops, on industry pitching forums etc. Eventually, that affects the quality of the film. Also, the possibilities to let filmmakers get in contact with the international market and documentary programs are not non-existent but limited, that is another reason for the films being produced hastily.
Another challenge that independent documentary filmmakers face when engaging with current political issues is censorship or self-censorship, respectively. The censor mechanism sets in when attaining the public support for production and remains in place throughout festival screenings up until airing the films on television. It is very important to establish a system that prevents censorship and allows films to be free from political influence and changing governmental attitudes.
And lastly, it is a challenge for women, queer, first time filmmakers and the filmmakers from disadvantaged backgrounds to realize their projects. Although, the struggles are never-ending, I can say that the independent filmmakers in Turkey are overcoming those obstacles in recent years. The initiators of the New Film Fund wish to contribute to this positive transformation by creating a more progressive platform for filmmakers in Turkey.
EDN: One could imagine that it's not easy to arrange partnerships that provide funding for the independent film sector. Are there plans to grow your network of partners and therefore increase the grants made available through the New Film Fund?
ZG: Definitely. This year is the fund’s first year and our main goals are to grow our network and increase the grants as well as expanding the scope of the fund into a platform that not only distributes grants but also organizes whole year events, screenings, international workshops and other creative gatherings for filmmakers to enhance the works being produced. In order to realize these activities, to develop new partnerships and to create an international network, the fund has already been in contact with organizations such as the Greenhouse Development Program for Documentary Filmmakers, Sundance Documentary Program and of course EDN. With their insightful experience in the field and mutual collaboration , the fund establishes a growing platform for filmmakers in Turkey.
In 2016, the New Film Fund will continue distributing grants for non-fiction films, as well as organizing events for filmmakers in order to support the independent non-fiction film sector in Turkey. Such events could be a session or a seminar during !f İstanbul on development of the films, meetings with international film industry representatives, a workshop for non-fiction film producers and directors with a focus on their specific projects on international aspects of co-production and international financing possibilities in order to strengthen their international potential.
EDN: Do your partnerships with Anadolu Kültür, !f Istanbul and your various sponsors make you completely independent of the Ministry of Culture or does it still play a role in your daily operations?
ZG: The New Film Fund has been designed and initiated completely independent from the Ministry of Culture. The fund is supported mainly by the Open Society Foundation, the special post-production support is provided by an Istanbul based studio called Atlas Post Production, and individual donors are Mehmet Betil and Ali Betil for 2015 - the first year of the fund. The founding partners Anadolu Kültür and !f İstanbul are developing new connections with different institutions, foundations and initiatives to ensure the sustainability of the program in the following years. We also plan to encourage more individual donors to support the program for reaching more filmmakers. And since our goal is to increase the number of the grants and types of supports, it would be a pleasant development to be supported by the Ministry in future as long as we agreed on the basic principles of the fund.
EDN: What is your personal outlook on the future of the independent film sector in Turkey? What are the major challenges and opportunities, the expectations and hopes?
ZG: I hope that in the near future the independent films and especially the non-fiction films will have more space for screenings and will increase their audience in Turkey and in the world. I mean, not only the film festivals or special screenings organized by various initiatives, but also having better opportunities to be shown at regular movie theatres. And I think this is not a pipe dream since their subject matter is so vivid and down to earth. The style is very promising and there is a growing audience pleased to see more and more independent films, especially documentaries. Of course this is a result of the invaluable contribution of a number of documentary and other film festivals such as Documentarist - Istanbul Documentary Days, !f Istanbul, International 1001 Documentary Film Festival and Istanbul International Film Festival.
In case of questions concerning the New Film Fund, please contact:
Zeynep Güzel |
New Film Fund website: www.newfilmfund.org
Terms of application: www.yenifilmfonu.org/en/basvuru-kosullari
A note on the first call and the next one:
The first call of 2015 was open between February – April 2015 and the fund received around 350 applications across Turkey. The representatives of the founding partners, supporters and the jury completed the two-stage evaluation process in last June. The films supported in the first round have various themes on human rights from Turkey, such as LGBTI rights and solidarity, global uprisings and local responses to them, the ways of resistance against the war, women's empowerment, military service and conscientious objection, minorities and age, the military coup and asylum seekers. The second call will be open from September – October 2015, and the grantees will be selected and announced by the end of 2015.
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