Whenever I get to see Azize Tan, I get inspired. It’s not simply that she has one of the most interesting jobs I can imagine, or that she can talk for hours about one of my favorite subjects, cinema — it’s her infectious enthusiasm for her work. This year is her sixth as director, and her 20th working with the Istanbul Film Festival which just closed its 31st year. Something of a marathon event, it ran from March 31-April 15, with Ms. Tan dealing with everything from sponsorships to going to hospital with fainting jury members, all while attending as many screenings as possible. Azize graciously took some time out last week to have a coffee with me and tell me about the life and trials of a festival director, which is not just the fun of watching films, but a struggle, for resources, venues and the recognition that film and the arts are important agents of change.
When our all too brief discussion ended, I left feeling recharged, enthusiastic and slightly sad that I haven’t seen nearly as many films as I’d have liked this year. Perhaps that’s why she’s so good at her job. It’s not simply her love of film, it’s her ability to remind us of the beauty and magic of cinema.
My Philosofia: You’re originally a simultaneous translator, aren’t you? How did you get into this kind of work?
Azize Tan: No, not a simultaneous translator, but a translator. From my second year in university I started doing film subtitles. It was great, getting paid to watch movies.
So how many years have you been working with the festival?
AT: Twenty years, fifteen years of full time work for IKSV (Istanbul Culture and Art Foundation) and now six years as Festival Director. I also coordinated three biennials curated by Rosa Martinez, Paolo Colombo and Yuko Hasegawa. I actually started with Film Ekimi (October), which is a smaller event but which has just celebrated its tenth anniversary, and we took it on the road to Izmir, Bursa, Trabzon, Diyarbakir, and Konya. Diyarbakir in particular was a highlight.
What would you like to see most in the coming years?
AT: A festival center.
The loss of Emek Cinema was difficult wasn’t it?
AT: I feel horrible about it. In other countries they have festival palaces. We had Emek which was the venue for 28 years. It had a 900-seat capacity and reminded us of the glory days of cinema. It was an important symbol.
What went wrong?
AT: The process was not transparent from the start. We thought the cinema was going to be remodeled. Then we thought it was going to be turned into a multiplex, then moved. For three years people protested. It’s a symbol of the war of gentrification. The building belonged to the state. I can understand it not being profitable for a private company, but the state needs to protect the arts and culture. This is a first grade historical building, and Istiklal Caddesi is the entertainment and film center for the city, but all the large capacity, old cinema venues are being closed. There are so many things we could have done to make the building sustainable, but the they think the only way to create sustainability is to commercialize and put up shopping malls and stores. We should change our perspective. I can think of no other such protests that went on for three years.
Still you wouldn’t do anything else, would you?
AT: Not yet. I’ve been doing this job for six years and there’s still a lot of important work to accomplish. We’ve started to change things and I’m not ready to leave just yet. With the people, the facilities and the budget we have we’re pulling off miracles. I dream of having a festival center.
What makes the Istanbul Film Festival important?
AT: Many things … this year our theme was revolution. Inspired in part by the Arab Spring, the Orange revolution and others we’re celebrating film’s ability to create change. Today we’re having a public panel discussion at the Pera Museum on what revolution means. Master classes, like the one hosted by Terence Davies. This year we have a special section highlighting the importance of Chinese film. Every year we restore a classic Turkish film that would otherwise be lost to the world. Eight of the Turkish movies in this year’s festival are making their world premieres.
Other than the films, what keeps you inspired?
AT: We’re not saving the world, but we’re not living in an easy world either. Art and cinema makes it a little more livable. It’s about communication. With film you can allow people to be exposed to and understand an enemy’s feelings. This is how we can express and help each other understand and empathize. This is the problem with the mentality that arts and culture can be cut.
I couldn’t live without films.