Filmmakers, Police Clash in Istanbul

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By Fercan Yalinkilic and Ayla Albayrak

ISTANBUL–Hollywood film directors got a not-so-warm welcome from Turkish police on the weekend when they joined a protest while visiting Istanbul as guests of the city’s annual international film festival.

On Sunday, a group of acclaimed international filmmakers, including Mike Newell, Constantinos “Costa” Gavras and Marco Bechis, were met by police tear gas and water cannons when they joined some 2,000 people marching to protest against plans to replace a 90-year old Istanbul cinema with a shopping mall. Four people were arrested and later charged, including a Turkish member of the International Federation of Film Critics, Berke Gol. Turkish TV channels showed footage of one policeman grabbing the throat of Mr. Gol, who has been charged with “illegal meeting and protest” as well as resisting police and destroying public property.

Turkish newspapers on Monday carried banner headlines about the altercation, which diverted attention from Istanbul’s film festival, which is taking place throughout April to showcase some of the best Turkish and international cinema. One leading daily called the protest “a battle,” while Turkey’s best-known film critic, Atilla Dorsay, said Monday that he would abandon his daily column in solidarity with protesters, citing his frustration with his “inability to change anything.”

Mr. Gavras and the film federation, known as FIPRESCI, released statements accusing the police of responding harshly to a peaceful protest.

“The violence occurred after a peaceful demonstration, and was triggered by an unapparent cause,” said Mr. Gavras, who acknowledged participating in the protest. “The peaceful protesters were unjustly attacked by the police with tear gas and water cannon, simply for insisting to enter the historical building,” FIPRESCI said.

Interior Minister Muammer Güler said the actions of the police were being investigated, but added that there were “provocateurs” among the protesters who weren’t artists and who had illegally entered the cinema building previously.

Demonstrators were protesting to save Istanbul’s Emek movie theater, an art-nouveau building opened in 1924. The cinema has become a symbol of Istanbul’s cultural heritage, which many say is being sacrificed to give way for shopping malls and sprawling apartment complexes in the fast-growing metropolis. Turkish filmmakers, who have protested for nearly three years to save the theater, say it holds a special place in Turkey’s storied film history, and accuse the government of suppressing their freedom of speech.

Sunday’s demonstration isn’t the first time representatives of Turkey’s performing-arts sector have held protests. Last year, Turkish artists and theater fans demonstrated against government’s plans to privatize state theaters, another move seen as an attempt by the Islamic-rooted government to retain control over theater art, traditionally dominated by Turkey’s secular, Westernized upper class.

The government said the move was intended to make theater more competitive and less reliant on state subsidies.

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