The 60th Antalya Golden Orange Film Festival, Turkey’s oldest film event, which recently sparked controversy due to the censorship of a documentary, was cancelled on Friday.
The decision to cancel the festival was announced via social media by Antalya Metropolitan Municipality Mayor Muhittin Böcek. In his statement, Böcek expressed his regret over the festival’s cancellation, saying, “this decision is due to circumstances beyond our control”.
The week-long uproar over the festival began on 22 September, when ‘The Decree’ (Kanun Hükmü), a documentary accused of propagandising for the Fethullah Gülen movement* by the Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism, was removed from the festival lineup. The film centres on the plight of civil servants who were dismissed from their jobs following the state of emergency declared after the attempted military coup in 2016.
The producers, directors and jury of the festival then announced their withdrawal from the festival in protest at the organisers’ exclusion of the documentary. The festival faced a barrage of criticism, with filmmakers calling for freedom of expression to be upheld. In response to mounting pressure, the documentary was reinstated in the festival’s programme, only to be removed again.
Festival’s history of disruptions
The Golden Orange Film Festival, which has a rich history dating back to 1964, has faced cancellations only twice before in its history. In 1979, the festival was cancelled after the censorship board at the time banned three films and demanded cuts to certain scenes in others, leading all participating filmmakers and directors to withdraw from the event. Subsequently, when jury members also decided not to evaluate the films, the festival’s management took the decision to cancel the 16th Golden Orange Film Festival. It faced another cancellation in the aftermath of the 1980 military coup.
Controversies surrounding censorship by the intervention of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) at the Golden Orange Film Festival first emerged in 2014 when the AKP’s Menderes Türel won the local elections and became the mayor of Antalya.
In the first year of Türel’s tenure, the documentary “Love Will Change The Earth” (Yeryüzü Aşkın Yüzü Oluncaya Dek), which portrayed the nation-wide Gezi protests, was removed from the programme. In response, 11 jury members publicly announced their withdrawal from the festival.
In 2015, the festival eliminated its documentary and short film competition sections. Türel, following his election victory, subsequently removed the “Golden Orange” name that the festival had carried since 1964, redesigned the award statuette, and removed the national competition section from the festival programme.
The festival began to focus on a “return to its roots” theme after Böcek from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) won the Antalya mayoral election in the 2018 local elections.
*The Fethullah Gülen movement (FETÖ), a religious group that Turkey accuses of orchestrating the 2016 coup attempt and labels as a terrorist organisation.