ISTANBUL (AP) — Turkey’s oldest film festival has been canceled amid controversy surrounding a politically sensitive documentary about the aftermath of a 2016 coup attempt.
Antalya Mayor Muhittin Bocek announced the cancellation of the city’s Golden Orange Film Festival on Friday night, a day after the Turkish Culture and Tourism Ministry withdrew its support for the event.
The ministry objected to the film “Kanun Hükmü” or “The Decree,” a documentary which focuses on the hardships of a teacher and a doctor who were dismissed from their jobs following an attempted coup in Turkey on July 15, 2016.
“It is extremely sad that in such an important festival, the power of art is used to make propaganda for the FETO terrorist organization through the perception of victimhood,” the Culture Ministry said in a statement.
FETO is an acronym the Turkish government uses for a movement led by U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom the government blames for the failed coup. Gulen denies any involvement. More than 130,000 alleged Gulen supporters in Turkey were fired from their jobs under emergency decrees declared after the military uprising.
The ministry said that it would “not be part of the effort to discredit the epic struggle of our beloved nation on July 15 and to use art as an element of provocation.”
In a video posted on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, Bocek, a member of Turkey’s opposition party, blamed the festival’s administrators and artistic team for mishandling the controversy and not engaging in crisis management.
“Due to the mess created by their own hand,” the festival administration, artistic director and the entire artistic team were fired, he said.
“Nobody should doubt that I will not allow our festival to be used for anyone’s political agenda,” the mayor said. Critics have alleged the post-coup terminations and arrests represented a general crackdown against anyone viewed as its opponents. The documetary’s director Nejla Demirci wrote on X Friday evening: “I am saddened to see, day by day, how negative attitudes have organized against a documentary film. I am baffled by the statements of ministers who have not seen the film,” she wrote, inviting all her critics to watch it.
Organizers had said they would remove “The Decree” from the film festival program. Festival director Ahmet Boyacioglu initially announced the film was removed from the national documentary category due to ongoing legal proceedings against one of the people featured.
But Demirci, said that was an excuse and “outright censorship.” Twenty members of the festival jury quit in protest at the film getting pulled. On Wednesday the producers and directors of 27 festival entries said they were withdrawing from the event.
The film was later reinstated to the program after it was discovered that the trial of the featured person had ended.
The festival, which has run since 1963 in the Mediterranean city of Antalya, is a highlight of the Turkish cultural calendar. This year it was scheduled to run Oct. 7-14.