Antalya Festival Opens with Walken, Syrian Refugee Crisis-themed ‘Never Leave Me’

By Will Tizard

Walken receives festival’s Honorary Golden Orange at a splashy 3,000-crowd event

Turkey’s newly reformatted Antalya fest launched Saturday in the coastal resort town under balmy skies, striking a hopeful note in a region beset by crises.

Opening with a stirring look at children caught up in the Syrian refugee exodus, Aida Begic’s “Never Leave Me,” the gala for the fest’s 54th edition hosted some 3,000 of guests, serenaded by the Antalya State Symphony Orchestra.

As Begic noted to the well-heeled audience at the Antalya Expo Center, lessons from her film, in which real refugees play characters based on themselves, “we don’t all speak the same language, but we can still live together in peace and harmony.”

Several Americans were almost surprised to find themselves in town – many were unsure until the last minute whether the current U.S.-Turkish visa spat would prevent them from entering the country but Turkish airports appeared to be issuing visas upon arrival to U.S. visitors as usual.

The splashy opener, which followed a two-hour procession through the city’s streets featuring vintage cars and celeb passengers, included an Honorary Golden Orange prize for guest Christopher Walken and kudos for Juliette Lewis and for Turkish cinematographer Erkan Atkas, actresses Suzan Avci and Necla Nazir, and producer/director/screenwriter Osman Sinav.

“We are bringing a fresh outlook on the Turkish film industry,” said Antalya Film Forum director Zeynep Atakan, who heads the development and co-production platform, citing new sidebars and the premiere of a screening venue at the city’s Glass Pyramid.

The Forum supports Turkish cinema with more than 80 local projects participating, pointed out artistic director Mike Downey, marking the British producer’s first season at Antalya. He noted that audiences will also find “the best of the best from Cannes, Berlin, Venice as well as films by world-class Academy Award winning directors and artists.”

Guests at this year’s fest, whose growth and expansion contrasts with many such events that have faded or shut down in Turkey recently, include Japanese actor Masatoshi Nagase (“Radiance”), “The Guest” director Andac Haznedaroglu and producer Chin-Chin Yap and cinematographer Murat Bay from Ai Wei Wei’s “Human Flow.”

An ambitious program for the weeklong fest, whose final details were confirmed Saturday, also illustrates the increasing role for one of the region’s most longstanding film events dedicated to looking outward.