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Istanbul Film Festival smooth but different amid pandemic gloom

2020-10-14 15:05:09 GMT2020-10-14 23:05:09(Beijing Time) 

by Zeynep Cermen

ISTANBUL, Oct. 14 (Xinhua) -- Edit Hason, an Istanbul resident, used to meet in the city with her friends from other provinces across the country for the grand opening of the Istanbul Film Festival each year.

"We used to buy tickets to dozens of movies, attend premieres and small talk sessions with world-famous directors, and join all the festival events," Hason told Xinhua at a movie theater in Istanbul's upscale Nisantasi neighborhood.

"Those old days, joy, festive scent are all gone now," she said after showing her QR code to the door attendant before the screening of Muhammed Ali, a National Documentary Competition candidate.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the festival, one of the most distinguished cultural events in the city, adopted a hybrid model this year, offering some movies online and others in only two screening rooms, one in the European side and the other in the Asian part.

Hason this year bought only seven tickets, less than half the number last year because she was concerned about the pandemic.

"It is better than nothing," she murmured while taking her seat in the room after passing all the COVID-19 related checks.

Kerem Ayan, director of the Istanbul Film Festival, was happy about the sales and the interest of people even amid the pandemic.

"So far, it goes well," he said. "We see about 40 percent of capacity, which is wonderful in this period. And the online version of the festival is also doing very well."

By Tuesday, the fourth day of the festival, which would go until Oct. 20, 20,000 tickets were sold for the online versions of the movies and 5,000 tickets for the ones in the screening rooms.

"Of course, we are far behind the previous 100,000 ticket sales of the last year," he said.

For Ayan, the festive spirit used to dominate the atmosphere of the city is missing this year.

"The festival is more than showing films," he continued. "People get together and meet with others from the industry, directors, actors, and producers, watching movies in screening rooms."

Due to the precautionary measures, the organization could not invite any guest from abroad for this year's 39th edition of the festival, except some Turkish filmmakers who were already in the city, the director said.

The international jury is watching the films online, which is also an unusual practice for the industry.

The award ceremony will be a small one, with the participation of the film teams and the press, and the winners will be announced online.

Maya Mansur, a young student, was one of the team members of the organization for the screening of Muhammed Ali at noontime.

"We have taken many measures against the coronavirus," Mansur said. "Everything is done with the use of high technology and zero contact."

Instead of tickets, moviegoers this year have to show their QR codes before entering the screening rooms, which are all running with half of their capacities.

"We do our final warnings before the sessions start and tell the audience to wear masks all the time and follow the social distancing rule," she said.

Merve Soydan, another moviegoer, told Xinhua that it is a real pleasure to watch a film in the theater, not online.

"I missed that feeling so much," Soydan said. But for the rest of the festival, she would prefer to go online due to COVID-19 concerns.

In Turkey, movie theaters closed their doors in mid-March when the pandemic erupted in the country, and then resumed their operations in August with the easing of the COVID-19 restrictions. 

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