A new international film festival was launched in Nicosia yesterday. Festival director Yesim Guzelpinar, British Cypriot actor Tamer Hassan, Baroness Meral Ece-Hussein OBE and Neil McCartney of the Independent Film Trust were among a panel of six to address a press conference held at the Home for Co-operation in the UN Buffer Zone in the Cypriot capital on Saturday 24 May. The inaugural Golden Island International Film Festival (GIIFF) will take place across the island from 07 to 13 November 2014. The event is being organised by UK-based charity Balik Arts and financially backed by the Altinbas Group through its Creditwest Bank, the festival’s main sponsor.
Mahzer Zaheer, the Executive Vice-President of Creditwest Bank opened the briefing, giving a brief history of the bank and its association with GIIFF. North Cyprus’ largest private bank is currently celebrating its 20th anniversary. Throughout its existence, the bank has placed great importance on corporate social responsibility projects and is underwriting the festival’s full costs. Zaheer said: “We believe the Arts, and specifically film, can play a major role in bringing the whole island together to generate multiple benefits for all Cypriots, whether cultural, commercial or social. As such we are very proud to support this excellent new annual event.”
Festival director Yesim Guzelpinar explained that GIIFF will screen a high quality selection of fiction and documentary films, both short and feature length, from countries around the world. Cypriot cinema will be an ever-present, alongside annually-changing themes. For 2014, the five strands are: UK Cinema (guest country cinema), Human Rights, Women, the Environment, and “Journeys” (both emotional and physical).
Filmmakers can now submit their films to GIIFF online, GoldenIslandFilmFestival.org. The deadline is 31 July 2014. Cypriot filmmakers can also enter the GIIFF film competition with cash prizes of EUR 2,000 for the winners. There are two categories: for the Best Short Fiction work (up to 20 minutes) and the Best Documentary (any length), as well as individual prizes for the Best Newcomers in each category. Unlike the other films, there is no deadline for when these films were produced.
Guzelpinar said: “We only started planning GIIFF in earnest in January 2014 when the Altinbas Group gave us the green light. We’ve travelled far in a short time, but are conscious there is still much to do. We want to add venues in the South for screenings and panel discussions, as well as expand our jury and advisors to reflect all of Cyprus’ diverse communities.”
Aiming to make a major difference to the Cypriot film sector, GIIFF is drawing on the support of a number of well-known European festivals, film organisations, and institutions. GIIFF advisor Neil McCartney has a long and extensive career in film. He is the chair of the Independent Film Trust, does business development for the Raindance Festival, and has produced numerous films. He told today’s audience that he had not seen many films from Cyprus as, “Most festival submissions are from Western Europe and North America. It’s important the world hears other voices too.” He outlined a number of ways he hopes to help local Cypriot talent, such as taking the best of Cypriot cinema abroad, enabling transnational collaborations and offering Cypriots the means to take UK Masters courses in Film remotely.
Dr Eylem Atakav is a senior lecturer in Film and Television Studies at the University of East Anglia (UAE) – GIIFF’s first British university partner. A specialist in women, Islam and Middle East media and film, she will be curating GIIFF’s Women category. UAE wants to help make Cypriots more employable and as part of this, they and Balik Arts have just been awarded a grant from the European Social Fund to train young people to run film festivals. The opportunity will see British and Cypriot students engage in a shared experience through GIIFF.
Taking time out from filming hit TV series 24 with Kiefer Sutherland in London, Tamer Hassan said he was pleased to be patron of the GIIFF and that wanted to bring more producers to the island for filming. He was conscious investment in Cyprus’ technical facilities and local talent was needed and he wanted to work with the island’s “Big guns” to help create good studio and a film academy to make film work more attractive to the outside world. Throughout he stressed the need for, “Film to be used to bring the island together – we are Cypriots, not Greek, not Turkish, and if the country can become one through film, that will be my number one aim.”
Baroness Meral Ece-Hussein OBE, the first person of Turkish and Cypriot origin to be in the British Parliament, echoed Hassan’s comments. She said: “Politics divides people everywhere, whereas the creative Arts bring people together.” She felt that young people in particular will benefit from GIIFF and that the festival’s partners offered multiple opportunities to develop the Cypriot film industry, from writing to production, and acting. She added, “I’m proud to fly the Cypriot flag abroad and am keen to play my part in helping the festival become a huge success.”
The press briefing at the Home for Co-operation was the final of a trio of events held this week to raise awareness about the new film festival. On Thursday a press briefing was held by the Altinbas Group, one of the largest corporations on the island. Chaired by CEO Cengiz Bicer, Group board member Nusret Altinbas, Creditwest managing director Suleyman Erol, Yesim Guzelpinar and Tamer Hassan talk about the Altinbas Group and its reasons for supporting GIIFF.
In the evening, Creditwest Bank held a cocktail party in the gardens of the historic Bellapais Abbey where British band She’koyokh performed. The event was again used to introduce GIIFF to an audience of some 500 people, which included the Turkish Cypriot Prime Minister Ozkan Yorgancioglu, Fikri Toros, chair of the Turkish Cypriot Chamber of Commerce, the bank’s business and consumer customers, as well as filmmakers from across the island.
One, Panicos Neocleous, engaged at length with Tamer Hassan – the most famous Cypriot actor in the world – telling him about his book, The Ignored: 1974, re-telling real-life accounts of the 1974 War including one relating to two soldiers. Yiannis Maratheftis had been shot in the head by Fatih Akinci, who believed he had killed the man, only to discover through the book some thirty five years later that Maratheftis had survived. The two have since been reconciled and are well-known peace activists, with their story turned into a documentary. Hassan, clearly moved by the story, was presented with a copy of the documentary, which will also be submitted to GIIFF.