Turkish film circles were fuming on Monday over the brutal reaction from İstanbul's riot police, who dispersed a peaceful protest on Sunday in Beyoğlu against the demolition of İstanbul's Emek Cinema with pepper spray and water cannon. On Sunday, numerous actors, directors and cinephiles gathered in front of the Emek Theater -- one of the key venues that hosted the İstanbul International Film Festival before being shut down in 2009 -- to peacefully demonstrate against the decision to demolish the cinema, which is now surrounded by barricades awaiting conversion into an entertainment complex. The start of this year's İstanbul International Film Festival, marking its 32nd edition from March 30 to April 14, has once more revived the heated debates on the fate of the historic Emek Theater. Sunday's protest was the last attempt to save the legendary cinema from demolition, ending in the detention of four people, including Berke Göl -- one of the International Federation of Film Critics (FIPRESCI) jury members at this year's İstanbul Film Festival. They were released by the police later on Sunday night but were set to deliver testimonies in front of the court at 11 p.m. on Monday.
On Monday, some members of Turkish Film Critics Association (SİYAD) gathered in front of the İstanbul Courthouse to condemn the detention of these four people. Film critic Senem Aytaç read a written statement on behalf of SİYAD's administrative body to the press, calling on Culture and Tourism Minister Ömer Çelik to resign following the “embarrassing” outcomes of the protest.
Before the demonstration, Levent Eyüboğlu, the spokesperson responsible for the project encompassing the Emek Theater, gave details as to the theater's future in a written interview with Today's Zaman on Friday. Eyüboğlu said the Emek Theater would be “removed” to the highest floor of the building, which currently houses the cinema. The reliefs of the cinema, which are of historical value, were removed and taken into a studio and they are being repaired, according to Eyüboğlu. He further stated that there would be eight movie theaters, cafes and restaurants under the Emek Theater when the project is completed.
The demonstrators started the protest chanting the slogan “Emek is ours and the cinema is ours.” Actor Cengiz Bozkurt delivered a speech on behalf of the crowd, underlining their wish to save the cinema from demolition. Actor Cem Davran also talked about the significance of the theater in his life, the Anatolia news agency reported.
However, the peaceful demonstration turned violent after protesters clashed with police standing in front of the barricades. The police rejected a request from the protestors to see the Emek Theater. The crowd tried to remove the barricades and immediately faced a harsh reaction from the police.
Numerous people, including veteran actor Tuncel Kurtiz, acclaimed film critic Atilla Dorsay, who is the honorary chairman of SİYAD, and stage comedian Zafer Algöz were sprayed with pepper gas and hosed with pressurized water by the police.
Following the end of the protest, the İstanbul Foundation for Culture and Art (İKSV) in a written statement demanded the release of the detained demonstrators. The statement also said directors Costa-Gavras, Mike Newell, Marco Becchis and Jan Ole Gerster, the guests of this year's İstanbul International Film Festival, along with many other foreign and local people from movie industry were among the individuals taking part in the protest and police used disproportionate force on the crowd, which was trying to enter the Emek Theater.
Costa-Gavras calls on PM to act
In a message written in French, Greek-born director Costa-Gavras, a special guest of the ongoing İstanbul International Film festival, who was also among the protesting group on Sunday, said, “The violence that followed the peaceful [protest] should not cast a shadow over the main cause of this gathering.”
“A major cinema, a cultural center, should not be destroyed. It's like eradicating the memory of the past, and an important place for the future. It would be a mistake; politically, socially and artistically,” continued the 80-year-old filmmaker in his message, issued Monday via the İKSV.
“With all due respect, I'm asking the prime minister, the guarantor of İstanbul's cultural integrity, to intervene to save the theater and not let commerce outweigh culture,” Gavras' message concluded.
Movie critic Dorsay, who has been writing pieces for the Sabah daily as a columnist since 1998, announced he would not write any more in newspapers on his Monday piece titled “Veda Zamanı” (farewell time) as a reaction to the Emek Theater's demolition and police's attitude in the latest protest. On Dec. 10, 2011, Dorsay also penned a piece titled “Emek Yoksa Ben De Yokum” (If there is no Emek, I will not write any more), saying he would drop journalism the day the Emek Theater started to be demolished.