The first international working-class film and video festival titled “Against Neo-Liberalism, 20 Countries and 40 Films” was held in Turkey in early May 2006 — a resounding success. Over 8,000 attended the various film screenings, and, for the first time, working people in Turkey had an opportunity to see the global struggle of other working people through film and video.
The festival organizers had arranged to have posters up in the back windows of over 300 city busses in Istanbul, and publicity about the festival was in most major newspapers and on the Web. The massive job of translating most of the videos, putting subtitles on the films, arranging the venues, getting national press out, and hosting the international delegations required a talented planning committee with a high degree of organizational ability since the festival was produced on a very small budget and in only six months.
The opening night in Istanbul was a packed event. Over 1,500 participants crowded the theater and many were standing due to the huge turnout. A highlight of the opening was awards to leading directors and technicians who made films about working people in Turkey. Sonay Kanat (sets), Recep Bicer (light effects), and Suha Kapki (photography) were honored for their work and so surprised that they were speechless.
Film director and writer Vedat Türkali gave a lively presentation of how he had engineered support for his labor films in the face of anti-communist control of the film industry and received a standing ovation. Türkali is the writer of Sun over the Swamp and Awakening in the Darkness. He has also written screenplays for renowned film maker Yilmaz Güney. Türkali was born in 1919 in Samsun. He graduated from Istanbul University Turkology Department and worked as a literature teacher in military high schools. Türkali was initially known for his poems that he distributed in revolutionary intellectual circles. He was arrested in 1951 for his political activism and sentenced to nine years in prison. After his release on probation in 1958, he wrote over 40 screenplays and directed three films. Türkali has been a central influence in the growth of Turkish Cinema; and he is an important figure for the Turkish left. In his speech at the opening, he discussed the writing and filming process of Awakening in the Darkness. He talked about the political conditions, labor unions, and social consciousness in 1970s. He also mentioned the difficulties of making films in that decade.
The festival also honored the Cetin Uygur of the Underground Mine Worker Union and a film about mine workers, Maden: The Mine, the first film to show the lives and conditions of mine workers in Turkey. He reported that this film had a profound impact on miners who could now see their lives and battles on film. Also at the opening, labor photographer Ozcan Yurdalan presented his photos of workers in struggle and the important mine workers strike in 2002.
This was the first time that many of these film workers had been honored for doing film work about working people, and some of them broke down on the stage talking about their struggles.
The festival received national publicity by major television networks who covered the opening and interviewed many of the international producers as well as participants, which was shown on national television. Also, there was radio coverage prior to the festival nationally and locally. Even one of the right wing daily national newspapers, Vatan, covered the festival and gave it a full-page story when a former millionaire capitalist Halil Bezmen attended the opening. He used to be the fourth largest capitalist but became a journalist after his bankruptcy, and he supported the Laborfest initiative. This festival received attention from more that the usual places.
The opening also included the Ruhi Su Dostlar Chorus singing “The International,” a musical band called Group 45ers, and the showing of the film Bloodletting by US director Lorna Green. This film, which shows the state of US medical care and the system of medical care in Cuba, had been chosen to expose what the likely result would be if the government is successful in privatizing medical care in Turkey.
This opening and all the screenings were free, and most of the screening venues were packed as viewers were given a firsthand look at struggles in China, South Korea, Argentina, Venezuela, the US, South Africa, and Spain. They were held at various cultural centers and smaller theaters in the Istanbul and were later in the week also in Ankara, Bolu, and other cities.
A delegation of labor film makers attended the festival; on May 1, they joined the working class in a large Istanbul May Day march and rally with a banner representing the festival. They also gave reports on the work of labor media around the world. Jungmi Park from South Korea’s Labor News Production reported on the use of new technology by working people; she is now working on a film about the use of such technologies like listening devises and cell phones to spy on workers at Samsung in order to prevent unionization. Michal Freedman of Video 48 presented A Job to Win about the lives and working conditions of Palestinian construction workers living in Israel — the first time that workers in Turkey saw a film about the actual lives of Palestinian workers. The showing of Bread and Roses by UK working-class director Ken Loach, on the struggles of immigrant workers organizing in the US, and Fighting Wal-Martization also offered a sharp vision of the realities for millions of US workers. In the light of the first mass worker May Day protests in the US since the 1930s, these films supplied a critical backgrounder to the situation in the US working class that has not been seen in the Turkish mainstream media. Fighting Wal-Martization surprised many workers and union organizers who had not witnessed before the bitter anger of US workers who are facing the Wal-Martization of the US economy. Some organizers of similar retail operations in Turkey were extremely interested in getting copies to show to their unions and workers in Turkey who are seeking to organize such companies. Plans were also being made to circulate other films among unions to begin screening them to their memberships.
A delegation of three film makers from Durban, South Africa also participated in the festival with their film Breyani and the Councillor about the struggle of the shack dwellers in Durban. This film exposed the false promises made by the ANC to carry out the Freedom Charter and provide housing for the poor Blacks of South Africa. The film, which has been selected by the Durban International Film Festival, was very well received in Turkey where similar problems of housing for the poor are systemic. The delegation also visited a poor working-class housing tract in Ankara which is threatened with destruction by developers and the rich who do not want a poor community in their midst, especially a poor community that has an organized left presence. The Halkevleri “People’s Houses” movement is similar to the Polo Obrero movement in Argentina which helps organize people in the community for food, housing, and healthcare. The festival itself was also co-sponsored not only by Sendika.Org and Halkevleri but by the press and film workers unions from DISK (Progressive Workers’ Confederation) and other unions in Turkey. Some of these unions made significant contributions to hold the festival. Sendika.Org is the first and largest labor news and information portal in Turkey, carries regular labor news in English, and offers a portal on working-class news and information from Latin America. Many workers now go to this site from internet cafes to get information and to ask questions about labor rights and union issues. The site has a panel of labor experts who respond to questions from workers who email in their inquiries.
The international delegation also visited striking textile workers in Istanbul who had been fired for trying to organize a union and were encamped outside the factory and steel fabrication workers outside Ankara who also had been sacked after seeking unionization to protect their health and safety. Many workers in Turkey face extremely dangerous working conditions and what the delegation learned is that there is very little legal labor rights that are protected under the laws. In fact, many of the striking workers both in Istanbul and Ankara said that they had been told that, once Turkey joined the European Union and the EC, their labor rights would be protected, but they had now discovered that this was false propaganda.
The people of Turkey, like South Africa and many other countries around the world, have been told that it is hopeless to fight the policies of the IMF and World Bank. The corporate-controlled media have propagandized that Turkey and South Africa must privatize their economies and carry out neoliberal policies if they hope to join the rest of the developed world. What the festivals have provided were concrete demonstrations that workers throughout the world have not accepted such measures and that, as in the case of Argentina, Bolivia, and Venezuela, the working class is on the offensive. For workers in Turkey to directly see these struggles was a new and historic moment.
The premier screenings of The Take, Venezuela Rising, and The Gas Is Not for Sale from Bolivia had a powerful impact on many of the viewers. For the first time on film, they could see the movements of workers in Latin America who have faced the destruction of their economies directly due to the policies of the IMF and World Bank and fought back in part by taking over their factories and workplaces.
Another film The Bitter Taste of Coca Cola, about the violent and murderous attacks on Colombian Coke union organizers, was also screened for Turkish Coke workers who have faced the same union-busting attacks by Coca Cola.
Also shown were films from Turkey from or about the 70s — The Resistance of 2nd September and Camera towards The Sun — and new films about the Kurdish paper collectors in Pickers of the Waste Paper who have been forced off their lands by military attacks and now are faced with having their jobs destroyed by the contracting out of their work.
The festival played a concrete role in strengthening international labor communication and solidarity and certainly encouraged film and video makers in Turkey that they would have a venue for such films and videos. It also provided an opportunity to look at the struggles of working people from a global perspective, using a vehicle that most working people and poor are familiar with — cinema. The fact that the festival was totally free of charge also surprised many people. As a result of globalization of the media in Turkey, most working people cannot afford the cost of a movie theater ticket, and the festival gave many of them an opportunity to actually go to a movie.
In fact, following the festival, dozens of calls came to the organizers from people throughout the country, inquiring how they could replicate the festival in their own communities. This of course is one of the most powerful uses of festivals such as this. A total of 8,000 festival participants attended the festival: 3,300 in Ankara, 4,700 in Istanbul, and 1,000 in Bolu, a city with a total population of 80,000.
A panel on labor, communication, and technology was also held in Istanbul on May 4th, and reports on the use of new telecommunication technology and software were delivered. The need for labor to use communication and information technology was discussed in the context of confronting the global attacks working people face in every country. One of the founders of the first international labor campaign web sites, Chris Bailey from Cambridge, reported on how this portal for the Liverpool dockers had mobilized and helped lead an international campaign for the sacked 500 dock workers. He also reported on the need to develop open source software for extremely low-cost international telephone and video communication. There was also a discussion about how secure these new technologies were and whether the capitalists and their governments would be successful in either censoring the internet or preventing its use by working people and labor organizers. The use of the internet to present labor videos on not only home computers but also cellular phones was also discussed. Participants were invited to attend the upcoming international LaborTech conference, which will be held in San Francisco on November 17th, 18th and 19th, 2006.
The festival and events surrounding it have reverberated widely, and the planners are already working on the festival in 2007. They are also working on a political/social/art tour of the country for international guests in addition to the next festival and will be inviting delegations of film makers and labor activists from around the world.
You can reach the festival organizers in Turkey at <firstname.lastname@example.org>.
You can also get information about the upcoming July 2006 LaborFest in San Francisco at www.laborfest.net.
* Sendika.Org hosts the Turkish edition of Monthly Review and its activists are primarily responsible for the massive translation work involved.
Steve Zeltzer is a labor video producer/programmer and founder of the Labor Video Project.