Discussing cinema and violence in the CINECRI ’16 conference in Istanbul

Cinema and violence was the main theme of the 3rd International Film Studies and Cinematic Arts Conference CINECRI ’16 in Istanbul, Turkey. The theme was more than appropriate considering the recent terrorist attacks in Turkey. Despite the real-life violence some twenty courageous researchers from all over the world gathered in the conference hall of hotel Nippon in Istanbul’s Taksim area on the 10th of June.

The only keynote lecture was given by the professor and scriptwriter Feride Ҫiҫekoğlu from Istanbul Bilgi University, who has had some very personal experience of violence. She was imprisoned during the military junta of 1980 in Turkey, because of political opposition and was tortured during her imprisonment. Ҫiҫekoğlu took the recent surge of violence in Europe as a starting point for her talk in which she emphasized that the creation of borders not only between nation states and ethnicities but also between sexes is the main cause for the continuation of violence. She provoked the audience by claiming that forced separation between men and women and the exclusion of women from positions of power are the main reasons for violence. She showed clips from recent European films such as Abluka (Emin Alper, 2015, Turkey) and Mustang (Denize Gamze Ergüven, 2016, France, Germany, Turkey, Qatar) the first of which is situated in the context of political violence in Istanbul and the latter deals with the confinement of five sisters by conservative guardians.

The topics of the presentations were varied which testifies to the fact that violence comes in many forms in cinema. Sexual violence was discussed in several papers. The relationship between sex, violence and feminism came up in these papers which used the so called new extremist cinema, such as Baise-moí, as examples. There were analyses of individual films that deal with political and domestic violence. The relationship of religion and violence was addressed in a couple of papers one of which proposed a rather naïve idea by suggesting that the media should be more careful in discussing religion lest it give the impression that religion is the cause of violence! It was not surprising that this claim caused discussion about the connection between religions and violence.

One of the most refreshing approaches, if such an expression is permitted, was in Ece Ûҫoluk Krane’s paper Subverting the human/animal binary: Violence and ethics in the Texas Chain Saw Massacre. She argued that Tobe Hooper’s famous horror film deconstructs the world view according to which the animal is other by creating analogues between human and animal slaughter.

I expected more papers to deal with the current global situation and recent films that deal with it, but my own paper Aesthetics and ethics of violence in Heart of a Lion was one of the few papers that tackled topical issues, in my case the rise of the extreme right and immigration in Finland. Felix Laubscher addressed the complicated issue of drone warfare with his well-argued paper 5000 feet is the best – Framing the “invisible” drone warfare.

For some inexplicable reason the whole program was crammed in a single, long day. The schedule was extremely tight and there was very little time for discussion. The whole conference felt like a desperate struggle against time. For this reason the conference did not offer as much as I expected. The withdrawal of the other keynote, Richard Dyer, was also unfortunate.

The conference was organized by a network called Eastern Mediterranean Academic Research Center (DAKAM) which many of the participants did not seem to be familiar with. The fact that the conference was not hosted by any university department had a somewhat alienating effect. The conference lacked the presence and comments of substantial academics.

The best part of the CINECRI ’16 conference was the meeting of fellow film scholars and the conversations conducted outside the official program. I even had some time to walk around a tiny part of this huge city.