The Accessible Film Festival (AFF) of Turkey is now in its seventh year, and aims to screen films for people with disabilities who may otherwise shy away from cultural activities in their day-to-day lives.

The Accessible Film Festival (AFF) has been encouraging disabled viewers to come out of their shells and join in cultural activities for the past seven years.

The seventh AFF will be held at the Istanbul SineBU from October 7 to 9, at the Eskisehir Yunus Emre Cultural Centre from October 11 to 13, and in the Contemporary Arts Centre and Goethe-Institut in Ankara between October 16 and 20.

TRT World has interviewed the two co-founders, Kivanc Yalciner, the general coordinator, and Ezgi Yalinalp, the programme coordinator, on behalf of the festival.

How did you decide to organise the Accessible Film Festival?

AFF: We’re a team that’s active in film festival organisation and that has been together for a long time. We wanted to create a new festival in 2013 and we wanted this festival to really serve a need, to have a unique identity and to be sustainable.

Unfortunately very few film festivals in Turkey have managed to create a unique identity and become corporate. There’s a recipe for film festivals and people stick to it. There are many film festivals that are identical to each other from the opening to the closing. We were not interested in producing such a festival.

Before organising the Accessible Film Festival we used to work at other film festivals. In these festivals there would be three or four films that screened with audio descriptions but the sound would be transmitted into the auditorium so people without disabilities didn’t come to these screenings and people with hearing disabilities couldn’t follow these films because there weren’t any closed captions or sign language.

The Accessible Film Festival grew out of a question that was about the situation then: “Is it possible for hearing-impaired and sight-impaired and regularly-abled people to watch a film together?” 

We did some research into this and once we realised it was technically possible, the Accessible Film Festival sprang to life.

Ezgi Yalinalp is one of the co-founders of the Accessible Film Festival.
Ezgi Yalinalp is one of the co-founders of the Accessible Film Festival. (Courtesy of Accessible Film Festival)

How did the Accessible Film Festival spread from Ankara to Istanbul and Eskisehir?

AFF: We received invitations from different cities after the first year of the festival but our priority in the first four years was to keep the festival going in Ankara.

In our fifth year the conditions were right to hold the festival in other cities; with the help of Bogazici University [in Istanbul], Eskisehir Metropolitan Municipality and other supporters of the festival, we held the festival in Istanbul and Eskisehir.

We care about long-term collaborations and the determination [of our collaborators] to keep the festival going when we hold the festival in other cities.

There are limited opportunities and applications [for the disabled] and not many accessible events are held. Disabled individuals are shy about joining cultural activities yet this shyness can be overcome with the Accessible Film Festival, and can turn into a [positive] habit.

Therefore we are not interested in holding the festival once in a random city. We would much rather hold it in cities that participate in the Accessible Film Festival every year, that help break behaviour patterns in that city, that overcomes the reticence [of the disabled to join cultural events].

How do you select the films to be screened at the Accessible Film Festival?

AFF: The festival programme consists of several thematic sections: Competition without Barriers, Around the World, For Children, The Long & Short of It, Autism-friendly Screenings which are themes we have every year. In addition to these, we try to screen selections that are unique to that year. This year we have five selections: Eccentric Grass, Says Who?, Guide Dogs, Nothing for us, without us!, and Be In!

Our selections are based on these headings and we try to include independent and quality films of Turkish and world cinema.

We have added a completely new activity to our side activities: Mural Ankara. It took place a week before the festival in Ankara, and it’s about disabled women’s problems depicted as murals in the city by three artists: Friz from Belfast, ekin Kilic Ezer from Ankara and Yesim Paktin from Istanbul got together with three activists and afterwards painted three murals over three days on three separate buildings in Ankara.

In addition to Mural Ankara there are virtual reality experiences, animation workshop with hearing-impaired children and autism-friendly screenings, providing a comfortable screening environment for children with autism, taking place again this year.

Kivanc Yalciner (centre), one of the co-founders of the Accessible Film Festival, during a Q&A session last year
Kivanc Yalciner (centre), one of the co-founders of the Accessible Film Festival, during a Q&A session last year (Courtesy of Accessible Film Festival / )

What kind of amenities do you provide for disabled viewers? 

AFF: For festival attendees that are visually impaired, they can follow the films with the audio description headphones provided in the foyer. For the hearing impaired, we provide sign language and closed captions. In all three cities [Ankara, Istanbul and Eskisehir] all screenings and activities take place in accessible locations for viewers with orthopedic disabilities.

We must admit that finding accessible locations may be the hardest part of the job. Unfortunately very few cinemas or cultural venues are truly accessible. That’s why Goethe-Institut Ankara, Cankaya Municipality Contemporary Arts Centre, Bogazici University SineBU and Tasbasi Municipality Yunus Emre Cultural Centre are such important venues for the festival.

Going back to the inclusive nature of the festival, we’d like to mention the Autism-Friendly screenings. We have one screening in each city for viewers on the autistic spectrum. The screenings take place with a lower sound level, in a dimly lit, not dark, theatre, where viewers can freely move around in.

Can you tell us a bit about the Accessible Film Library?

AFF: Including the 48 films of this year’s programme, there are now 232 films that have audio description, sign language and closed captions we have prepared. The Accessible Film Library consists of films screened during the seven years of the Accessible Film Festival. We collaborate with film festivals or corporations who would like to screen these films in an accessible manner and thus cinephiles who live in other cities too can enjoy these films.

Source: TRT World