15 Years of Akbank Short Film Festival

15 Years of Akbank Short Film Festival


Interview: Tuba Altuntaş
Illustration: Saydan Akşit

This year marks the 15th anniversary of Akbank Short Film Festival. We sat down with the festival director Selim Evci to talk about the festival’s journey, changes it went through since its beginning, its evolving international structure as well as his thoughts on what have been going on in the short film field over the course of 15 years.

Akbank Short Film Festival started off as a competition in 2004 and that year there were only around 80-90 shorts produced in Turkey. As the years passed by, the increasing popularity and demand for shorts transformed ASFF into a multi-category festival as well as a hub where new projects found collective realization. Now at the festival’s 15th year, can you tell us about this mutual growth and the progress related to the transformative effect of the festival?

Yes, when we started in 2004, the short film production in Turkey was lower, but there was definitely a hot, dynamic interest. Even at our first year, our screenings were pretty crowded. The lower numbers in production was definitely tied into the challenges of the time. In time, technology offered a lot to the filmmakers and technical problems became much more manageable. Festivals are the natural habitats of shorts, and as the numbers of such events increase, more production will follow. Because for the filmmaker, festivals become a goal, a platform where they can reach audiences, measure themselves, share and get recognition. As a festival, we also are focused on discovering and highlighting from first year onward. I believe all this has contributions to the short film culture.

While Akbank Film Festival was being prepared to launch in 2004, and you were working with a team to realize the whole festival for the first time, were there any goals or long term guesses? If there were, where does the festival stand now compared to that vision? 

We set our goals within our reach and planned a growth with small steps and over time. In time we increased our sections, number of competitions and gained an international status. This process of growth is still ongoing.

We have our shortcomings and our goals, there are festivals we get inspiration and learn from, and there is the cinema itself that changes... We are trying to create and conserve a festival identity in regards to all of that. Clermont-Ferrand Festival will run its 40th year in France and like them, we would definitely like to become a world festival where the heart of short film beats. In the last two years, the number of international shorts we receive surpassed the local productions and we can include shorts from 40 different countries in our program. These things make me feel the progress.

In the first years, we struggled with the perception towards short film as an amateur endeavor, but we passed beyond that. We always looked at short films as the laboratory or the locomotive of cinema. Discovery and highlighting is very important to us. Aside from discovering, highlighting a hidden or forgotten gem is also something we care about.

As the director of Akbank Short Film Festival for 15 years, we think you should have a lot of observations and stories from the past years. Turkey’s cinema has growth and received more international recognition. Can you share a few stories that summarizes festival’s 15 years, and might surprise or illuminate us?

For me the festival is very special, and as a filmmaker, there are a lot sides to it that I love, that feeds me. There are also stories... For example, when Tolga Karaçelik shot and sent us his first short, he probably wasn’t even aware that he made a good one. I had a phone conversation with Tolga back then, and when I said I found his film very successful, he said “Are you sure? I don’t think it is my best effort.” I was like trying to convince him that he is a good director. To witness his successful films in time is a very nice feeling.

Through 15 years of collective thinking and efforts, Akbank Short Film Festival created its own identity. How would you define that identity?

A festival that recognizes the short film’s place in the art of cinema, and looks at short film directors as filmmakers with good potential. I think we create a good balance and harmony of the hits and the hidden gems. For us, the most important thing is to discover and highlight.

What is expecting us this year at the festival? What are some of the events in the festival’s 15th year that differs from last years?

Our 15th year program broke the record in variety: 111 shorts from 40 different countries as well as 3 full-features. Important guest directors who shot both short and full feature films, Elite Zexer, Nebojsa Slijepcevic, Mehmet Can Mertoğu, Gordan Matic, Hazar Ergüçlü, Ercan Kesal, Yekta Kopan, talks, workshops and more is waiting this year at the festival.

Every year you receive more short film applications. And since 15 years, the competing shorts are evaluated and awarded on certain criteria. What are some of the films that stood out for you, not because they fit the criteria necessarily, but because of a certain emotion, unusualness, or cinematography?

There are so many, I can’t probably recall all of them. But when I go back, Fatih Kızılgök’s Toz comes to mind, its atmosphere and emotion was very effective. Kartal Gür’s tiny little film Hesap Kitap was impressive. When you think of it, what matters is how the film approaches to a matter, the director’s interpretation. The issues are similar, but the difference comes from the perspective and interpretation. 

Festival is also a great platform to discover new names and talent. What are some of the names that became part of the festival’s legacy? What are the contributions of the festival to Turkey’s cinema?

I think festivals encourage directors. There are a lot of successful directors such as Can Evrenol, Rezan Yeşilbaş, Belma Baş, Kaan Müjdeci and Mehmet Can Mertoğlu who we appreciate since their short film years.

As a short film festival director, can you point out some of the world’s leading short film festivals that we should pay attention to?

Clermont Ferrand in France. This year the festival is celebrating its 40th year and it is the most important short film festival. Winterthur Festival in Switzerland is also very good. These are short film festivals. But aside from those, full feature festivals like Cannes, Venice, Berlin, Locarno, Sundance, Palm Springs, Guanajuato; they all have terrific short film sections.

As a festival that puts focus on discovering, when you look at the directors and films of the last 15 years - which actually foreshadows the cinema of tomorrow - what are the effects of the perspective that is shaping future cinema? We know that a common language is not possible, but what kind of a cinema understanding should we expect from the names who will shape the cinema of tomorrow?

Technological advancement has made the technical difficulties manageable. There are films shot on smart phones that are screened at important festivals. World is changing, communication is so fast and so intense now that films on loneliness can feel dated and romantic today. Real events and lives continue to feed the cinema. On the other side, as the enigma and the mystery of human soul still stands out of our reach, the main issue of cinema will always be the human itself.

We have a last question, which is not about the festival. As a person, who teaches cinema at a university, shoots his own films, directs a festival and invests more into the art side of cinema; what are your thoughts on the today’s cinema in Turkey, the sector, the decisions, and the period we are going through?

To be honest I am more focused on my own production. The sector, the decisions, the implementations, all these happen all over the world in a very similar manner but while all that is happening, the filmmakers keep making films. That is the power of cinema. I always think that Turkey has the potential to make good films. When you compare us to the world, I think we are doing fine, we have a dynamic cinema.

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