© Port au Prince/barnsteiner-film

Istanbul United
Czech Republic/Switzerland/Germany/Turkey 2014

Opening 18 Sep 2014

Directed by: Farid Eslam
Writing credits: Farid Eslam, Oliver Waldhauer

Directors Olli Waldhauer and Farid Eslam spend much time and energy watching soccer games in Turkey. They have selected three teams: Galatasaray, Fenerbahçe and Besiktas, but, rather than focus on the game, they feature the fans, wearing red and yellow, yellow and blue, and black and white, respectively. These are fans like any other: enthusiastic, over the top, loyal, and extremely competitive. They are called Ultra-fans and their team loyalty seems to have no limits, even escalating to physical combat.

Therefore, we are quite amazed when the fans of these three teams adopt a common cause and became best friends. Prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan had determined that Istanbul’s popular, much-frequented Gezi Park near Taksim Square should be closed to the public; traditional buildings would be torn down to make room for a modern shopping mall. Protesters gathered and the problem became serious on May 31, 2013, when the military attacked them with tanks, water hoses, tear gas, clubs and pepper spray, even burning down their tents, regardless of losses, anything to bring them to their knees. At this point the united fans of the three soccer teams showed up and led the protests which continued for weeks. After all, they are used to fighting for their loyalties. They call themselves Istanbul United.

I am not sure if Waldhauer and Eslam actually planned to make this film as it appears. I have the impression that they were going to cover protests at Taksim Square, but then the appearance of soccer fans suddenly became more interesting. This is not a far-out assumption considering that the Soccer World Cup completion in Brazil riveted the world just weeks before the film was due to open. There are interviews with six individual fans, from different walks of life, but with the mutual interest of soccer, e.g., a lawyer named Can Atalay. They quote the words of Deniz Gezmis, a Turkish demonstrator who was executed for his deeds in 1972; he said, “When the state of your country doesn’t let you sleep any more, the resistance has begun.” I saw the film in Turkish and English with English subtitles; do soccer fans really say “fuck” that much in Turkey? Why not – considering the situation? (Becky Tan)

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