July 11 2014

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Istanbul’s “Sense Of Opportunity And Possibility” Draws A Crowd—Including Dunst, Swinton, Ackermann, And Love


Istanbul’s population unofficially tops 16 million. This past weekend, it felt like every single one of them owned a car—or at least was driving one. Guests at Istancool—the second Istanbul International Festival of Culture, to give it its full title—became intimately acquainted with the world through a minibus window as they negotiated the route from the Edition Hotel (seven stars! and a Snow Room!) to the various venues around the city. It was a useful education. Istanbul sits at a huge crossroads, geographically (obviously) but also conceptually. Michael Stipe, there for a presentation of his Collapse Into Now film project, went so far as to compare Istanbul’s “sense of opportunity and possibility” to the feeling New York has always given him. The project—a work in progress—has been corralling filmmakers to produce short pieces to accompany songs on the latest R.E.M. album. Liberatum offered a first view of a fast, furious, and funny film James Franco has made for “That Someone Is You,” which was the kind of coup that is critical to the festival’s success, according to Jefferson Hack, who hosted the Stipe event. (His magazine Another was the festival’s media collaborator.)

A different kind of coup was the presence of Kirsten Dunst and Tilda Swinton, both just off the plane from Cannes, where Dunst won Best Actress for Lars von Trier’s Melancholia. At 29, she has already spent more than two decades onscreen and experienced as many character-building extremes as show business can hurl at a young woman. (Lest we forgot, the heavily accented English translator of her Turkish introduction sonorously intoned, “We know her as the lover of the spiderman.”) Nevertheless, Dunst was gratifyingly, girlishly floored by her Cannes award. And she looked appropriately radiant in her Chanel couture at Istancool’s gala dinner.

Swinton’s performance in We Need to Talk About Kevin surely ran Dunst a close second at Cannes. “I am Tilda, I am an actress,” she declared as a prelude to her conversation with Turkish actress Serra Yilmaz, acknowledging that, as a performer, she seems curiously addicted to risk in the roles she takes. What’s left? someone wondered during the audience Q&A. “Paint myself green? Play in the next Hulk?” Swinton mused.

Dunst didn’t fare as well during her audience Q&A, which was stalled by a fanboy stalker with a preternatural interest in the underwear she wore in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. She’d also been papped reluctantly belly-dancing in a local restaurant (by the proprietor, no less). But Dunst and Swinton’s ease and accessibility set the tone of a weekend which at times felt as playful as a school trip, albeit one where the glee club included Terry Gilliam, Courtney Love, and a sympathetic sampling of the international art world: laconic Frenchwoman Sophie Calle, irresistible Englishwoman Sam Taylor-Wood, hirsute Kiwi Sandro Kopp, and mellow Americans Ryan McGinley and Dan Colen. Fashion’s ambassadors were Haider Ackermann, who dressed Swinton and hosted a workshop for a handful of very lucky students, and Stephen Jones, whose spectacular Antwerp retrospective recently transferred to Istanbul with the help of Liberatum and Istanbul ’74, the driving forces behind Istancool.

Istanbul ’74′s co-founder is Demet Muftuoglu (above left), and it’s easy to see what Istancool, with its mutually beneficial integration of local and foreign talent, could mean to her. A much more enigmatic figure is Liberatum’s founder Pablo Ganguli (above center), who adds fine new shadings to the idea of the prodigy. Now 27 (though, with his club kid looks, he could pass for much younger), he spent his childhood in Calcutta imagining just the sort of multi-focal events he has been staging around the world for the past ten years. The last one was in St. Petersburg, the next is in Rio (“cultural diplomacy,” he calls it). This time, he managed to solicit backing from Cem Hakko (Turkey’s Rupert Murdoch), inveigle talents as legendarily difficult as Gilliam and Love, compile a calendar of events that would be the envy of arts festivals anywhere, and make the political point of staging the whole thing for free. I’m irresistibly reminded of another prodigy: Thomas Jerome Newton in The Man Who Fell to Earth. Of course, Bowie’s character was from another planet—though, after this weekend, I wouldn’t rule anywhere out as an optional point of origin for Ganguli.

Photos: Billy Farrell/

Dept. of Culture