!F Film Festival: Black Sea Eccentric Fights for Coasts

!f International Independent Film Festival/Promo image
A still from An Argonaut in Ordu.

The Turkish Black Sea coast, though ravaged in many places by over-development, is seen as one of the country's last green, rugged areas. And if the town of Ordu retains any of its original character and natural beauty, it's due in large part to the efforts of eccentric windmill-tilter Enis Ayar, the "tavern keeper without a tavern" profiled in the new film Ordu'da bir Argonot (An Argonaut in Ordu).

A garrulous 60-something man with a long, unkempt white beard and hair, Ayar seems the picture of the quintessential hippie -- an impression not dispelled by his main claim to fame: organizing the Ordu Volkswagen Festival, a local promotional effort to bring Beetle owners to the area to drive through the countryside and attend concerts in its meadows. But as quirky as he is, Ayar seems a force to be reckoned with in Ordu, a stop on the Argonauts' mythical journey to retrieve the Golden Fleece in present-day Georgia.

March to Protest Coastal Highway
Director Rüya Köksal's rambling, occasionally perplexing film, which screened this week at the !f International Independent Film Festival in Istanbul, follows Ayar around and interviews both fans and foes of his work to protect his hometown from all assailants. Some of his efforts are cultural -- he successfully lobbied to get an old Greek church cleaned and repaired because he was ashamed to see tourists praying in it in its wrecked condition -- but many focus on the environment.

The former proprietor of the Moonlight Cafe, a waterfront tavern, Ayar is fiercely devoted to the area's coastline, where he enjoys watching the waves while drinking a glass of the Turkish spirit rakı. Back in the mid-1990s, he organized a large march to protest a plan to fill a local harbor to extend the coastal highway, which has cut many other Black Sea towns off from the water and likely contributed to the damaging effects of recent floods.

Flooding in the area has also caused chemical treatment ponds -- used by mining companies to clean ore waste -- to overflow into the Melet River, which provides drinking water for Ordu. The water turned "the color of lead" and dead fish flopped up on its banks. The village headman had the local imam issue an announcement from the mosque to not eat fish from the river or let animals drink there. Ayar railed against the polluters -- and against the local mayor, a seemingly frequent adversary, who quickly pronounced that the water had been tested as safe once again.

Re-Beautifying the Coast by Tearing Down Ugly Buildings
Such efforts, some locals say, caused the government to shut down the Moonlight Cafe, a beloved community gathering place that preserved traditions of music and dance. (What actually happened to the cafe and why is one of the holes in the film's narrative.) Ayar certainly doesn't seem to make any effort to ingratiate himself with the authorities -- he calls officials like the mayor "palm headed," in reference to one of his pet peeves: bringing in palm trees to line the coast when native species already provide ample shade, fruit, and wood.

Ayar's latest effort, "Taşbaşı 2040 - Forward to the Past," is perhaps his most ambitious. Chagrined at the ugly apartment buildings that have been constructed along the seaside in his childhood neighborhood, he has launched a campaign to gather enough donations to buy the buildings and tear them down, bringing the area back to its former beauty and rejoining it with the sea. A humorous scene in the film has him walking around an architects' convention with a sandwich-board sign showing the area "MÖ" (Before the Architects) and "MS" (After the Architects).

His nemesis the mayor calls the idea a utopian "fantasy"; Ayar's supporters say he's "ahead of his time." Only time will tell if Ordu, and the rest of Turkey, can catch up fast enough.

More about environmental movies at the !F Film Festival:
'Opinionated Palettes' Recruit Istanbul Food Sleuths
!F Film Festival: Thai Director's Lost 'Agrarian Utopia'

More about the Black Sea:
Oil Spill in Istanbul as Cargo Ship Runs Aground
The Ups and Downs of the World's Most Isolated Sea
Can Turkey's Trashy Coasts Be Transformed?
Ecotopia Biketour: 'Eco-Mobile' Group Demonstrates 'Do-It-Yourself' Lifestyle - On Wheels
Oil Spill in Black Sea Strait Could Be Region's Worst Environmental Disaster
Jellyfish: Coming to a Beach Near You

Tags: Activism | Conservation | Documentaries | Movies | Turkey

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