‘Exodus’ movie on global refugee crisis wins Best Drama Feature award at London festival

“Exodus,” a movie focusing on the stories of a group of people forced to flee Turkey to seek asylum in Europe, has won the Best Drama Feature award at the London Independent Film Festival, the Bold Medya news website reported on Monday.

The movie, created by Turkish screenwriters Erkan Çıplak and Refik Güley, producers Murat Kesgin and Ender Zirekoğlu and Cypriot director Serkan Nihat, was chosen among seven nominees as the festival’s opening night film at the Genesis Cinema on April 19.

Describing the Best Drama Feature award as an “exciting milestone” in the film’s artistic journey, the producers expressed their hopes for more awards from other festivals.

The movie, previously announced to soon be released on a popular digital platform, was described by film critic John Higgins as “another fine example of the cinematic possibilities presented if you have a strong idea combined with limited means.” He said the stories in the movie were “emotionally involving” and “heartbreaking at times.”

The film narrates the stories of Havin, a Yazidi woman who survived a sexual assault by Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) militants and tries to escape to Europe; an African named Kembo; Zelal, a Kurdish girl; Hakan Arıkan, a leftist academic fired from a university in Turkey; Mehmet Özdemir, a chief dismissed from the Turkish police force by decree; and a housewife named Nermin and her son Eren.

The film also relates the experiences of Esra Özdemir, who was detained with her daughter solely because she was the wife of a dismissed police officer; explores the challenges faced by a general’s lawyer daughter in her fight against injustice; and addresses the issue of human trafficking.

Shot in London, Cyprus and Istanbul and named after the chapter of the Bible that narrates the flight of Moses from the pharaoh, the film features Denis Oister, Ümit Ülgen, Selen Cabel, Dilan Derya Zeynilli, Murat Zeynilli, Doğa Çelik, Günce Ateş, Gamze Şeber and Azra Çiftçi.

Turkey’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) government declared a state of emergency following an abortive putsch on July 15, 2016 that remained in effect until July 19, 2018. During the state of emergency, the AKP carried out a massive purge of state institutions under the pretext of an anti-coup fight. More than 130,000 public servants, including 4,156 judges and prosecutors, as well as 24,706 members of the armed forces, were summarily removed from their jobs for alleged membership in or relationships with “terrorist organizations” by emergency decree-laws subject to neither judicial nor parliamentary scrutiny.

One of those organizations was the Gülen movement, inspired by Turkish Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been targeting the group since the corruption investigations of December 17-25, 2013, which implicated then-prime minister Erdoğan, his family members and his inner circle.

Dismissing the investigations as a Gülenist coup and conspiracy against his government, Erdoğan designated the movement as a terrorist organization and began to target its members. He intensified the crackdown on the movement following the abortive putsch that he accused Gülen of masterminding. Gülen and the movement strongly deny involvement in the coup attempt or any terrorist activity.

In addition to the thousands who were jailed, scores of other Gülen movement followers had to flee Turkey to avoid the government crackdown.

Over the past several years Erdoğan has been widely criticized for mishandling the economy, emptying the state’s coffers and establishing one-man rule in the country where dissent is suppressed and opponents are jailed on politically motivated charges.