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At the MFA, an opportunity to meet three remarkable men

Sevan Bicakci, from "Sevan the Craftsman"
Sevan Bicakci, from "Sevan the Craftsman"

The past haunts three of the documentaries in this year’s Boston Turkish Festival’s Documentary and Short Film Competition, which runs at the Museum of Fine Arts, Nov. 15-24; (full disclosure — I am a jury member).

In Ümran Safter’s 2017 film, “Sevan the Craftsman” (Nov. 23, 1 p.m.) a nostalgic Sevan Bıçakçı, the title subject, wanders through the now-vacant rooms in Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar where he served as an apprentice. Superimposed beside him walks a ghostly semblance of his 12-year-old self. Bıçakçı recalls with gratitude his years of instruction from strict masters, for he has since become world famous for meticulously detailed rings, amulets, and bracelets that enclose in precious stones tiny carvings of the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, and other celebrated Istanbul landmarks. With jewel-encrusted settings that make Super Bowl rings look like gimcracks from a Cracker Jack box, these miniature artworks are luminous and stunningly detailed.

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The ebullient Sevan is himself a piece of work — with his grizzled beard and regal attire he looks like one of the sultan-head rings with which he first established his career. Safter chronicles his subject’s determined rise to success and shows him and his assistants at work on his latest project — encasing in a large emerald a tiny reproduction of two kissing figures from an ancient sarcophagus.

While Sevan’s works seek to immortalize Istanbul’s past and present glories, his own profession may be dying. He and other craftsmen from his generation lament the unwillingness of today’s youth to commit themselves to the years of training and months of painstaking labor necessary to create such stunning artifacts.

From "Kâzım"
From "Kâzım"

Unlike those in “Sevan the Craftsman,” the artifacts in Dilek Kaya’s 2018 film “Kâzım” (Nov. 24, 2 p.m.) are mundane. But they have a beauty and profundity of their own.

While browsing through an assortment of old passports, diaries, address books, and other ephemera at an Izmir flea market, Kaya came across a handful of letters written in 1973 and 1974 by Kâzım Küçükalp, a 19-year-old student. In them he wrote of his love for rock 'n' roll bands like the Grateful Dead, Traffic, and his favorite, Wishbone Ash (!). He recounted how he joined his friends on mountain-climbing expeditions, which were sometimes disrupted by Turkish Army units paranoid about terrorists.

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The letters ended just as Kâzım was embarking on one such excursion. Having developed an affection for the young man and curious about his fate, Kaya set off to find out what happened. In her investigation she uncovers old photos and mementos and tracks down Kâzım’s brother, his friends, and the local inhabitants who met him before he made what turned out to be a fatal climb. They all were impressed by the young man’s charisma and vivacity.

Among the photos are those of the angelic-looking village children whom Kâzım and his friends encountered that day. Kaya interviews one of them, now middle-aged and careworn. She recalls Kazim’s body being carried down from the mountain. “A friend of his was crying, ‘Kâzım, Kâzım.’ I could never forget that moment, that ‘Kazim.’”

Jim Haynes, in "Meeting Jim"
Jim Haynes, in "Meeting Jim"

Now in his 80s, Jim Haynes, the subject of Turkish filmmaker Ece Ger’s 2018 film, “Meeting Jim” (Nov. 23, 3 p.m.), has had a lifetime of making powerful impressions and influencing people. He is still going strong.

Stationed in Edinburgh while in the US Air Force in the 1950s, Haynes stuck around and became a driving force in the nascent countercultural scene. There he opened the first paperback bookshop in Britain and helped establish the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. He moved to London, where he started the Traverse Theatre Company, organized some of the first “happenings,” cofounded the provocative periodicals International Times (I.T.) and Suck, and helped establish the Wet Dream Film Festival. Distressed by the divisions and strife caused by nationalism and borders, he printed his own World Passports, which, for a brief time, were used by thousands of people and sometimes accepted as valid.

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For the past 40 years he has had an open dinner every Sunday at his Paris atelier. An estimated 130,000 diners have attended, each person meeting Haynes and making many other connections besides. His philosophy is that if more people meet other people the greater the chances of world peace. The film ends with Haynes’s address and phone number, so you can drop by, have dinner, and meet Jim, too.

Go to www.bostonturkishfestival.org.

Peter Keough can be reached at petervkeough@gmail.com.