A meeting of minds on the Bosphorus

Istancool brings stars from across the globe together in intimate salon style. It's the future of festivals, says Harriet Walker

Attending the Istancool festival is a little like one of those conversations in which each person nominates their dream dinner party guest.

Kirsten Dunst chats to Michael Stipe and Terry Gilliam over a Bellini on the terrace, while actress Tilda Swinton twirls fashion designer Haider Ackermann around the dance-floor, and photographer Ryan McGinley lends a hand to DJ and magazine mogul Jefferson Hack. Later on, Courtney Love arrives to perform an intimate set, in which she covers Madonna's "Like a Prayer" and dedicates a new song to Stipe. Who rushes right over to give her a hug.

Overwhelming? Slightly. Surreal? Certainly. But Istancool, now in its second year, is a festival unlike any other – and that is both its goal and its USP. And it carries it off. Far from being an exclusive celebrity smug-in, this fledgling event is a weekend of carefully curated panel discussions, screenings and audience-led Q&As, all of which are open to the public and free to attend.

There's an air of informality which permeates both talent and hangers-on alike, so that the discussions take on a more relaxed feel: the speakers are more likely to respond without being frosty, and audiences do not feel the need to grill them. "It's like a school trip" says Tilda Swinton, when she takes to the stage to be questioned alongside Turkish actor Serra Yilmaz.

Events range from set pieces, such as interviews and screenings, to more spontaneous round-tables and amenable chats stage-managed with alacrity by Jefferson Hack, whose magazine AnOther is media partner to the event. These types of conversatione hark back to a salon tradition with which the event very strongly identifies. The discussion of art and the role of the artist is difficult in a culture which immediately classes such dialogue as self-conscious, and pretentiously so. But when those discussing it are old friends, such as McGinley and fellow New York artist Dan Colen, the result is so genuinely warm and engaging that all else evaporates. "I wouldn't call myself a street artist," McGinley tells Hack at one point, "but I have sat on a lot of pavements."

Istancool also hosted the world premiere of a series of music videos created for REM's new album, Collapse Into Now, by Sam Taylor-Wood and Sophie Calle. One depicts Taylor-Wood's husband, actor Aaron Johnson, dancing and cavorting with lamp-posts in East London.

"It comes from our ritual of 'morning dancing'," explains Taylor-Wood, winking at Johnson, who is squirming in the audience. These are the moments that make Istancool different from, say, Hay or Port Eliot – there is always a proximity, everyone is interlinked. There is little difference between those involved and those participating. So much so that Courtney Love turned parts of her Q & A on her audience, interested to find out how her music had inspired them. During Dunst's talk (she arrived fresh from victory and ignominy at Cannes for her role in Melancholia) there is discussion of little other than her director Lars von Trier's slip-up, but Dunst answers gamely.

"He says dumb stuff sometimes," she admits. "He was trying to make people laugh by telling the story of his life, but it was not the right audience for it."

The spontaneity that drives Istancool comes, in large part, from organisers Pablo Ganguli and Demet Muftuoglu. "The aim is to connect minds together for people all over the world", explains Ganguli, who founded his company Liberatum in 2001, aged just 17, with the intention of staging events around the world. "To give people who don't normally have it a chance to interact."

Hence Istanbul. After a stint as European Capital of Culture last year (which saw Liberatum's inaugural event there), Ganguli wants the spotlight of the world to remain firmly on the city that, literally, bridges Europe and Asia. And he has plenty more ideas to come.

"I'm talking to Angelina [Jolie]'s manager at the moment," he says. "Let's say I could bring her to give a talk with Sean Penn on the Balkans or Haiti. And I want an opera curated by Lady Gaga. Istancool will be bigger than Venice!"

Arts and Entertainment
By Seuss! ‘What Pet Shall I Get?’ hits the bookshops this week
Books
Arts and Entertainment
The mushroom cloud over Hiroshima after Enola Gray and her crew dropped the bomb
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Elliott outside his stationery store that houses a Post Office
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Rebecca Ferguson, Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible Rogue Nation

Film review Tom Cruise, 50, is still like a puppy in this relentless action soap opera

Arts and Entertainment
Rachel McAdams in True Detective season 2

TV review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    A Very British Coup, part two: New novel in pipeline as Jeremy Corbyn's rise inspires sequel

    A Very British Coup, part two

    New novel in pipeline as Jeremy Corbyn's rise inspires sequel
    Philae lander data show comets could have brought 'building blocks of life' to Earth

    Philae lander data show comets could have brought 'building blocks of life' to Earth

    Icy dust layer holds organic compounds similar to those found in living organisms
    What turns someone into a conspiracy theorist? Study to look at why some are more 'receptive' to such theories

    What turns someone into a conspiracy theorist?

    Study to look at why some are more 'receptive' to such theories
    Chinese web dissenters using coded language to dodge censorship filters and vent frustration at government

    Are you a 50-center?

    Decoding the Chinese web dissenters
    The Beatles film Help, released 50 years ago, signalled the birth of the 'metrosexual' man

    Help signalled birth of 'metrosexual' man

    The Beatles' moptop haircuts and dandified fashion introduced a new style for the modern Englishman, says Martin King
    Hollywood's new diet: Has LA stolen New York's crown as the ultimate foodie trend-setter?

    Hollywood's new diet trends

    Has LA stolen New York's crown as the ultimate foodie trend-setter?
    6 best recipe files

    6 best recipe files

    Get organised like a Bake Off champion and put all your show-stopping recipes in one place
    Ashes 2015: Steven Finn goes from being unselectable to simply unplayable

    Finn goes from being unselectable to simply unplayable

    Middlesex bowler claims Ashes hat-trick of Clarke, Voges and Marsh
    Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... for the fourth time

    Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... again

    I was once told that intelligence services declare their enemies dead to provoke them into popping up their heads and revealing their location, says Robert Fisk
    Margaret Attwood on climate change: 'Time is running out for our fragile, Goldilocks planet'

    Margaret Atwood on climate change

    The author looks back on what she wrote about oil in 2009, and reflects on how the conversation has changed in a mere six years
    New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered: What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week

    New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered

    What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week
    Oculus Rift and the lonely cartoon hedgehog who could become the first ever virtual reality movie star

    The cartoon hedgehog leading the way into a whole new reality

    Virtual reality is the 'next chapter' of entertainment. Tim Walker gives it a try
    Ants have unique ability to switch between individual and collective action, says study

    Secrets of ants' teamwork revealed

    The insects have an almost unique ability to switch between individual and collective action
    Donovan interview: The singer is releasing a greatest hits album to mark his 50th year in folk

    Donovan marks his 50th year in folk

    The singer tells Nick Duerden about receiving death threats, why the world is 'mentally ill', and how he can write a song about anything, from ecology to crumpets
    Let's Race simulator: Ultra-realistic technology recreates thrill of the Formula One circuit

    Simulator recreates thrill of F1 circuit

    Rory Buckeridge gets behind the wheel and explains how it works