The 26th Istanbul Film Festival opens on March 30 with the regional premiere of Ferzan Ozpetek's Turkish-Italian-French co-production Saturn Opposite, the first time a Turkish director has been honoured at the first-night ceremony. Something of a director's festival, international guests scheduled to attend include Gus van Sant, Paul Schrader, Park Chan Wook, Tsai Ming-Liang and Tom DiCillio.

In another first, the international competition includes two Turkish films - Dervis Zaim's portrait of a 17th century Ottoman miniature painter, Cenneti Beklerken (Waiting For Heaven), and Sirri Süreyya Onder & Muharrem Gulmez's musical Beynelmilel (International), set in the aftermath of the 1980 military coup.

Other international films competing for the Golden Tulip, themed around literary adaptations and 'the arts and the artist', include George Hickenlooper's Factory Girl, Bahman Ghobadi's Half Moon, Ethan Hawke's The Hottest State, and Tom DiCillo's Delirious.

Michael Radford, who won the first Golden Tulip in 1985 with 1984, returns to Istanbul to head up the international jury, joined by Israeli Film Fund director Katriel Schory, actors Udo Kier and Tilbe Saran, and directors Dagur Kari, Lone Scherfig and Zeki Demirkubuz.

Italy-based Ozpetek also presides over the jury for the national competition, expanded this year to feature 16 films produced over the past year, shortlisted from 30 submissions. Highlights include Zeki Demirkubuz's coffeehouse-set love story Kader (Destiny), hailed by local critics as a contemporary classic.

Reflecting Turkey 's political ambitions, this year's festival sees the launch of the Film Award of the Council of Europe (FACE), granted to a feature screened in the Human Rights in Cinema section. In a statement, the festival organisers said the award would go to a 'movie that raises an interest and awareness in the public regarding human rights', to be announced on April 14 by Council of Europe Human Rights Commissioner Thomas Hammarberg. The line-up of 10 films competing for the $13,300 (Euros 10,000) prize includes Bruno Dumont's Flandres, Rachid Bouchareb's Days of Glory and Abderrahmane Sissako's Bamako .

Hulya Uçansu, who ran the festival for 24 years, stepped down last year, handing over her post to the festival's assistant director Azize Tan. Tan has taken over the reins at a particularly buoyant time for Turkish cinema. 2006 was the first year that Turkish, rather than imported films, dominated the national box office. Production is up to around 40 films a year, from 17 in 2005, and 13 homegrown films - a mix of blockbusters and indies - have already been released theatrically in 2007.

'Directors like Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Zeki Demirkubuz, Yesim Ustaoglu opened a new path, and now lots of new directors are making films that I believe will be very successful internationally,' Azize Tan told ScreenDaily. 'Last year we had only eight films in the national competition and this year 16 films, and it was a pretty tough decision to make. Five films will be shown out of competition and 10 out of those 21 films are by first- or second-time directors.'

In 2006, a record 150,000 people attended the festival; this year, a spokesperson told ScreenDaily, the festival expects around 190,000.

In total, the festival will screen 235 films across 20 themed sections. Other sections include tributes to directors Gus Van Sant and Rainer Werner Fassbinder, and director, choreographer and dancer Bob Fosse. The festival closes on April 15 with Steven Soderbergh's The Good German.