The International Istanbul Film Festival, organized by the Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts, was first realized in the Summer of 1982, within the frame of the International Istanbul Festival as a "Film Week" of six films. The theme of the films participating in the Festival was limited to "Arts and the Movies", to keep the event within the context of the International Istanbul Festival. In 1983, the event was realized under the title of "Istanbul Filmdays", taking place throughout the Festival. That year, 36 films were presented to film lovers within the span of a month.
Beginning from 1984, the event gained an identity as a separate activity; it was shifted to the month of April and 44 films from 16 countries were screened. In 1985, two competitive sections, one being national and the other international, were included in the festival programme. The International Competition section of the programme consisted of films having the theme of "Arts and the Movies" which were evaluated by an international jury, and the best film received the "Golden Tulip Award". As for the National Competition, a national jury evaluated the participating Turkish films and chose the film to receive "Eczacibasi Foundation the Best Film of the Year Award".
The Istanbul International Filmdays, which showed a steady growth from the days of its establishment, aimed "to encourage the development of cinema in Turkey, to help Turkish Cinema to attain international recognition and to promote the films of quality in the Turkish market". In the following years, The Istanbul International Filmdays firmly established its position by screening 69 feature films in 1985, 78 in 1986, 103 in 1987, 114 in 1988 and took its place among the major film festivals of the world not only with the great number of films shown, but also with the quality and the versatility of its programme.
At the beginning of 1989 the event was recognized as "a competitive specialized festival" by FIAPF (International Federation of Film Producers Associations), an organization which acts as the coordinator of international film festivals, and was accredited as one of the 40 prime film festivals of the world. Parallel to this development, "Istanbul Filmdays" was renamed as "Istanbul International Film Festival". In 1989, 163 films from 39 countries; in 1990, 183 films from 43 countries were presented within the Festival and the audience reached to all-time high 140,000 spectators. Despite the negative impact of the Gulf War, the 1991 Istanbul Film Festival featured 107 films from 30 countries and 110,000 spectators attended the screenings. In the 1992 edition of the Festival 130,000 spectators watched 134 films from 33 countries. Last year 146 films from 43 countries attracted 125,000 spectators to the Festival. A special section dedicated to the films from five Turkic Republics, namely Azarbaijan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhistan, Kirghizistan and Uzbekistan, was the main event of the Festival. The 14th edition of the Istanbul International Film Festival took place between 1-16 April 1995. A total of 150 films from different corners of the world, including 18 pictures from Turkey, were presented in last year's festival.
Since the establishment of the Festival, a total of 1,450,000 spectators attended the screenings of 1,375 films from 67 different countries.