A promising future for Turkish cinema

A promising future for Turkish cinema
Saturday, January 19, 2008

ISTANBUL - Turkish Daily News

The boiling pot that is Turkish cinema reached its tipping point a
decade ago, exploding at the box office and on the international
arena. At least one Turkish film returns home every year with an
international award or becomes a box office success, taking its place
alongside Hollywood blockbusters in multiplex theaters.

 In the early 80s, a popular or critically acclaimed Turkish film
occasionally graced the movie theaters. Soon the success dropped off,
however, and a decade of mediocre films followed, almost no one going
to see them in movie theaters. It was the reign of the video and
multi-channel television, which entered Turkey after the late
president Özal's successful attempts to liberalize the economy and
promote Turkey's efforts to become Westernized.

Director Yavuz Turgul's "Eşkıya" (Bandit) in 1996 signaled a coming
change. A strong commentary on social change and a moving story of
love and loss, "Eşkıya," single-handedly revived Turkish cinema,
drawing masses to movie theaters. The debut film of director Mustafa
Altıoklar "Istanbul Kanatlarımın Altında" (Istanbul Beneath My Wings)
followed soon after. Altıoklar's historical drama was influenced by
Hollywood's epic films and became an instant commercial hit. The
boiling cauldron was ready to explode.

A few years later, an increasing number of Turkish films were
attracting audiences to theaters. Some of them were mere replicas of
formulaic Hollywood films, while others were art house films with the
repressed protagonists popular in international film festivals.

The late 1990s was a period of success stories for newcomers. Debut
films enjoyed box office success as well as domestic and international
critical acclaim. Mustafa Altıoklar, Ferzan Özpetek with his
international hit "Hamam" (Turkish Bath), Derviş Zaim with "Tabutta
Rövaşata" (Scissors Kick in the Coffin), Nuri Bilge Ceylan with
"Kasaba" (The Small Town) and Kutluğ Ataman with "Karanlık Sular" (The
Serpent's Tale) were some of these directors who achieved success with
their debut films, apparently entering the scene at the right time.

The same decade also saw Turkish films jointly produced with
international companies, mostly supported by Eurimages, the Fund for
European Cinema. Some of these productions went on to receive
international success, including "Hamam" and "Harem Suare" from the
Italian-Turkish director Ferzan Özpetek and "Lola + Bilidikid" from
Kutluğ Ataman.

Diversity in Turkish films

A look at the last decade of Turkish cinema shows no specific
dominant genre or style. Among the popular and critically successful
films are historical epics, art house dramas, slapstick comedies, noir
films, thrillers, films with gay, religious or political themes,
biopics and literary adaptations.

Most of the films that received international acclaim were
emotionally reserved, grim and dealt with expressive alienation. Nuri
Bilge Ceylan's "Uzak" (Distant) was a major success at the 2002 Cannes
Film Festival and won various other awards. Zeki Demirkubuz became
another prominent name with his accurate and humorous observation of
human relations and a trademark symbolism that gave him auteur status.
His films include "Masumiyet" (Innocence), "İtiraf" (Confession) and
"Bekleme Odası" (The Waiting Room).

As Turkish filmmakers began receiving international recognition, two
names had more of an impact in Europe: Özpetek and Fatih Akın.
Although these two filmmakers have distinctly different styles, their
common Turkish nationality placed them on the same pedestal. Özpetek
spent most of his life in Italy and is more of a popular name in
Italy. Similarly, Akın was a well-known director in Germany where he
grew up, studied and made movies. When he won the Golden Bear at the
2004 Berlin Film Festival for his powerful "Duvara Karşı" (Head On),
it was time for Turkey to take credit for him as one of its own.
Akın's style of portraying Turkish protagonists stuck in a limbo of
two cultures has made him more distinctively Turkish than Özpetek, who
subjects Turkey and being Turkish to a Westerner's gaze.

As the number of Turkish movies shown in movie theaters increases
every year, Turkish cinema offers a diverse range of films including
coming-of-age films like Ahmet Uluçay's "Karpuz Kabuğundan Gemiler
Yapmak" (Boats Out of Watermelon Rinds) and Reha Erdem's "Beş Vakit"
(Times and Winds), thrillers like Togan Gökbakar's "Gen," horror films
like Hasan Karacadağ's "D@bbe" and "Semum," teen comedies including
Faruk Aksoy's "Çılgın Dersane" (Crazy Classroom) as well as
documentaries like Tolga Örnek's "Gallipoli" and Akın's "Crossing the
Bridge." The next step for Turkish cinema is an Oscar nomination for
Best Foreign Language Film.




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