Turkish cinema reinvents itself

Turkish films have scored a string of recent successes in international festivals, with many Turks now talking of a new wave in the country’s cinema.

    Actor Muzaffer Ozdemir stars in Nuri Bilgi Ceylan’s Uzak

    Yet, this enthusiasm is not without its share of controversy, a debate that goes to the heart of what "national" cinema is all about.

    Last year, Turkish director Nuri Bilgi Ceylan carried off the much-coveted Palm D’Or at Cannes for his film Uzak (Distant).

    And in February of this year, German-born, ethnic Turkish director Fatih Akin won the Golden Bear in Berlin for his movie Head On.

    Other directors such as Ferzan Ozpetek have also gotten international praise for features such as Hamam.

    “What we’re seeing now,” says Mehmet Acar, editor in chief of Turkey’s ‘Sinema’ magazine, “is the fruit of something that began a long while ago… a process that in the last five years has gained more and more vitality.”

    Ninety-year history

    With a history going back to 1914, and the first Ottoman film, Turkish cinema has been through many phases in its development. Moreover, Government censorship and lack of funding had hampered its creative possibilities.

    But Turkey still managed to produce a great director – Yilmaz Guney, whose film Yol (The Road) won the Palm D’Or at Cannes in 1982.

    Yol was banned in Turkey until 1999, with Guney living in exile in France until his death in 1984.

    Nonetheless, Turkish film makers are now very much back in action and scoring important successes.

    “There have been two waves in Turkish cinema of late,” says Esin Kucuktepepinar, editor of Turkey’s sinema.com website.


    Sukran Gungor and Dilan Ercetin in
    Ipekci's Buyuk Adam, Kucuk Ask

    “The first is that of directors like Sinan Cetin and Yilmaz Erdogan, for whom the impact, the image is all important. These are not films that score personal success for the director, but if they attract a large audience, they are considered successful.”

    Acar agrees. “There has been a wave of popular cinema,” he says. “This is interesting too, and contrasts with the wave of independent cinema winning international awards."


    The last four Turkish films released in the country all made money at the box office, which is also an important new aspect.

    This commercial success has gone in parallel with an artistic one.

    “The second wave has been what are called art films,” continues Kucuktepepinar.

    “This follows the logic of personal statement in film. The success of Nuri Bilgi Ceylan’s Uzak, for example, is a personal success, one he achieved through crafting his own vision, his own art.”

    However, many critics are also divided over the nature of another recent Turkish success on the international screen – Fatih Akin’s Head On.

    Identity crisis

    The director himself said, “We are Germans, whether you like it or not,” when asked if his movie was a German or Turkish film at the award ceremony. But Turkish critics disagree.


    Turkish director Nuri Bilgi Ceylan

    “Do I think Head On is a success for Turkish cinema?” asks Acar.

    “Yes, I do, because these directors – and there are others, such as Ferzan Ozpetek, who makes many of his movies as co-productions with Italians or in Italy – these directors do not lose their Turkish identity. Fatih Akin’s films have a Turkish flavour.”

    The film, shot and produced in Germany, is about the conflicts that erupt among second generation Turks living in Hamburg.

    It was also lauded as the first "German" success at the Berlinale since 1986. This did not prevent many in Turkey claiming it as a "Turkish" success.

    “I think this shows one of the difficulties with the whole idea of a ‘national’ film,” says Turkish art critic Fatih Erdoglu. “These days, funds may come from a variety of different countries, along with the actors and the ideas.

    "Directors are heavily influenced by other directors – of course, there is a certain Turkish or German, or French idiom, but really, few films are just that.”

    Ethnic minorities

    “A revitalisation has begun and it feels like it’s getting stronger.”

    Esin Kucuktepepinar,
    editor, film review website

    Another problem is the emergence of a Turkish film genre that sees itself as belonging to a different cinema altogether – Kurdish film.

    The last two years have seen several breakthroughs in this area, a field that was once prohibited.

    The movie Buyuk Adam, Kucuk Ask (released internationally as Hejar) by Turkish director Handan Ipekci first broke the taboo of having the Kurdish language spoken on screen.

    Furthermore, the Kurdish director of Kazom Oz’ Fotograf (Photograph) added Kurdish subtitles for Turkish dialogue.

    “It would be going too far to say that there is a Kurdish cinema,” says Erdoglu, “Yet, clearly, there is a body of work emerging that stresses this identity.”

    Meanwhile, Turkey’s filmgoers are enjoying the recent rebirth.

    With popular movies such as Yilmaz Erdogan’s Viziontele-Tuuba casting a nostalgic, comic look at village life and the impact of the arrival of TV in the 1970s and refined pieces of cinematic art such as Nuri Bilgi Ceylan’s Uzak, there is a wide range from which to choose.

    “A revitalisation has begun,” says Kucuktepepinar, “and it feels like it’s getting stronger.”

    SOURCE: Aljazeera


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