Cinema of Turkey

August 31, 2009 09:05 by haci

In terms of film production, Turkey shared the same fate with many of the national cinemas of the 20th century. Film production wasn't continuous until around the 1950s and the film market in general was run by a few major import companies that struggled for domination in the most population-dense and profitable cities such as Istanbul and Izmir. Film theatres rarely ever screened any locally produced films and the majority of the programs consisted of films of the stronger western film industries, especially those of the USA, France, Italy and Germany. Attempts in film production came only from these big importers, which could rely on their strong distribution-system and their theatre-chains that would guarantee them a return-of-investment. Between the years 1896–1945, the number of locally produced films did not even reach 50 films in total, equalling to an average annual film production under one film per year. Compared to the thousands of films that have been imported and screened during the same period, it is hard to speak about a presence of film production in Turkey before the 1950s.

This would rapidly change after World War II. A total of 49 films produced in 1952 meant that within a year, more films had been produced than the Turkish industry could produce during all the previous years. During the 60s, Turkey became the fifth biggest film producer world wide and annual film production reached the 300 film benchmark just at the beginning of the 70s. Compared with the histories of other national cinemas, the achievements of the Turkish film industry after 1950 are still remarkable.

However, the impact of TV and Video as the new popular media and political turmoil in the 70s (often hand in hand with deep economical crises) caused a sharp drop in ticket sales, resulting into a long crisis starting at around 1980 and continuing until the mid-90s. The number of annual ticket sales decreased from a 90 million tickets in 1966 [1] to 56 million tickets in 1984 and only 11 million in 1990 [2]. Accordingly the number of film theatres fell from an approximately 2000 theatres in 1966 [3] to 854 in 1984 and 290 in 1990.[4] During the 1990s the average number of films produced per year remained between 10-15 films, usually half of them not even making it into the theatres.

Since 1995 the situation has improved. After the year 2000, annual ticket sales reached the 20 millions and since 1995, the number of theatres continuously increased to an approximately 500 theatres country-wide. Now, Turkish films attract millions of spectators and top the blockbuster-lists, often surpassing foreign films in terms of ticket sales. However, it is difficult to speak about the existence of an industry, since most films are rather individual projects of directors who otherwise earn their living in Television, Advertising or Theatre. The distribution of these films are mainly handled by foreign companies such as Warner Bros and United International Pictures.

Yesilçam ("Green pine") is a metonym for the Turkish film industry, similar to Hollywood in the United States, and Pinewood in the United Kingdom. Yeşilçam is named after Yeşilçam Street in the Beyoğlu district of Istanbul where many actors, directors, crew members and studios were based.

Yeşilçam experienced its heyday during the 1950s-1970s, when it produced 250-350 films annually. After the 1970s, Yeşilçam suffered due to the spread of television in Turkey. However, Yeşilçam has seen a revival since 2002, having produced critically-acclaimed movies such as Uzak (Grand Prix (Cannes Film Festival), 2003), Babam ve Oğlum and Propaganda.

Turkish actors most commonly associated with Yeşilçam include:

Kadir İnanır
Türkan Şoray
Yılmaz Güney
Nilüfer Aydan
Kemal Sunal
Tarık Akan
Filiz Akın
Fatma Girik
Cüneyt Arkın
Adile Naşit
Hülya Koçyiğit
Between 1950 and 1966, more than fifty movie directors practiced film arts in Turkey. Ömer Lütfi Akad strongly influenced the period, but Osman Fahir Seden, Atıf Yılmaz, and Memduh Ün made the most films. The film Susuz Yaz (Dry Summer), made by Metin Erksan, won the Golden Bear Award at the Berlin Film Festival in 1964.

The number of cinemagoers and the number of films made record a constant increase, especially after 1958. In the 1960s, cinema courses were included in the programs of the theater departments in the Language, History and Geography faculties of Ankara University and Istanbul University, and in the Press and Publications High School of Ankara University. A cinema branch was also established in the Art History Department of the State Fine Arts Academy.

The Union of Turkish Film Producers, and the State Film Archives also were established in the 1960s. The State Film Archives became the Turkish Film Archives in 1969. During the same period, the Cinema-TV Institute was founded and annexed to the State Academy of Fine Arts. The Turkish State Archives also became part of this organization. In 1962, the Cinema-TV Institute became a department of Mimar Sinan University. Among the well-known directors of the 1960–1970 period are Metin Erksan, Atıf Yılmaz, Memduh Ün, Halit Refiğ, Duygu Sağıroğlu, Remzi Aydın Jöntürk and Nevzat Pesen. In 1970, the numbers of cinemas and cinemagoers rose spectacularly. In 2,424 cinemas, films were viewed by a record number of 247 million viewers.

In 1970, approximately 220 films were made and this figure reached 300 in 1972. Turkish cinema gave birth to its legendary stars at this period, notable examples being Kemal Sunal, Kadir İnanır, Türkan Şoray and Şener Şen. After this period however, the cinema began to lose its audiences, due to nationwide TV broadcasts. After 1970, a new and young generation of directors emerged, but they had to cope with an increased demand for video films after 1980.

Increased production costs and difficulties faced in the import of raw materials brought about a decrease in the number of films made in the 1970s, but the quality of films improved. However, the fall of cinema's popularity continued. In the early nineties, there were barely two or three movies released for a year. During this period, most of the seventies' stars had either moved to TV, or were trying to rebuild the Yeşilçam's former glory. Some of the notable examples of this era are Eşkıya (English: The Bandit) and Züğürt Ağa (English: The Agha), both starring Şener Şen. Both movies were critically and commercially acclaimed.

However, the rise of Yesilçam didn't take place until the release of Vizontele. The film was directed, written, and starred by Yılmaz Erdoğan, who was praised by his long-running sit-com Bir Demet Tiyatro, and his dedication to theatre. The movie starred the cast of his usual plays, most notably Demet Akbağ, Altan Erkekli, and Cem Yılmaz. This movie's huge commercial success (watched by 2.5 million viewers, which earned the movie the most viewed film for its day) brought attention to the industry. A few years later, Cem Yılmaz released his own film, G.O.R.A., which he both wrote and starred in. This, and Vizontele's sequel Vizontele Tuuba broke Vizontele's records, by achieving 3.5, and 3 million viewers respectively.

Since then larger-budgeted films produced, notable examples being Kurtlar Vadisi: Irak (English: Valley of the Wolves: Iraq), continuing the story of the controversial series Kurtlar Vadisi, (reached 4 million viewers and still holds the record), Babam ve Oğlum (English: My Father and My Son), Cem Yılmaz's second movie Hokkabaz (English: Magician) .

There has been a rise in more experimental films in the 2000s. Notably the 2005 feature Türev was filmed without a prewritten script and even featured candid shots of the actors. Anlat Istanbul (Istanbul Tales), an ensemble piece divided into five "mini films" got a strong reception.

The production numbers also soared in the second half of the 2000s, with 40 films in 2007, and top 4 box office hits in 2007 claimed by Turkish films, as the film industry became profitable again with improving technical quality corresponding with commercial films' production costs increasing.


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