Free Turkish women on TV 'inspire oppressed neighbors'
ISTANBUL - Hürriyet Daily News
‘Istanbul, with the Bosporus, its houses on the shores of the sea, and Turkey with its landscapes like Capadoccia and Mardin provide a unique setting, Aslı Öymen tells Hürriyet Daily News. DAILY NEWS photo/ Hasan ALTINIŞIK
Turkish TV series have been making waves domestically and overseas in recent years as their global popularity increases. CNNTürk Program Coordinator Aslı Öymen attributes this rapid success to improvements in the Turkish film and television industry, in addition to the social climate portrayed.
“I believe we depict an image of women who are free, who have a say in their lives. The women they see in the series are in a much different position than the ones in [some other] countries,” she said.
Is the interest in TV series still high in Turkey?
It is still high. Actually, it is a phenomenon of the past five, six years.
How do you explain this interest?
Quality-wise they have become much better. The issues are interesting, the acting is better, the technique has improved and of course much bigger budgets are being used.
So does it carry a parallel with Turkey’s economic growth?
Actually, it comes also in parallel with the progress of the Turkish film industry. Turkish movies have been on the rise for the past five, six years; they receive several awards in foreign film festivals like Toronto, Cannes and Berlin. Turkish films received 10 awards just last year, for example. Turks became fond of Turkish movies in recent years, which was not the case in the past, when foreign movies were more popular. The [Turkish] film “Recep İvedik” reached 4 million [viewers] at the box office, while James Bond, the one before the very last one, remained at 365,000.
When you look at the substance of the series, what does it tell us about Turkey?
They are so diverse. It’s segmented. Some are about big cities, life in slums, about youth; others talk about life in the local neighborhood. While some are about the spectacular life of the rich, there are also others that talk about rural life. The common point in almost all is that there is love, betrayal, happiness and tears. They are about emotions and everybody finds something in it.
Isn’t there a trend toward the true realities of life, as some are saying series depicting the flamboyant lifestyles of Istanbul are being replaced by series that depict the not-so-flamboyant life in the slums.
Both are there. There are series about flamboyant lives that many would wish to have as well as those depicting the other face of the city. I personally find them very realistic. In addition, they are very professional with their music and acting. They are being exported to 50 countries including Latin America.
So would you say they portray a correct picture of Turkey?
I believe they explain Turkey. Look at the series about history, like “Magnificent Century.” It talks about our past.
What do you think about their popularity abroad?
I find it very interesting. I have been going regularly to Cannes, where MIPTV, the broadcasters’ fair, is held each year. When I went last year, you could see Turkish series on billboards.
In the past Turkey did not even have a stand in the fair; the TRT [Turkish state broadcasting company] had a very small, modest stand. This time Turkish series were everywhere in Cannes.
What makes them popular?
I think those [geographically close to us] find a world they are longing for. Istanbul, with the Bosporus, its houses on the shores of the sea, and Turkey with its landscapes like Capadoccia and Mardin provide a unique setting. When you shoot a movie, one of the first concerns is the [physical] background. In addition, I believe we depict an image of women who are free, who have a say in their lives. The women they see in the series are in a much different position than the ones in those countries.
What do you think about the fact that Turkish series appeal to both the Arab world, which is predominantly Muslim, as well as the Balkans and Central Europe, which is predominantly Christian?
I believe the formula is the fact that it appeals to emotions like love, revenge.
Has Turkey caught a universal language?
Latin America used to export its series and now we are in this position; this means that we have deciphered cultural codes and appeal to universal emotions. Scripts are good, dialogues are good and the shooting is professional.
This is an integrated whole. Just one aspect does not explain [the popularity].
If you were to put yourself in the shoes of a foreigner, what kind of a Turkey would you have seen in these series?
It depends on where you come from. Looking from the West, you will see stuff that belongs to the East and looking from the East, you will see stuff from the West. We really are in the middle.
Does the Turkish series have a mission of creating awareness on certain issues within Turkey?
The historic series have triggered a curiosity in Turkey’s past.
What are your reflections on Turkish movies?
We can separate them into two: festival movies and those that are more popular, like the comedies. But there are other movies that do not fall in these two categories as well. I think the Turkish movie industry is making good progress.
How about documentaries?
Unfortunately, we don’t have good documentaries. But this is also due to budgets. The cost of just one part of a BBC landmark documentary is one million pounds and above. But we also do not really know how to make documentaries.
Do Turks like documentaries?
They do when they are of good quality. We have been broadcasting documentaries [at CNN Turk] for the past two years and we observed that they do attract attention.
What are your reflections on the rest of the culture and arts world?
Istanbul has become a center of attraction in culture and arts. This has happened in the last decade.
Look at the names that came last year, like Madonna, Stevie Wonder, Leonard Cohen, Sting; this year the New York Philharmonic Orchestra will come.
IKSV (the Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Art) made a big contribution to the art world of Turkey. Institutions like the Istanbul Modern, the Pera Museum, the Sabancı Museum and Borusan are making international contributions to the art world in Turkey.
Take a look at the Istanbul Film Festival. It brings [to the city] films that received awards from the major film festivals throughout the year, throughout the world.
Contemporary Istanbul has been taking place for the past five years. Previously, it was called Art Istanbul. This year, the participation of foreign galleries was higher than Turkish ones; 47 Turkish and 57 foreign galleries participated. This creates a tremendous possibility to see and purchase [art].
Are there efforts to spread the diversity and dynamism of the culture and art activities in Istanbul to the rest of the country?
There are efforts but they remain very weak.
Who is Aslı Öymen?
Aslı Öymen was educated in Germany and France, where she studied sociology in university.
From reporting to producing, she has worked in nearly all parts of the communications sector since 1991.
She started her career in journalism as a reporter on economic issues at daily Günaydın and later worked as a reporter for Turkish state television (TRT). She worked as general manager of BİR TV for seven years, producing several documentaries and films, and has been working since 2006 as CNN Türk’s program coordinator. In 2009, she prepared and presented “Afiş’e Takılanlar,” a culture and art program.