Exploring Turkish cinema in English through the written word

Exploring Turkish cinema in English through the written word

Emrah Güler
Exploring Turkish cinema in English through the written word

These are the books in English for those who want to look into the history of Turkish cinema, its revival to global acclaim and the method in which it reflects the changing dynamics of Turkey.

Celebrating its centenary this year, Turkish cinema has gone through drastic transformations in line with changes in the country, created and consummated genres, experienced a long stupor and finally risen like a phoenix from the ashes in the last two decades. For those wanting to look into the history of Turkish cinema, its revival to global acclaim and the method in which it reflects the changing dynamics of
Turkey, there are (mostly academic) books in English. Here’s a look at some of them.

A professor of film and television, Savaş Arslan’s “Cinema in Turkey: A New Critical History,” is the most comprehensive book on Turkish cinema in English. Published in 2011, the book takes a look at the early years of Turkish cinema, the popular decades from 1950s Yeşilçam cinema to the 1980s, as well as its revival in the last two decades, looking at both popular and art house films.

“In addition to surveying the cinematic landscape and recounting its history, ‘Cinema in Turkey’ analyzes the arts conventions from which the first films emerged, region-specific permutations, and the cultural ramifications of Turkey’s distinct forms of modernization and nation-building,” Arslan states in the introduction.

Reviewing the book for Insight Turkey, Başkent University’s Laurence Raw writes: “‘Cinema in Turkey’ is a groundbreaking work, the first of its kind in English that looks in detail at the conditions of production and exhibition that shaped Yeşilçam’s product over nearly five decades. It deserves to become a seminal text in Turkish film history.”

Exploring identity and belonging

If you are interested more in contemporary Turkish cinema, and the internationally acclaimed names that emerged after the 1990s, the widely published author on Turkish cinema, Asuman Suner, is the right person for you with her “New Turkish Cinema: Belonging, Identity and Memory.”

Suner’s book, published in 2010, delves deep into such names like Turkey’s Cannes-favorite Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Zeki Demirkubuz, Yeşim Ustaoğlu, Derviş Zaim and others while analyzing their cinema against the backdrop of a changing Turkey.

Suner’s premise on this new wave of contemporary Turkish cinema is that it continuously displays the recurring themes of belonging, identity and memory, where big-budget popular films tend “to settle contradictions into comforting resolutions, while independent movies demonstrate their paradoxical nature.” She further explores the widening gap between popular and art-house cinema. As a review by Choice says, “Here one learns not only about contemporary Turkish film but also, even without seeing the films, about Turkey.”

Themes of identity and belonging are further explored from a different perspective in film scholar Gönül Dönmez-Colin’s “Turkish Cinema: Identity, Distance and Belonging,” published in 2008. Dönmez-Colin’s book explores the quest for a modern identity in contemporary Turkish cinema in a perpetually changing dynamics of ethnic demographics, classes, and politics.

“Turkish Cinema” pinpoints the works of contemporary Turkish filmmakers as they address such social issues like migration, changing classes, ethnic minorities, homosexuality, incest and honor killings. While focusing on new-wave Turkish filmmakers, Dönmez-Colin provides background to and analytical comparisons with earlier Turkish cinema, while also depicting how the struggle of Turkey for a modern identity has always been evident in its cinema.

Turkish-German cinema

The last two decades have also witnessed second- and third-generation Turks, the so-called guest workers, establishing a new genre of cinema. This European minority cinema has penetrated the cultural radar, thanks to Fatih Akın’s cinema exemplified by such award-winning modern classics like “Head-On” and “The Edge of Heaven” (Auf der anderen Seite).

“Self-confident, articulate, and dynamic, these films situate themselves in the global exchange of cinematic images, citing and rewriting American gangster narratives, Kung Fu action films, and paralleling other emergent European minority cinemas,” according to the introduction to “Turkish German Cinema in the New Millennium: Sites, Sounds, and Screens,” the first comprehensive study of this emerging cinema.

The book, published in 2012, takes a detailed look not only at feature films and their directors, but also at television, documentaries and even modern art. Edited by Sabine Hake and Barbara Mennel, the book devotes an exclusive section to Akın’s cinema. Transmigration, transnationalism, the clash of cultures, diasporic documentaries, mobility and identity are some of the themes of the 15
articles in the book.