Film to tackle distribution monopoly in Turkish cinema

Film to tackle distribution monopoly in Turkish cinema

Emrah Güler
Film to tackle distribution monopoly in Turkish cinema In 2005, 27 million movie tickets were sold in Turkey. The ticket sales surpassed 60 million in 2015. Turkey takes second place after Russia as the fastest growing movie industry in Europe. Turkey is also the only country in Europe where national cinema takes more than half of the market share. While there were 29 Turkish movies produced in 2005, that number shot to 136 in 2015.

So begins the film “Only Blockbusters Left Alive: Monopolizing Film Distribution In Turkey.” Award-winning director and writer Kaan Müjdeci teamed with film critics Evrim Kaya, Fırat Yücel and Şenay Aydemir for a film set to push a few buttons.

After a brief narration highlighting the rosy picture of Turkish cinema both in terms of viewers and film production, the industry’s darker side is revealed. “However, there is something wrong with this bright picture,” continues the narration. “Date: 2015, the first weekend of December. Only two films were showing in the 1,700 theaters out of about 2,300 in Turkey. The same week, ‘Abluka’ (Frenzy), the Special Jury Prize winner in Venice, was considered lucky to secure 25 theaters, while the Golden Orange winner ‘Sarmaşık’ (Ivy) could only find 16 theaters for its release.”

When the Turkish film industry has been experiencing a breakthrough in the last ten years, how come independent productions find it difficult to secure theaters? How come some films fade into obscurity without ever been seen by audiences? These are some of the questions producers, distributors, and economists attempt to answer in “Only Blockbusters Left Alive: Monopolizing Film Distribution In Turkey.”

Abusing power over distribution

The film traces the distortion created by the bad economy that has become an obstacle for freedom of choice, with no regulations and with a single cinema chain controlling more than 50 percent of the market, as well as distribution and production. Hürriyet Daily News talked to producer Kaan Müjdeci and film critic Evrim Kaya before the film’s screening and a subsequent panel on April 3.

Müjdeci remembers when he first smelled something fishy in the industry and its distribution system, when his 2014 Venice Special Jury Prize winner and Golden Lion nominee “Sivas” was up for a release in Turkey. He came together with a team from Mars Cinema Group, a partner and the person who decides the number of film copies that will be released.

“Both played with their phones throughout the screening,” said Müjdeci. “The partner left the room ten minutes before the end for some urgent thing he had to do. I asked the other one how he found the film. He said, ‘It won’t do well in theaters.’” At around the same time, box-office magnet Cem Yılmaz’s latest film was set for release. Müjdeci asked for Sivas’s trailer to be shown before Yılmaz’s film, receiving a reaction that perhaps served as the seeds for the film. “He pointed at the poster of ‘Sivas,’ and said with disdain, ‘Am I supposed to show that?’”

“I realized that day there was a lack of competence and seriousness in the decision making processes of a company who had the power over all the movie theaters in Turkey,” said Müjdeci. Other problems followed throughout the demanding release process. Soon Müjdeci, and three film critics Aydemir, Kaya and Yücel, decided to take the matter into their own hands, and began the collective creative process that would lead to “Only Blockbusters Left Alive.”

Evrim Kaya summarized the economic backdrop of the problem. “If there were the slightest control mechanism, we wouldn’t be at the mercy of companies,” said Kaya. “Economist Mustafa Sönmez sums up the situation in the film: In any industry, there are quotas and regulations to prevent monopolization. If a socially and culturally significant industry like cinema is loose and rampant like it is now, the industry itself is as much responsible as the greedy companies.”

What is the solution to monopoly?

Is the audience complicit in the monopolized environment around distribution and production? Müjdeci does not believe so: “We cannot expect the audience to ponder over such an issue. People go to theaters, and then decide on the movie they will be watching. We cannot expect someone who works 10 hours a day and wants to let steam off out at the theater during the weekend to be conscious and responsible about the problems of an industry.”

Kaya and Müjdeci also cite solutions to the problem at hand. “Everyone we listen to in the film points at the same solution,” said Kaya. “That we need to work together, in solidarity. The big producers and the small producers, distributors and theater owners, filmmakers all need to listen to one another, and create a ground for solutions.” For Müjdeci, “We need to establish a different culture for the audience who has become used to a single type of film, having watched the same type of films from early ages.”

“Only Blockbusters Left Alive” gives examples of ideal, working systems across the world. “There are control mechanisms even in the American system. It’s even better in Europe. We are not talking about massive changes,” said Müjdeci. “You could restore justice and diversity, as well as a fair market like in any other industry if you take the minimum required measures.”

“France is the ideal example both in protecting its national cinema and fostering its audience,” said Kaya. “It’s a totally different picture for us. We are trying to establish the minimal solutions to save Turkish cinema, let alone establishing the ideal. The film shows that Turkish cinema industry is no longer sustainable.” Müjdeci, Kaya and the team hope that the film will serve as a tool to open a discussion on a grave problem.

“We are trying to establish grounds for the audience to be able to find films from every taste in theaters, films that are representative of the present production,” said Müjdeci. “I’m hoping that the industry will take a step, and that the audience will support that.” Watch the film on April 10 at 1:30 p.m. as part of Istanbul’s Film Festival and join the panel afterwards with Müjdeci, Kaya, Aydemir, along with acclaimed director Onur Ünlü, producers Serkan Çakarer and Yamaç Okur, and German distributor Torsten Frehse.