Turkish cinema: The year of illusions and hope in theaters
'Kelebeğin Rüyası' (Butterfly’s Dream). Nine of the top 10 grossing films of 2013 are Turkish films yet none of these films can be seen at the lists of winners last year in the top three Turkish film festivals: Istanbul International, Adana Golden Boll and Antalya Golden Orange Film Festivals.Turkish cinema audiences have shown the greatest roll call this year in the last 34 years, with more than 47 million movie tickets sold in the 50 weeks of 2013. Of these tickets, 26 million have been sold for Turkish movies, adding up to roughly 57 percent. The golden age of Turkish cinema you might say, a great misconception and a cause for alarm I might say, looking a bit further into the statistics.
Nine of the top 10 grossing films of 2013 are Turkish films, yet none of these films can be seen anywhere when you look at the lists of winners last year in the top three Turkish film festivals: Istanbul International, Adana Golden Boll and Antalya Golden Orange Film Festivals.
A simple look at the top grossing film will give an idea of the audience’s motives for going to the theater. “CM101MMXI Fundamentals” is at number one with nearly 4 million movie stubs. And yet ironically it is not a movie. The impossible-to-get-it-right title is a recorded 2011 stand-up show of the all-around prolific entertainer, the comedian, actor, writer and director Cem Yılmaz.
Yılmaz has been a regular contender of the top grossing films in the past with high-budget comedies like “G.O.R.A.”, “A.R.O.G.” and “Yahşi Batı.” But this year’s success at the box office takes the Turkish audience’s love of Yılmaz’s comedy to a whole new level. In fact, six of the nine films are name-driven films, guaranteed to draw audiences into theaters with the mere mention of the names behind the films.
Yılmaz Erdoğan, Demet Akbağ and Uğur Yücel are the three names that have drawn millions into the theaters with four of the films in the list, and that are household names who have proved to be in sync with the cultural zeitgeist throughout decades. Written and directed by, as well as taking screen time, Erdoğan’s period drama and ode to poets and poetry, “Kelebeğin Rüyası” (Butterfly’s Dream), was also Turkey’s submission to Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars, not making it to the second list.
Demet Akbağ once again proved to single-handedly carry a movie to box office success in her role, and later reprise, in “Hükümet Kadın” (The State Lady) and its sequel, playing a woman mayor in a small town in southeastern Turkey. Director and leading actor Uğur Yücel’s remake of the 2005 Indian movie “Black,” the Helen Keller story, “Benim Dünyam” (My World) was a bland melodrama that would probably not have made the list if not for Yücel’s name. Save for another melodrama “Selam,” crude comedies hoping to cash in on cheap laughs with no proper backbone of a story make the rest of the list.
Başka Sinema comes to the rescue
Now, let’s take a look at the award-winners in national festivals. There were altogether five films that won the Best Film awards, two films sharing the top prize in two of the festivals. “Sen Aydınlatırsın Geceyi” (Thou Gild’st the Even), director Onur Ünlü’s unique take on small town life with characters displaying extraordinary powers won the Golden Tulip in the National Competition in Istanbul International Film Festival last April.
Mahmut Fazıl Coşkun’s “Yozgat Blues,” a heart-breaking look at the new rural through a nightclub singer and his protégé, and “Gözümün Nûru” (Eye Am), co-directed by Hakkı Kurtuluş and Melik Saraçoğlu, an ode to movies and watching movies, shared the top prize in the Golden Boll. Similarly in the Golden Oranges, two films won the Best Film award. Interestingly, both films were women’s stories directed by male directors. Ramin Matin’s “Kusursuzlar” (The Impeccables) told the story of two sisters facing their demons, while Ferit Karadağ’s “Cennetten Kovulmak” (The Fall from Eden) took a look at the Kurdish issue from a woman’s perspective.
Last year also saw how the monopolized distribution system for movies became the death sentence for many independent, low-budget films, and how a new system came to the rescue. Soon after winning three awards, including Best Film, in Golden Boll, “Gözümün Nûru” went on general release, only to be taken off a week later due to a rigid system that only takes into consideration the audience numbers in the first weekend.
Both the award-winners mentioned above have been on release for nearly a month now, and one is waiting for its release this weekend, guaranteed to be in theaters for four weeks. This is all thanks to a new cinema initiative, Başka Sinema, offering a chance for independent films to be in theaters for at least four weeks, with an alternating screening schedule reminiscent of film festivals.
“Every day is a festival for us” is the motto for Başka Sinema, now active in four cities and eight theaters, taking the festival experience to its core with regular Wednesday activities with pre-screening nights with cast and crew, screening of short films, and surprise film nights. Independent and art house films, as well as its audience, now have a breathing space from the monopolized chains.