A Panorama of Contemporary Turkish Cinema By Ayla Kanbur

in 25th Istanbul International Film Festival

by Ayla Kanbur

It seems that Turkish Cinema has revived since the 1990’s. Especially from the late 90’s, a new generation has had the chance to make debut films. In other words, every year at the International Istanbul Film Festival, we have had the chance to see films of directors who are at the beginning of their careers.

The Turkish films competing in the 25th International Istanbul Film Festival comprised of both the films which have already been screened publicly and the films which were shown first at the Festival. Ice cream and I Scream (Dondurmam Kaymak) by Yüksel Aksu and Time and Winds (Bes vakit) by Reha Erdem were among the latter. Both films were eagerly anticipated.

Cinema is a Miracle (Sinema bir Mucizedir) by the master Memduh Ün, who has been in Turkish Cinema almost from the beginning, was celebrated as a jubilee. Shuttered Souls (Beyza’nin Kadinlari) by Mustafa Altioklar was rather a repetition of the Hollywood thriller genre whereas Whatever You Wish (Sen Ne Dilersen) by Cem Baseskioglu was an undeveloped film. After gaining experience in TV series Çagan Irmak was in competition with his second feature My Father and Son (Babam ve Oglum). The film has amazingly been a box-office hit in Turkey very nearly competing with the most popular Hollywood films. Two Girls (Iki Genç Kiz) was the film by Kutlug Ataman who made award-winning films. Who Killed the Shadows (Hacivat ve Karagöz Neden Öldürüldü) by Ezel Akay is a brave approach to the subject of Turkish History. Times And Winds is an outstanding film with its compact narrative, and authenticity and won the FIPRESCI award.

Before a close look on Times and Winds, some other films are worth mentioning. Ice cream and I Scream has a corresponding side in My Father and Son by Çagan Irmak. Both films use popular language familiar to Turkish audiences from “Yesilçam”. However, both films also differ from those films with their well-observed small town people, their natural behaviour, gestures and cultural backgrounds. Moreover, the stories of the films tackle political issues in terms of the recent history of Turkey in their subtext. In this way they are separated from mainstream films which contain the dominant ideology.

Aksu, with Ice Cream and I Scream, chooses to tell the story of ordinary people who live in a seaside tourist town and focuses on the impact of global marketing on the local population. The protagonist sells home-made ice cream with genuine ingredients but he has to struggle against ready-made brands of a chain and also against the new regulations imposed by the EU. The film uses both professional actors and local people, which gives a true reflection of such towns. My Father and Son, with experienced performers, popular on television, contributed to the commercial success of the film. On the other hand, the film has some references to the 1980’s coup d’état and the changing politics in daily life. Irmak is now a director accepted by all kinds of audiences.

Kutlug Ataman’s third film, Two Girls, is another film which doesn’t approach its subject directly. The film touches on the conflicts of two girls with their parents. Although their backgrounds are different from each other they become very close friends. One is the black sheep of her family who lives outside the city centre, rather a slum, the other one seems to be well-off but her single mother earns her living by being the mistress of a rich man. Although it seems to be familiar subject, the film is distinguished by the authenticity of its characters.

Despite there being no apparent common tendency among these three films, we would find that in recent years new Turkish directors are more concerned with uncovering the real, distinctive connections, either in contemporary life or in the history of Turkey. In other words, their intention appears to question surface reality, to unearth simple life stories deriving from Turkey’s social structure. If Ice cream and I Scream depicts an Aegean small town co-existing with Muslim and Anatolian culture, these signs can also be traced in Who Killed The Shadows by Ezel Akay. He exposes a multi-cultural atmosphere dealing with how the Ottoman Empire could have been established, points that official history has ignored. The narrative is constructed in a humorous way, in the manner of traditional comedy. The birth of two contradictory characters of the shadow arts, Hacivat and Karagöz, is paralleled with the birth of the Ottoman Empire. The film shows how all different colours of a culture can be formed into one.

Reha Erdem’s Times and Winds can be praised for its courage in taking a slow pace, without loosing the attention of audience. Erdem divides the plot into five episodes according to the time period of Ezan. While we watch the inner conflicts of three boys and a girl with adults, the time of Ezan goes backwards starting from the late night call to the prayer. The film presents the pain of growing up; the conflicting emotions, guilt, revenge, jealousy and the inequality in relationships. With its well constructed plot, repetitions, contrasts, parallelism, Times and Winds, has a universal appeal though drawn from specific cultural material.

To sum up, contemporary Turkish cinema, not only in the festival but in general, has had the opportunity to create films with a subsidy from the Cultural Ministry and Eurimage as well as other sources. While television series and TV commercials are the areas to gain experience for some young directors, they have influenced art cinema. The films which are purely motivated or driven for commercial success should be put aside. One side prefers to catch the public with popular language without loosing the socio-political criticism and the other aims to make art cinema in the same critical perspective.