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New York: Turkish Film Week

The establishment of new film festivals has become common in our expanding visual media universe and they are becoming more differentiated appealing to thematic or ethnic niche audiences. In New York the Turkish Film Week supported by the local Turkish Cultural Center premiered in August at the centrally located Scandinavia House as a pilot project with a limited number of films providing an overview of current Turkish cinema. Though a Turkish Film Festival has been held annually in New York over the last ten years and others exist in Los Angeles and Boston, the new Turkish Film Week drew a respectable audience consisting of members of the Turkish-American community from the NY metro area, filmmakers, students, journalists, and other interested parties. As the consultant on this project, I was surprised about the large audience the Turkish films attracted since there was little publicity and no festival track record. Further the Turkish-American community is with about 150 000 members comparatively small. Yet Turkish films are gaining momentum.

Filmmaking in Turkey has a century old tradition with a film industry that developed rapidly. Before the slump prompted by television and the subsequent development of the home video market Turkey had become by the 60‘s the fifth biggest film producer world wide. It rebounded in the 90’s and the number of Turkish films released reached 34 in 2006. More importantly the market share for Turkish films in Turkey had risen by 2007 to 55% and the 2007 top four box office hits were all Turkish productions prompting more infusion of production funds..

There is growing interest in Turkish films given their critical recognition over the last years. Among award winning films have been Ceylan’s SMALL TOWN (1997), Reha Erdem’s TIMES AND WIND (2006), and MY FATHER AND MY SON (2005) by Cagan Irmak to name but a few. In 2008 Nuri Bilge Celan’s latest film THREE MONEKYS won in Cannes the best director award, the Palme d’Or. The film follows his award winning CLIMATES (2007) which sold more tickets abroad than the 20 000 tickets purchased by Turkish film goers. More recently the Turkish film making culture has been enriched by acclaimed Diaspora directors like Fatih Akin ( HEAD ON, 2005 and EDGE OF HEAVEN, 2007), and the lesser known Ferzan Ozpetek who directed, FACING WINDOW (2003) a film that received 40 awards and SACRED HEART (2005) scoring 14 nominations and four awards. It is telling that at the 2008 Venice Film Fest there are as many official entries films from Turkey as there are from Germany.

Numerous factors have prompted the recent rapid rise of the Turkish film industry, such as novel public financial production support, access to Euromedia, rise of independent distribution companies, expansion of film festivals in Turkey, construction of urban and suburban multiplexes opening venues for innovative films from new specialized film festivals. Credit also goes to the propagation of film culture by a better educated growing metropolitan public and young audience attuned to visual culture. Thus we can assume that Turkish film productions will expand in depth and breadth and that will travel the festival circuit, thus reaching New York.

Responding to the anticipated composition of the audience, films representing different genres and meeting commercial or artistic criteria were selected. The program included CHILDREN OF SECRET (2002) by Uemit Cin Gueven, an award winning production which addresses social issues and gives a face to homeless children; POLICE (2007); the first film by Onur Unlu , a police story in the .film noir genre, depicting crime, family and love with in a surprising script structure; SEMUM (2008) by Hasan Karacadag, an interesting attempt to create of a Turkish-Islamic horror film , with strong EXORCISTS overtones, and TIMES AND WINDS (2006) where Reha Erdem juxtaposes the beautiful imagery of a village in the countryside with the oppression traditional norms create in this coming of age story of children. The concluding popular movie SIFIR DEDIGIMDE (2007), by Gokhan Yorgancigil, offered a mélange of mystery, hypnotic states, and Turkish fairy tales.

Held from August 19 – 21, the film screenings were part of the first New York Turkish Festival, a large public diplomacy project organized to make Turkish arts, crafts, and trade more familiar to New Yorkers.

Claus Mueller
New York Correspondent


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