BERLIN — In Germany, Turkish-themed films are beginning to generate major box office coin even as Turkey’s own cinematic output is making waves on the international stage and dominating the B.O. at home.
This year Germany’s Turkish community is celebrating its 50th anniversary: In 1961 Germany and Turkey signed an agreement allowing guest workers to immigrate here. It’s the subject at the heart of Yasemin Samdereli’s “Almanya — Willkommen in Deutschland,” the second-most-successful German film of the year.
The pic, which has earned more than $11 million at the domestic box office, follows an aging patriarch who became Germany’s 1,000,001st guest worker in 1964 and who returns to Turkey with his family nearly 50 years later.
The pic won a Silver Lola award for top film this year as well as the screenplay prize for Nesrin Samdereli, the director’s sister, at the German Film Awards.
The celebration of the Turkish-German experience continues in Constantin Film’s upcoming “Turkish for Beginners,” a bigscreen adaptation of the hit ARD series about a German mother of two who moves in with her boyfriend, a Turkish widower and his two teenage kids. The film picks up from the series as the bunch heads off on vacation to Thailand.
“The original TV series was not only the start of an entertaining look at the cultural differences between Germans and first- and second-generation immigrants from Turkey, but Bora Dagtekin — its genius inventor and mastermind — also successfully switched archetypal patterns,” says Martin Moszkowicz, Constantin’s head of film and TV. “He took the established world of Germans and Turks one step further.”
Moszkowicz says the broad success of films like “Almanya” lies in their universal themes.
“As with every good comedy, its core has to be in real life. That is why Germans of all backgrounds and age-groups are interested in this.”
Turkish films, which enjoyed a remarkable 53% market-share at the Turkish box office last year, also have performed well in Germany.
Earlier this year, Zuebeyr Sasmaz’s controversial actioner “Valley of the Wolves: Palestine” enjoyed a muscular opening, with more than 1,000 admissions per screen, an $808,451 weekend gross and a total $1.8 million at the box office.
The pic, about an elite agent who hunts down the Israeli military chiefs behind the deadly raid on the Turkish-led aid flotilla headed for Gaza, almost saw its release blocked by Germany’s FSK ratings board after it ruffled the feathers of Jewish groups and local politicos who labeled it “anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic.”
It’s not the first time the “Valley of the Wolves” franchise caused an uproar. American forces were portrayed as bloodthirsty villains in 2006’s “Valley of the Wolves: Iraq.” That pic proved an even bigger hit at the German box office, pulling in $4 million.
Most notable Turkish filmmakers, however, are finding international acclaim without resorting to military themes. Over the past year, Turkish pics have enjoyed major success at international film fests, from Berlin to Cannes and beyond:
nNuri Bilge Ceylan won the Cannes Film Festival’s Grand Jury Prize this year for “Once Upon a Time in Anatolia,” about a police search for the body of a dead man and the impact of its discovery.
nSeyfi Teoman’s “Our Grand Despair,” about two bachelor friends who open their home to a troubled young woman, won the Jury Special Prize at the Istanbul Film Festival after screening in competition in Berlin.
nTayfun Pirselimoglu’s “Hair,” about a wigmaker and his obsession with a lonely woman who sells him her locks, preemed in Locarno and went on to win the best director prize in Istanbul.
nSelim Gunes’ “White as Snow,” about a boy who struggles to survive in a mountain village with his two younger siblings after the family falls into poverty, picked up the Special Jury Award at the Sofia Film Festival earlier this year.
nSemih Kaplanoglu’s “Honey,” about a young boy and his beloved beekeeper father, won Berlin’s Golden Bear last year, and became Turkey’s foreign Oscar candidate.
The country’s current crop of films likewise offers an eclectic range of fare, from “Turkan,” Cemal San’s biopic of late physician, leprosy researcher and female activist Turkan Saylan, to Ozan Aksungur’s debut feature “The Guest,” about a middle-aged man who returns to his hometown and begins an affair with a woman stuck in a loveless marriage.
In “Loneliness in the Goal,” actor-turned-director Volga Sorgu follows a former goalkeeper who loses his wife and soccer career after a traffic accident but who continues to play on an amateur team.
The growing international success of Turkish cinema reflects the country’s booming economy and a dynamic film industry.
In May, leading Turkish shingle Fida Film merged with local distrib Tiglon, creating an industry giant with a dominant market position in production, cinema advertising, foreign film acquisition, home entertainment and lab services. The new Fida-Tiglon Group is expected to see annual revenue of $120 million a year.