Berlin Daily Spotlight 2013: Pinema Filmcilik @ 20

At its best, the market in Turkey can be a bit like spearfishing, and Pamir Demirtas, founder of Turkey’s Pinema Film, should know, as he began diving with a spear in the waters just off the Mediterranean town of Mersin at age 8.

“There’s a moment before the taking, when it’s just you and the fish and the water,” he says. “You focus, breathe in to steady your aim, and you fire. If you’ve picked a good target and adjusted for the waves, your chances aren’t bad.”

Now splitting his time equally between the fish-filled waters of Miami and an Istanbul office above the straits of the Bosphorus, Demirtas is celebrating Pinema’s 20th anniversary this year. In Turkey’s tumultuous market, the secret to the company’s longevity is careful selection. Studying each catch individually and gauging the currents of the day, Demirtas is meticulous about the films he pegs for distribution.

For Demirtas the business is one of relationships rather than markets. You’ll be more likely to find him catching a film and chatting with old friends than cutting a deal in the corridors of the Berlinale this week, because he works, as he always has, by going directly to the source for content.

Pinema boasts a catalog that includes major studio productions, arthouse films, Turkish domestic and niche genres. This spring releases include Steven Soderberg’s “Side Effects” and Fisher Stevens’ “Stand Up Guys,” while the second half of year will see two features from Mahsun Kirmizigul, director of Turkey’s 2009 submission for Oscar consideration, “I Saw the Sun.”

Pinema’s first-look deals with a number of studios — including Relativity, Morgan Creek, FilmNation, Hyde Park, Graham King, QED, Solution and Cargo — help feed the pipeline. Company has cultivated similar relationships with major names from Turkey such as Kirmizigul’s Boyut Film.

Demirtas made a point of targeting studios as soon as he set up the company, chatting up execs and earning a reputation for delivering on the promises he made.

The big break came in 1994, when Pinema released “The Crow” to great success. This was followed by a deal with PolyGram that saw the firm handling “Trainspotting,” “Dead Man Walking” and “Sleepers,” and cemented Dermirtas’ rep for offering a straight assessment of a film’s chances in Turkey, a market that few outside the country could gauge. After this, the films kept coming, as Pinema formed relations with production houses including Beacon and Summit.

Pinema also did very well with Oliver Stone’s “Alexander” in 2004, and experienced solid runs with “The Tourist,” “Immortals” and “Ghost Rider 2″ in recent years, while the strong showing of helmer Adem Kilic’s “Sumela’s Code: Temel” (2011), a domestic comedy about a Turkish everyman in the Black Sea region, surprised many even within the country.

But for Demirtas, if the industry is about careful aim, it’s also about a passion for film. This passion helped him wedge his foot in the door doing odd jobs for distributors while studying computer science at one of Turkey’s top schools, Bosphorus U. That taste of the business was all it took to let him know where he’d be heading.

In more recent years that drive has seen him hosting Oliver Stone, Francis Ford Coppola, Paul Verhoeven, Mario Kassar and Vadim Perelman on their visits to Turkey, in part because he likes to promote the country for production. It’s the same passion that keeps Demirtas reflective about the sparse audiences for last year’s “Hugo,” a film that he holds dear.

“For the Turkish audience it was unclear whether this was a children’s show or an adult drama,” he says. “There’s not the place here yet for a film about film. But there could be.”

Demirtas hopes to contribute to the shifting sands of screen culture in Turkey.

“In a country of 80 million our admissions should be much higher than they are,” he says, “and all of us, my friends and competitors included, are doing everything we can to improve those numbers, not only for box office, but for DVDs and Blu-rays as well.”

One gets the sense that it’s this goal that keeps Demirtas spending the winter each year in Istanbul, though he admits he prefers the warmth of Florida. Winter is when most of the business is done in Turkey and the Pinema offices, perched on a hill on the Asian side of Istanbul, are kept buzzing by the staff of 12, the newest of whom has been with the company for eight years.

Some are selling to TV, the company’s bread and butter, while others are prepping theatrical distributions. Some are working on the tough task of DVD sales in a market rife with piracy, and some are on the line with Miami, where Pinema’s parent company, Aqua, makes acquisitions for rights from U.S. firms.

Demirtas has his eyes on all of it, with a steady gaze that says he’s at home in these waters.

Berlin Daily Spotlight 2013: Pinema Filmcilik @ 20
Biz built on relationships | Timeline: Two decades of growth | Boyut Film tie is built to last

Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more