Turkish cinema is experiencing a burst of energy.
A new generation of filmmakers is getting notice on the festival circuit, making for a lively, vibrant film scene. The most recent example is “Sivas,” a potent first feature by director Kaan Mujdeci that scooped the Special Jury Prize at the Venice Film Festival.
It’s a rare feat for a first-timer to land a competition slot on the Lido, let alone to scoop a major nod. Also at Venice, Turkish directors have won the Lion of the Future for debut twice over the past four years.
But these films aren’t an easy sell, even on the arthouse circuit. “Sivas,” which is set in the brutal world of dog fighting in rural eastern Anatolia, is a naturalistic coming-of-ager revolving around an 11-year-old boy and the dog he saves. Also tough sells were 2010 Venice Lion of the Future winner “Majority” by Fatih Akin’s former assistant Seren Yuce, about a rich kid struggling with his authoritarian father; and Ali Aydin’s drama “Mold,” about a solitary railroad inspector trying to track down information about his long-missing son. “Mold” took the Lion of the Future in 2012.
There seems to be a tendency in new Turkish cinema to stick to strictly arthouse forms, both in visuals and narratives. Long takes and regional settings are common. The divide between Turkish directors making stark art movies and those making commercial fare is so distinct it is hindering the industry’s ability to reach the next level.
Still, Turkish cinema has made huge strides since 2004 when the culture ministry started supporting films, providing up to 50% of the budget in some cases.
“Our efforts are aimed at developing existing legislation in order both to protect these achievements and to go further by diversifying support mechanisms and increasing the amount of support that we provide,” says Turkey’s culture minister, Omer Celik.
The ministry is supporting not just art movies, but also more commercial films and encouraging arthouse directors to work with commercial talents. That may turn out to be a game changer.