Turkish culture minister Omer Celik is jetting into Cannes to celebrate this year’s centennial of Turkish cinema amid an increasingly upbeat outlook for the local industry that sees local auteur Nuri Bilge Ceylan ensconced in a Cannes competition berth for the fourth time, the highest number of Turkish pics ever screening in Berlin earlier this year, and the country’s economic boom opening up new opportunities for moviemakers.
Variety’s Nick Vivarelli spoke to Celik about current initiatives to boost the Turkish film industry in the international arena.
Turkey is celebrating 100 years of Turkish cinema at a time when Turkish films are playing prominently at international festivals like Berlin and Cannes, which you will be attending this year. What is the significance of your presence at Cannes?
At the Ministry of Culture and Tourism we consider cinema a strategic component of the culture industry. In line with this, the ministry has been supporting the Turkish cinema sector since 2005. 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.
Do you have any suggestions for ways that producers of Turkish mainstream commercial movies can make more exportable product?
In order to achieve higher recognition for our films in the international arena it is very important for us to increase the number of Turkish co-productions with foreign producers, primarily with Hollywood. We are hoping to take new steps to encourage such co-productions by the end of this year.
In terms of foreign markets, Germany is clearly very important, as the Turkish-German Co-Production Development Fund attests. Are there other similar bridge-building co-production initiatives in the works?
Turkey is one of the European countries party to the European Convention on Cinematographic Co-Production. Moreover, Turkey has several bilateral co-production agreements. So far, we have signed such bilateral agreements with France, Italy and Bulgaria.
Despite not having tax rebates, Turkey attracts foreign productions, most recently Russell Crowe’s “The Water Diviner.” Are there any plans to make the country even more attractive for foreign productions?
“Water Diviner” was shot in the original locations where the story, which revolves around the Battle of Gallipoli, takes place. Your question makes me think that we have not been successful enough in promoting the incentives that we offer producers for films shot in Turkey. Since 2009, we have provided tax refunds to foreign film producers for VAT, which is around 18%. Several foreign productions such as “Argo,” James Bond’s “Skyfall” and “Ghost Rider 2” have benefited from this incentive. In addition to the value added tax refund, we are about to complete a new regulation that will make it possible for us to support foreign productions by covering as much as 25% of their expenditures in Turkey.
Speaking of the foreign perception of Turkey, the country’s recent Twitter and YouTube bans drew unfavorable international coverage.
Turkey is a country with rule of law. Access to certain social-media sites such as Twitter and YouTube has been limited on legal grounds. Some Turkish courts banned access to those sites due to their failure to obey court orders regarding removal of content that violates personal rights in a serious manner. In fact, access to Twitter has been restored following another court decision. We are in contact with the companies in questions in order to resolve such issues.