Prominent Turkish film industry multi-hyphenate (fest programmer, producer, director, promoter) Ahmet Boyacioglu is this year’s chairman of the East of the West jury at Karlovy Vary Film Festival, which recently added Turkey and Greece to its core countries.
He spoke to Variety‘s Italy and Middle East correspondent Nick Vivarelli about the current state of the Turkish film industry, as the country celebrates 100 years of Turkish cinema and Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s Palme d’Or victory in Cannes for “Winter Sleep.”
There seems to be a burst of energy in Turkish cinema right now. Is there a resurgence underway and if so, what’s driving it?
There are several reasons. Turkey used to produce up to 300 films a year. Then with the war with Cyprus in 1974 we had a political and economic crisis and in the 80s, after the coup d’etat, Turkish cinema literally died, until the beginning of 2000. It’s been bouncing back ever since. One turning point was the fact that Nuri Bilge Ceylan, in 2002, won both the Grand Jury Prize in Cannes, and also best actor, for his drama “Distant” (“Uzac”). Another important development is that in 2004 the (culture) ministry started supporting Turkish cinema, providing between 30-50% of the budget for some films. Now they are not just supporting art movies, but also more commercial films. These days Turkey has a young generation of filmmakers who make up a very lively, vivid film scene. Here’s a key indicator: in the past four years first-time Turkish directors have won the Venice Film Festival Lion of the Future twice. This happened in 2010 with Seren Yuce’s “Majority,” and in 2012 with Ali Aydin’s drama “Mold.” So it’s not just Bilge Ceylan and Semih Kaplanoglu (whose “Honey” won the Berlin Golden Bear in 2010). We are doing quite well.
My impression is that in Turkish cinema, perhaps more that some other cinematographies, there is a very distinct divide between art cinema and more commercial cinema at a time when, as you know, these boundaries are becoming more blurred even at festivals. Do you agree? Is this changing?
That’s true. We have pure arthouse films and purely commercial ones. I think a good Turkish film should be at least a little bit successful at the box office, let’s say 300,000-500,0000 admissions, and also get some international awards. It would be perfect, if we could produce three or four films like that a year. But I see a change underway in Turkish cinema. Arthouse filmmakers are trying to be more successful at the box office, and commercial producers are increasingly collaborating with them. I think we will be seeing more arthouse directors working with commercial talents going forward. I’m really pushing this.
At the moment, the only example of this that I can think of is Yilmaz Erdogan’s “Butterfly Dream,” Turkey’s foreign Oscar candidate last year, which strikes that middle ground, did well domestically, and also travelled widely. Any others?
Yes, “Butterfly Dream” is a good example. But in 2006 we had “International,” by Sirri Sureyya Onder and Muharrem Gulmez; then there is Ozcan Alper’s “Autumn,” in 2009, and Reha Erdem’s “Hayat Var” (My Only Sunshine), also in 2009. And in 2004 there was Ugur Yucel’s “Toss Up.” They all did well at the local box office and went to festivals.
There are two Turkish films playing at Karlovy Vary, Reha Erdam’s “Singing Woman,” playing in the Another View sidebar, and “Istanbul United,” playing in the Documentary Films competition. Can you tell me a little more about them?
“Singing Woman” is a very interesting film. Quite tough, pure arthouse. “Istanbul United” I haven’t seen yet. But in all honesty, I think there should be more films from Turkey playing in Karlovy Vary. Maybe there will be, starting from this year onwards, since the East of the West section will also includes movies from Turkey. I think Turkish cinema will become more visible all over the world in the next couple of years.
The Turkish economy is booming and in recent years the government seems to be putting more muscle and money into boosting the film industry. But I’ve read that lately there are concerns about censorship in getting a film financed with state funding. Is that true? Is the political climate impacting the film industry?
I don’t think so. The last film that was banned was Lars Von Trier’s “Nymphomaniac,” which was banned in many countries. I cannot think of any Turkish films that have been banned. The ministry is clever enough not to censor. There are two ratings commissions, but its members are people from the film industry, so they are not bureaucrats. At the moment in Turkey anyone can shoot anything they want, especially Kurdish directors. Kurdish cinema is booming and the climate between the government and the Kurdish minority is good.