Sorak raises Turkish film bar

Sophisticated local pic 'Gora' breaks new ground

ISTANBUL — Turkey’s hottest director, Omer Faruk Sorak, has just broken all local box- office records with his comedy hit “Gora,” a sci-fi send-up that soared with $18.3 million at the Turkish box office last year and took more than $3 million abroad.

The stylish $5 million production — the biggest in Turkish history — shows the visual savvy of Sorak’s training as a director of photography and the 15 years he spent as a producer of TV programs, commercials and video clips. It is also the 41-year-old Sorak’s feature film debut as sole director.

Sitting in the office of his outfit, Bocek Prods., on a hillside overlooking the vast urban sprawl of Istanbul, Sorak is all business, but the outrageous sense of humor that pervades his work keeps bubbling to the surface.

“Cinema is a visual art and with commercials you gain the ability to tell a story without words and in a very compact way,” Sorak says, “you also have to work with the most advanced technology and to understand editing.”

The fast paced “Gora” broke new ground for Turkish cinema not only at the box office, but also with its sophisticated humor and up-to-date technology.

“Turkish taste is becoming much more European. We see European films and we feel close to the European community,” he says. “With ‘Gora,’ my main goal was just to make people laugh. But I also wanted to bring Turkish film up to international standards both in terms of technology and in terms of the story.”

“Gora” was written by popular Istanbul actor and stand-up comedian Cem Yilmaz who also plays the leading role.

The Ankara-born Sorak studied journalism at Ankara U. before beginning his career as a camera assistant at Turkish State Television. After working as a d.p. on a series of critically acclaimed dramas and documentaries he set up his own company, Bocek Productions, in 1997.

The big break in feature films came in 2000 when he co-directed comedy hit “Vizontele” with Yilmaz Erdogan. The pic, which also starred Erdogan, made Turkish box office history with 3 million admissions.

Erdogan went on to direct a successful sequel, “Vizontele tuuba,” in 2004, alone and while rumors of a bust-up circulated, Sorak says they are still good friends.

“I was already hard at work on ‘Gora’ by the time ‘Vizontele tuuba’ went into production. I just had no time,” Sorak says.

The success of “Gora” and “Vizontele” changed the landscape of Turkish film — there are now twice as many films in production as two years ago and with bigger budgets.

It has also brought Sorak offers to work in Poland, Dubai, Saudi Arabia and South Africa. But he plans to shoot his next film in October in Turkey based on a book titled “Happiness” written by Turkish politician, singer and author Zulfu Livaneli.

Sorak buzzes with ideas and projects. He also has a script in mind for a comedy starring Cameron Diaz that would be set in Istanbul.

“We are in talks with co-producers in both the U.S. and the U.K.,” he says.

Another feature scripted by Sorak, “So Far Away,” starts with the Sept. 11 terrorist attack and examines the roots of terrorism in the Middle East. Also in development is “Deep Sea,” a docu about the sinking of a Turkish submarine in which 86 people died.

“And I even have an idea for a Russian co-production called ‘90,000 Degrees Below Zero,’ based on a true story about 90,000 Turkish soldiers who froze to death during the war with Russia,” he says.