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Turks delight in local B.O. uptick

Industry winning streak continues for sixth year

ISTANBUL — The Turkish film industry’s winning streak looks set to continue as Turkish directors turn out winners both at the local box office and on the international festival circuit for the sixth straight year.

Both the number of films in production and local films’ share of the box office look like they will surpass 2005. In the first quarter of 2006, Turkish films have occupied five of the top-10 slots at the local B.O.

Anti-Iraq war “Valley of the Wolves,” directed by Sedar Akar and Sadullah Senturk, may be more crowdpleaser than an award-winner, but it has broken records with 27 million Turkish Lira ($20 million) at the box office.

Other Turkish films, like Nuri Bilge Ceyhan’s “Climates,” screening in competition in Cannes this year, and Zeki Demirkubiz’s “Destiny,” set to screen at several top fests, are proof Turkish film is thriving not only financially but also artistically.

International fest programmers are on the trail of “Times and Winds” (Bes Vakit), a poetic look at village life directed by Reha Erdem, which took the top prize at last week’s Istanbul Film Festival.

Turkish film production has grown steadily since the mid-1990s, with 27 feature films released locally in 2005, up from 18 in 2004 and 16 in 2003. More important, the share of admissions for domestic product has grown over the past five years, reaching 38% in 2004 and 41% in 2005. While the total number of admissions has been fairly level in the last few years, Turkish films have carved out the territory formerly occupied by Hollywood hits.

After “Valley of the Wolves,” two comedies ranked second and third: “Hababam Sinifi Ucbucuk” (The Class of Chaos) directed by Ferdi Egilmez and distributed by Ozen Film; and “Keloglan Kara Prense Karsi” (Bald Boy vs. Black Prince) directed by Tayfun Guneyer.

Ozen Film remained the top Turkish distributor, with a 35% market share in 2005, but newcomer Kenda, which distributes mainly Islamic-themed films, is turning the market on its head this year, with three out of the top five pics so far this year, including “Valley of the Wolves,” which is based on a local hit TV series.

One Turkish distributor who handles both U.S. and Turkish product says he thinks Hollywood films are losing market share because they lack originality and audience appeal. “We are getting remakes of remakes,” he complains. Although a name like Tom Cruise can still pull in audiences, auteur films like Woody Allen’s “Match Point” outperform most blockbusters.

One of the key factors in the boost in the number of Turkish films produced in 2005 was a new film fund set up by the Ministry of Culture last year. Nuri Bilge Ceyhan’s “Climates” was one of the films to benefit from the new funding.

Ceyhan’s super-low-budget “Uzak” (Distant) earned honors in Cannes two years ago, and the director joked he has to win prizes to finance his next project. The Ministry Fund is targeted at producing films which could garner prizes for Turkey at international festivals.

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