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Turkish film’s commerce and culture

Few arthouse films break through

Turkey is a country defined by its contradictions, geographically straddling East and West, its society a mix of secular and Islamic values, its outlook both modern and traditional. Given that, it is fitting that its film industry would similarly be a fascinating blend of culture and commerce.

This year’s box office champ, “The Masked Gang: Iraq,” has grossed more than $7 million and brought in more than 1 million admissions in Turkey alone. Pic, a farcical romp about a group of misfit criminals who try to redirect the supply of an oil field in northern Iraq back into Turkey, is a sequel to low-budget laffer “The Masked Gang,” which originated out of the TV popularity of lead actor Peker Acikalin.

On the other side of the fence is powerful drama “Takva,” which tells the story of a devout Istanbul Muslim who finds himself questioning his faith after he accepts a job as a rent collector for his local mosque.

Pic, which has been selected as Turkey’s representative for the foreign-language Academy Award, outgrossed the likes of “Borat” and “Casino Royale” when it bowed in Turkey.

For all its success, however, “Takva” may become something of an exception.

While established Turkish auteurs such as Reha Erdem (“Times and Winds”) and Nuri Bilge Ceylan (“Climates”) continue to pick up awards at film fests and get coin for their projects, up-and-coming arthouse helmers may find it harder to have their voices heard, given the overly congested marketplace.

“There is an audience for arthouse cinema, but there are just so many films out there right now,” says Hilal Ustun, a distribution executive at Maxximum Films, who handled “The Masked Gang: Iraq” in Europe. “There were so many good films that weren’t really successful because everyone was going to see the blockbusters. I guess it’s the same problem in Turkey as in other parts of the world.”