Turkish films satisfy locals

Booming film business builds volume.

Comedies and melodramas are what Turkish auds want to see. And most of all, they want to see Turkish comedies and melodramas.

The phenomenal growth of the local production sector over the last five years has been based on Turkish producers turning out films that satisfy local demand, and there doesn’t seem to be any downturn in sight.

Mainstream commercial Turkish cinema is booming. By the end of 2007, some 70 Turkish features will have been produced and released domestically, almost double last year’s total.

Indeed, the numbers have been steadily growing, with 27 Turkish films released in 2005 after just 17 were put out the year before.

Among local film biz pros, however, there’s a difference of opinion as to whether the Turkish film industry can maintain the quality of its pics during a period of such relatively heavy output.

For her part, Nida Karabol, producer and chairman of the newly established Turkish producers org Feyat, sees the growth of domestic production as part of a worldwide trend.

“Everywhere local movies are becoming more popular,” she explains. “People want to see their own culture on the screen.”

But even she admits that the Turkish success is exceptional, with locally produced pics commanding more than 50% of the local box office over the past two years.

“There are three reasons for the increase in film production,” she notes. “First, the funding program set up by the Turkish government two years ago is working with 50% to 70% of Turkish films getting support either for script development, production or post-production. Second, Turkish films have taken an increasingly larger share of the box office over the past few years, encouraging production. Thirdly, Turkish producers have become more professional, with better-trained crews and technicians turning out higher-quality productions.”

This fall’s most anticipated local film is director Omer Vargi’s “Kabadayi” (For Love and Honor), co-produced by Vargi’s Filmacass and Fida Film. Vargi produced and screenwriter Yavuz Turgul directed “Eskiya” (The Bandit), which is credited with kickstarting Turkish film production in 1996 after homegrown fare had languished at the bottom of the box office for years.

Budgeted at $4.5 million, “For Love and Honor” is a drama/thriller about a local tough guy whom Vargi describes as a sort of Robin Hood.

The film is scheduled for a Dec. 14 release in 120 prints and features dozens of well-known Turkish actors, which should take the pic to the top of the local box office.

It is distributed by UIP Turkey locally, and it already has secured sales in Germany, France, the Netherlands, Belgium and the U.K., where it is being handled by Maxximum Films.

But Vargi is not nearly so upbeat as Karabol about the future of Turkish production.

“I don’t agree that Turkish film is doing so well,” he states. “Yes, there are a lot of films being produced. But too many of them are poor quality. There were about 40 films released last year, but 30 of them lost money, three or four broke even, and maybe five or six made money. This year the overall audience decreased. We have 70 million people in Turkey but only 30 million of them go to the cinema. If cinema is going to have a future in Turkey, then we need to attract larger audiences to the cinema.”

While Vargi doesn’t believe that more local productions are anything to celebrate, the box office numbers for local films are still enviable.

Director Murat Aslan’s comedy “Maskeli Belser: Irak” (The Masked Gang: Iraq) is currently riding at the top of the 2007 local box office with TL8.56 million ($7.1 million), followed by Mustafa Sevki Dogan’s adventure drama “Son Osmanli yandim ali” (The Last Ottomans) with $6.3 million.

Another wary pro is Mehmet Soyarslan is president of Ozenfilm, one of Turkey’s top distribs, which handles Fox, independent and Turkish productions and controls somewhere around 40% of Turkish distribution.

He agrees Turkish film is still riding high but sounds a warning that its boom may already be waning: “Last year, 15 Turkish films had a 55% share of the box office, but this year with 33 Turkish films released (so far), the total box office share for local films is about 50%. The screen average is going down.”

Ozenfilm is also a top producer of Turkish films, turning out about two pics a year. His releases have included such box office toppers as “The Last Ottomans,” which garnered 1.2 million admissions.

Like Vargi, Soyarslan complains that the overall quality of Turkish films has declined with the higher numbers of films in production.

“The average budget last year was about TL2 million to TL4 million ($1.7 million to $3.4 million), but this year it’s about TL1.2 million ($1 million),” he explains. “We need high-quality films if we want to keep and grow audiences, especially the middle class. We face tough competition from television, which has very good programming now. Turkish producers need to invest more in individual productions.”

So while the Turkish film industry is definitely on a roll, the party could soon be over unless local producers heed the warning signs and make sure they continue to deliver films that Turkish auds are ready to flock to.