Turkish business bounces back

Government funding boosts film industry

Two years after the Turkish Ministry of Culture announced it would begin to provide serious funding for the Turkish film industry, the results are evident, with nearly 40 feature films produced over the past year and 34 released, capturing 51.7 % of the total Turkish box office.

This is a huge increase over the usual annual production of 20 or so films five years ago, of which half would be lucky to be released. The numbers have been steadily growing, with 27 Turkish films released in 2005 and 17 released in 2004.

While the 17 million Turkish Lira ($12.5 million) invested annually by the Ministry of Culture may not be much by international standards, it’s an important boost for Turkish films, where budgets average between $500,000 and $1 million.

The production of quality art films like Semih Kaplanoglu’s “Egg,” a Turkish-Greek co-production, is rising as a result of this funding.

“Egg,” which also received Eurimage support, is part of a trilogy being shot by Kaplanoglu. “Milk” and “Honey” are still to come, with “Milk,” which has also received backing from the World Cinema Fund in Berlin, due to start shooting in autumn.”The budget for ‘Egg’ was very low, about $500,000, so the funding from the Ministry of Culture and Eurimage was very important,” said Kaplanoglu at the Istanbul Film Festival. “I work with only one professional actor. I guess the technique is similar to Nuri Bilge Ceylan, who works with non-professionals. Nuri opened doors for Turkish film throughout the world. Now festival selectors really look at our films.”

Ceylan’s “Climates” won the prize for best Turkish film at this year’s Istanbul Film Fest as well as a competition slot in Cannes last year. Ceylan was one of the first to receive funding under the new government initiative that stipulates films that win international prizes or slots in A-class international film festivals do not have to pay back their grant money.

While art films are bringing kudos internationally for Turkey, the local box office continues to be dominated by commercially successful local productions.

Commercial projects can also receive Ministry of Culture support in the form of loans that must be repaid out of box office receipts, but producers like BMK, which scored a hit with Cem Yilmaz vehicle “The Magician,” opt to finance projects themselves.

The top four films for 2006 were all Turkish, following a trend that began five years ago. Topping the 2006 box office was the anti-Iraq war “Valley of the Wolves,” directed by Sedar Akar and Sadullah Senturk, with $20 million; followed by “The Class of Chaos,” directed by Ferdi Egilmez, with $9.4 million and distributed by Ozen Film; Yilmaz’s “The Magician,” with $9.3 million, and a new comedy, “The Exam,” by Omer Faruk Sorak who directed the hit “G.O.R.A.,” with $5.7 million.