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Turkish box office is up

Local hits have helped attract private money

As Turkey’s Golden Orange Film Festival gets ready to kick off its 45th year, local films are burning up the wickets, with domestic pics set to capture some 50% of the country’s box office this year.

A wave of local hits — dominated by comedies and action movies — has helped attract private money and investment from TV companies in home-grown product, Turkish film industry professionals say.

Box office figures for 2008 through August show the top six positions all taken by Turkish films, with comedy “Recep Ivedik” at the top of the list, pulling in 4.3 million viewers since its release late February.

“We are witnessing an explosion in the number of films being produced in Turkey,” says Ahmet Boyacioglu, chairman of the Ankara Cinema Assn. “Two years ago, a couple of dozens films were produced, last year 43 (were made) and this year already around 60. Currently there are some 30 films waiting to be released, reflecting films from across a range of genres — comedies, arthouse, personal (auteur) films.”

Boyacioglu says it is hard to identify precisely what factors have contributed to the sharp increase in interest among audiences in domestic movies, but notes that institutional and industry investors have been quick to capitalize on it.

“Television channels are increasingly interested in buying films before they are shot, and we even have an example of a single private investor putting up the entire $2 million budget for one film currently in production,” Boyacioglu adds.

Market share for Turkish films went from just 13% in 2002 to 51% in 2006, he says. Although the share dipped to 38% last year, latest figures suggest that by year’s end the figure will be back up around 50%, with “Recep Ivedik” accounting for approximately 12% of total market share based on an average annual audience in Turkey of 30 million-35 million.

Figures like that are knocking some of Hollywood’s best efforts off the charts: “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” pulled in just 323,000 viewers.

“It’s a disaster for American films. Why the Turkish people have decided to watch more Turkish films over the last six years I don’t know, but now anyone with any interest or opportunity in cinema wants to make a film here,” Boyacioglu says.

Although many of the blockbuster local films will rarely be seen beyond Turkey’s borders — or outside its large diaspora communities in countries such as Germany — festival fare is also enjoying a new wave.

Turkish films have been featured heavily in the competition and showcase programs of virtually all European film festivals this year, with Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s taking the director prize at Cannes this year for “Three Monkeys.”

Other Turkish pics on festival and award radars include “Pandora’s Box” by Yesim Ustaoglu; “Milk” by Semi Kaplanoglu; “Autumn” by Ozcan Alper; “My Marlon and Brando” by Huseyin Karabey; and Seyfi Teoman’s feature debut “Summer Book.”

Deniz Ziya Temeltas, of the Eurasia Production Platform and Film Market — a professional sidebar that runs during the Eurasia film festival in Antalya — says local films look likely to remain a force in Turkey for the foreseeable future.

“With the arrival of new festivals, production platforms and markets as well as various new media, there is a question whether the U.S. will be able keep its market share,” Ziya Temeltas says. “More and more local productions are airing on primetime TV. … In Turkey, there is not a U.S. series on a major network in primetime.”