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A New Distribution Model Gives Turkey’s Film Fans Their Fill of Foreign Fare

By many standards, 2013 was a stellar year for film in Turkey. Box office takings climbed by 15%; viewers came out in droves for Turkish productions, toppling a 30-year-old record; and nine out of the year’s 10 biggest films were Turkish (December’s “The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug” being the lone exception, in the eighth spot). But for lovers of arthouse and U.S. indies, the picture was far from rosy; award-winning productions from Turkey and beyond had to scavenge for screen space, with runs of one to two weeks being the best-case scenario.
New distribution model Another Cinema is working to change that.

The Turkish exhibition sector operates on a unique model that favors Hollywood and local hits, since films that don’t perform well in their first week are pulled. When a screening slot opens up in a theater, an arthouse distrib will take it, often at the last minute, giving little time for advertising or marketing — thus guaranteeing that the first week’s box office won’t be strong, and the film will be replaced.

But some local audiences clearly hungered for alternatives to studio productions: Recent film festivals in Istanbul and Ankara sold out many of their screenings, and when Michael Haneke’s “Amour” hit Turkey on three screens in late 2012, 22,000 tickets were sold over an eight-week period. According to Another Cinema director Imre Tezel, the film could have done far better with wider release.

Another Cinema launched in November by arthouse distrib M3 Film (itself backed by cultural philanthropic org Kariyo & Ababay Foundation).

The distrib guarantees each pic a monthlong run, and offers three different films a day in each theater it programs. While that may not sound like a radical initiative, Another Cinema — because it has secured theaters for screenings — publishes its schedule a month ahead of time, which builds audience awareness and stokes potential box office.

There are also no intermissions for commercials, a standard practice in Turkish mainstream theaters.

Another Cinema initially programmed three screens in Istanbul and one in Ankara with such foreign fare as “Blue Is the Warmest Color,” “Frances Ha,” “Child’s Pose” and “Inside Llewyn Davis” alongside numerous Turkish independents such as “The Impeccables,” which won honors at Turkey’s Golden Orange festival in Antalya, and the documentary “My Child.”

It now programs 11 screens across four cities and, according to Tezel, has bigger plans: “We’d like to spread throughout the country,” she says.

An aggressive campaign in the local press and on social media have fostered awareness, but attendance is the most convincing marker of its success. Another Cinema films have been packing theaters at an average 60%-70% capacity, much higher than the average 15%-20% capacity in theaters with mainstream fare.

Another Cinema also offers a special program, Another Wednesday, in which the final Wednesday show is a themed event. Gala premieres with a film’s crew, documentary screenings and short film nights have been featured, and forthcoming events will include cult film and surprise nights, in which the name of the film to be shown is revealed only at the screening.

Tezel stresses the flexibility of the programming, noting that criteria as varied as festival buzz, specific actors or directors, or simply a strong debut film might warrant selection.

Another Cinema also has invested in the digital upgrade of various screening rooms in return for exclusive projection rights for those rooms. So far, it’s been a win-win situation: Cinemas that couldn’t afford the equipment have been upgraded, drawing larger audiences in the process, and films that were otherwise ignored are now reaching viewers.

Tezel hopes that the model spreads; it’s looking for partners both within Turkey and in other countries.

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