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Turkish Culture Minister Omer Celik was in Los Angeles during the American Film Market recently to tubthump his country’s tax incentives, soon to be implemented, for foreign producers as part of a push to take the film industry in Turkey to a new level in an upbeat year that has seen auteur Nuri Bilge Ceylan scoop the Cannes Palme d’Or for “Winter Sleep.”
Variety’s Nick Vivarelli spoke to Celik about his initiatives to boost the Turkish film industry in the international arena.

Variety: Cinema in Turkey certainly seems to be on a roll right now, even on the festival circuit. What does the film industry in your country need to do to rise to the next level?

Celik: Turkish movies have scored some major successes on the festival circuit, but also economically in terms of box office in our country we are doing well. Since 2010 Turkish cinema has been reaping one of the highest box office market share for local films in the world (a whopping 58% in 2013). But we need a new support mechanism to generate more and better quality projects to sustain this success and get rid of some stumbling blocks. The government has prepared a draft law that will introduce the new measures dealing with project development support; post-production support; distribution and promotion support; domestic film screening support; co-production support; and support for foreign productions. We are also studying new support mechanisms to encourage and sustain film growth in cinemas.

Variety: How will the Turkish tax incentives be structured?

Celik: Since 2009, we have provided tax refunds to foreign film producers for VAT, which is around 18%. Now we will also support foreign productions by covering as much as 25% of their expenditures in Turkey. But we also offer other advantages to film and TV producers. Turkey is like one huge open-air plateau. This makes for great light, which is key for shooting. And there are logistical advantages in terms of transportation.

Variety: Turkish TV soap operas are a global export and a true pop culture phenomenon. Do you think the Turkish film industry can aspire to similar success?

Celik: The success of Turkish films at important international film festivals is helping to promote Turkish cinema worldwide. And the popularity of Turkish TV series in the Arabian Peninsula, in the Middle East, Africa, Russia and the Balkans can also help contribute to building an awareness and help export Turkish films. I think that in order for Turkish films to continue their positive momentum and gain greater success abroad (on a scale similar to the soaps), they should start featuring more international stars and be partly shot in different countries. That would help give a further boost to Turkish cinema, which has a storied 100-year history.

Variety: Whether it’s YouTube and Twitter bans, or the recent controversy over alleged censorship of a Gezi Park documentary screening at the Antalya Film Festival, there have been concerns in the press about indirect censorship of local movies. What is your response to these concerns?

Celik: There was no censorship of the documentary about Gezi Park, which sparked the incident in Antalya that you are referring to. Festival organizers wanted the director to tone down some English subtitles in the documentary, but the director rejected this demand and withdrew it from the competition. Then the festival invited the documentary back again, and this invitation was rejected. However, this same documentary screened at two other festivals in Turkey, including the Istanbul Film Festival, so the censorship claim is wrong.

Variety: Would foreign productions shooting in Turkey be subject to more restrictions regarding their subject matter than they would be in Western Europe?

Celik: There aren’t any restrictions regarding subject matter on either domestic or foreign productions that are shot in Turkey.