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Turkish Filmmakers Aim for More Arthouse-Commercial Hybrids

While Turkish cinema is unquestionably making huge strides, it’s still perceived internationally as strictly arthouse, spawned by an industry seen as rigidly polarized between auteurs making art pics, such as Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s “Winter Sleep,” which won the Palme d’Or at Cannes this year, and directors churning out strictly local commercial fare. However, at the Antalya Golden Orange Film Festival in October there were signs that Turkish directors, producers and distributors are starting to venture past those boundaries.

Artist-auteur Kutlug Ataman is one example. He scooped up Antalya’s top nod for “The Lamb,” an amusingly told tale of a rural family struggling to come up with cash to throw a banquet to celebrate their son’s circumcision.

For his next project, Ataman is shifting his setting from rural Anatolia to a completely deserted fictional city for atmospheric 1970s-set love story titled “Oryantalya,” which revolves around “a very attractive straight guy losing his virginity,” says the filmmaker.

This “very erotic” pic will feature “speedboats, smoking on planes, ’70s fashion and jewelry and decadent confused sexuality,” Ataman enthuses.
That’s not your typical Turkish arthouse fare, which is known more for mining stark social and existential issues, using regional settings and relying on long takes.

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“I’ve coined a new term — we are calling this movie ‘smart house,’ ” says Ataman of “Oryantalya.” “Abroad, any Turkish-language movie is automatically labelled ‘arthouse.’ How can we escape that?,” he wonders.
Ataman also points out that besides local comedies, distributors in Turkey are now starting to ask for domestic youth culture pics, horror and mystery movies.

Turkish producers are starting to oblige with pics that have commercial elements.

At Antalya, the winner of the debut prize was writer-director Gorkem Sarkan’s “Mrs. Nergis,” an ultra-arthouse pic about the rapport between a middle-age man and his Alzheimer’s-afflicted mom, produced on a micro-budget by Istanbul-based AC Film, whose next pic is a chiller titled “Black Mother,” from first-time director Efe Hizir. Arthouse distributor M3 Film will release it locally in late November.

“It’s a horror film that blends elements of the teen slasher genre and Islamic horror movies, which is a recent sub-genre in Turkish cinema,” says AC co-founder

Muge Ozen, a former buyer for Mars Entertainment Group. AC Film belongs to Ozen’s actor-producer husband, Caner Ozyurtlu, and his producer brother, Alper.

“When I was a buyer, in order to distribute the arthouse movies that we loved, we had to make money from other titles. Our production company uses a little of the same logic,” Ozen says. “But if we made crassly commercial movies, they wouldn’t satisfy our creative needs.”

Therefore, the next two projects in the AC pipeline are both comedies — but not the typical Turkish laffers, which are known for stringing together some slapstick gags with no real narrative thread.

One upcoming AC project transposes a Moliere play to a village in Southern Turkey; the other is a concoction of anything-goes sketches, “but with a more auteur and underground tone. We are trying to do something with a different understanding of what is really funny,” Ozen says.
In Turkey’s tough arthouse distribution arena, the game-changer is Baska Sinema (Another Cinema), a platform to release art pics, using an innovative distribution model.

Another Cinema was established a year ago by distrib M3. After M3 invested its own coin to convert several arthouse screens to digital, Another Cinema took over the programming in these venues, guaranteeing each title a monthlong run but offering three different films a day on each screen and marketing these pics aggressively using social media.

It’s been packing theaters at an average 60%-70% capacity, it says, much higher than the average 15%-20% capacity in Turkey’s mainstream theaters. Launched in November 2013 with four screens, Another Cinema operates 19 venues, after “exhibitors came us because they noticed we could maximize their potential,” says M3 Film’s Imre Tezel. The motto for this new Turkish distribution platform is: “Year-round festival.”

Arthouse distributors around the planet may want to take note.

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