ANTALYA, Turkey — If Antalya mayor Menderes Türel had his way, Tom Cruise, Angelina Jolie, and other Hollywood celebs would be soaking up the sun on the Mediterranean’s shores before popping into a local restaurant for Turkish coffee and kebabs.
Afterward, they’d retire to swank seaside homes, peruse the next day’s call sheet, and hit the sack before an early start lensing their latest big-budget productions in a Hollywood-style studio, right here in the heart of the Turkish Riviera.
Türel outlined his vision on the eve of the closing ceremony of the 53rd Antalya Int’l. Film Festival. A tireless promoter of this handsome seaside town, the mayor is convinced that a little bit of elbow grease, backed by government coin, can turn Antalya into what he describes as a world-renowned “cinema city.”
“We want to make it a meeting point for world cinema as well,” he says, acknowledging its success as a bustling resort town popular with foreigners throughout its lengthy summer. He adds, “Antalya is ready.”
Already the seat of Turkey’s oldest film festival, Antalya is seeing a push from Turkish bizzers eager to use it as a launching pad for initiatives designed to help the local biz continue more than a decade’s worth of sustained growth.
The industry program this year included the third edition of the Antalya Film Forum, a production and co-production platform for Turkish films, with 26 projects currently in the development stage taking part. A new initiative, the Film Talent Marketing Rounds, was introduced to give Turkish filmmakers a chance to promote their movies to a range of buyers from Turkey and around the world. And organizers launched a new scriptwriting fund, which will allow up to half a dozen scriptwriters whose films are set in Antalya to take part in a residency next year.
Film Forum director Zeynep Atakan, long-time producer of Palme d’Or winner Nuri Bilge Ceylan, sees the combined initiatives functioning as a bridge between the Turkish biz and the rest of the world.
“We want to develop Turkish films…and get them ready for the global market, and make them more visible in the global market,” she says. “We want this global [presence] starting from Antalya.”
Those global aspirations were apparent throughout the week. British director Hugh Hudson (“Chariots of Fire”) topped an international jury that included helmer Wash Westmoreland (“Still Alice”), Andie MacDowell and Rutger Hauer. John Savage (“The Deer Hunter”), Esai Morales (“La Bamba”) and Filipino helmer Brillante Mendoza (“Kinatay”) were also in attendance. French thesp Audrey Tautou took home a lifetime achievement award at the opening ceremony. On the closing night, the honor will go to Harvey Keitel.
More ambitious than celebrity outreach are plans to build a world-class studio complex to help lure foreign producers to a city already renowned for its distinctive light. According to Türel, the city is currently finalizing the blueprints with the help of the same team that designed Universal Studios in L.A. Construction is set to begin next year on a complex that will include a film academy, an entertainment zone—maybe even a zoo. If all goes according to plan, the studios will be unveiled by 2019.
Like many of the splashy events that took place during the festival throughout the week, they will be heavily underwritten by a government that since 2004 has given substantial support to the Turkish film industry. Türel, a close political ally of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, says he met with the president last week to discuss a long-planned incentive scheme that would include a 25% rebate for foreign film shoots. Despite the current political turmoil in Turkey, the mayor says he’s received assurances that the new legislation will be pushed through within a year.
From the outside, it might seem like an unlikely time to pursue such an energetic vision for the film industry, as Turkey faces the ongoing threat of terrorist attacks, an economic downturn, and the lingering fallout of the war in neighboring Syria. The situation was only complicated by a failed coup attempt in July, which prompted a sweeping government crackdown that had many in Antalya this week wary of what the future has in store—for the industry, as well as the country.
Türel acknowledges the challenges while trying to spin them in a positive light, noting that in the weeks after the attempted putsch, fest organizers scrambled to put together “a more powerful program.”
The industry, he says, remains committed to weathering the storm, noting, “The show must go on.”