As Pinema Filmcilik, Turkey’s top local distributor of Hollywood and international films, celebrates its 25th anniversary, the company’s founder and chief executive Pamir Demirtas makes no bones about the fact that for the domestic film industry, these are tough, turbulent times.
With the country reeling from the fallout from a failed coup, terrorist attacks, and economic turmoil, in 2016 the dollar value of the year’s total Turkish box-office grosses dropped 10% to a total $226 million, according to comScore, just as the Turkish lira lost 17% against the dollar, and “U.S. movies were among those that suffered the most,” Demirtas says.
“In terms of my business, I had a big crisis in 1994 when [due to the Mexican currency crisis] the dollar rate [to the Turkish lira] tripled. But even that wasn’t as bad as today: it’s a real challenge.”
That was the same year that Pinema — the company’s name blends Pamir and Cinema — and Demirtas got their big break. After landing a deal with Summit Entertainment, he released atmospheric fantasy pic “The Crow,” which soared with Turkish audiences.
On the strength of that success came a multi-picture agreement with PolyGram that included “Trainspotting” and “Sleepers.” Demirtas then rapidly wove a wide net of connections overseas and became known in Hollywood as the man with the pulse of a difficult to navigate market with plenty of potential. Turkish admissions have more than doubled since then.
These days, Pinema has a close rapport with STX, DreamWorks/Amblin, FilmNation, Millennium/Nu Image, Arclight, the Weinstein Co., and IM Global, among other Hollywood outfits.
To describe difficulties he is contending in the country’s current climate, Demirtas recounts how Mel Gibson’s “Hacksaw Ridge” was received in Turkey where Pinema released it Dec. 25, six days before the Istanbul nightclub massacre by an ISIS gunman.
“I was very upset with the reactions,” he says. “We had some very upsetting comments on Facebook, such as ‘Why the f–k would I want to watch an American hero when Turkish people are dying on the streets?’” In the immediate aftermath of the terror, Gibson’s pacifist but bloody World War II drama only made a measly $130,000 in Turkish cinemas.
Hollywood aside, Demirtas is also proud of the longstanding relationships he’s built within the local film industry, in particular with Turkey’s Boyut Film, a venture that partners producer Murat Tokat with singer, actor and director Mahsun Kirmizigul.
Kirmizigul-directed 2015 dramedy “The Miracle” (Mucize) came in at No. 2 at the Turkish box office, tallying more than 4 million admissions and scoring some $15 million, a testament to the power of historical humanist narratives in a country that loves to have its national pride stoked.
Set in the 1960s, when the country was under martial law, “The Miracle” is about a city school teacher relocated to the remote village of Palu in Eastern Anatolia, where he enriches many lives.
Pinema also has close ties with Turkish broadcasters Kanal D, Beyaz TV, D-Smart, and the Tivibu streaming platform launched last year by Turkish Telecom TTNET. But the company’s TV sales side has seen better days.
While movies used to be primetime staples, “now they are just filling the blanks left by the big domestic TV dramas,” Demirtas laments.
And though pay-TV revenues “are a little up” thanks to more heated rivalry among the country’s two top pay-TV channels — Digiturk, which is owned by Qatar-based beIN Media Group, and D-Smart — these aren’t compensating for the drop in free-TV coin, the near disappearance of the old homevideo market, and the scarcity of VOD and SVOD sales, amid rampant and ever-growing piracy.
“Realistically it’s not the best of times for us in this business,” he says.
Still, Demirtas is plowing on. He’s excited about Pinema’s upcoming awards buzz outings that include “Lion,” Martin Scorsese’s “Silence,” and Michael Keaton-starrer “The Founder.” He vows that once “Ridge” has some Oscar love he’ll re-release it in Turkey “with a different marketing campaign.”