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International Art Films Finding Their Way Onto Turkish Screens

The Turkish box office in 2018 continued to be dominated by homegrown titles, largely local comedies, which accounted for a massive 62.9% share of the country’s roughly 70 million admissions. Hollywood, by contrast, was relegated to a mere 27.4% market share.

Within the tiny niche left open by this rather rare scenario, international arthouse films are finding their way on Turkish screens, though they accounted for a mere 1.73% of last year’s overall box office (this figure excludes “Roma,” for which numbers were kept under wraps) according to figures provided by Ankara-based buyer/distributor Filmarti.

But the country’s exhibition landscape has seen changes in the last couple of years.

In 2016, South Korea’s CJ-CGV bought Mars Entertainment, the top movie chain in Turkey. Subsequently, in June 2018, CJ Entertainment launched a Turkish production/distribution unit and teamed up with local powerhouse production companies BKM and TAFF, both known for churning out homegrown hits. That teaming was behind road comedy “Yol Arkadasim 2,” which was CJ Entertainment’s first release and last year landed the number four slot on the Turkish box office chart.

All told, CGV/Mars distribution accounted for 41% of Turkey’s 2018 admissions, according to figures from local film data compiler Antrakt.

Last year also saw Filmarti and CGV Arthouse unit pact. This collaboration has grown from a handful of screens to 12, with plans to expand it to 30 screens by 2020.

It’s a small but significant space, says Filmarti chief Bulent Gunduz. He notes that “what’s great about CGV Arthouse is that they have dedicated movie theaters for arthouse films, complete with an ‘arthouse’ sign on the theater door.” So no matter how crowded the calendar is and how many blockbusters are being released that week, arthouse films have at least 12 dedicated screens.

Microscopic as this space may be, theatrical releases are more important than ever for Turkish buyers as the double-digit value drop of the Turkish lira has caused several TV stations and distribution companies to shutter. “Today, we can no longer buy only for TV,” Gunduz says. This means they will be “more selective than ever” at the EFM and also on the lookout for more mainstream, cast-driven English-language titles, besides typical arthouse pics.

Filmarti released a robust 40-title slate in 2018. Titles they scored with include Danish thriller “The Guilty,” its top arthouse performer, and Bollywood blockbuster “Dangal.” Interestingly, they’ve found an audience for Bollywood pics in Turkey, even though the country does not have a large Indian expat community. They are also going out way wider than a dozen screens with Bollywood and animation fare and titles with genre elements, such as Luca Guadagnino’s “Suspiria” and Nicole Kidman’s “Destroyer.”

Filmarti do not release Turkish art movies which, ironically, seem to be the titles most at risk of being shut out of the Turkish theatrical circuit these days.

After launching from Cannes last year, Turkish auteur Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s “The Pear Tree” had a long run in local cinemas thanks to an agreement with CGV; it tallied a strong 240,000 admissions.

But many other Turkish productions, especially films by newcomers, have a hard time getting into theaters, even after landing a slot at an international festival. And when they do, it’s for a very limited time. Case in point: promising first-timer Omur Atay’s “Brothers,” which world-premiered to critical plaudits last year at the Karlovy Vary Film Festival but got a domestic release on one screen, tallying 309 admissions.

There is no shortage of young directors in Turkey with potential to break out internationally. Below is a compendium of standout titles in various stages that may surface on the 2019 festival circuit.

“Belonging”

Burak Cevik’s sophomore feature marks the 25-year-old helmer’s second bow in Berlin’s Forum section, following his well-received drama “The Pillar of Salt” last year. The film reconstructs the backstory of a real homicide committed in Istanbul 15 years after it occurred, based on court records and statements given by suspects. But it also ventures into the realm of memory and the director’s personal connection with the murder victim.

“Chronology”

Ali Aydin won Venice’s Lion of the Future in 2012 with slow-burning drama “Mold,” about a solitary railroad inspector trying to track down information about his long-missing son. Now the director is veering into thriller territory with this tale of an architect named Hakan and his wife Nihal who, after being married for years, find out Nihal is unable to have children, and then she disappears.

“Queen Lear”

Pelin Esmer is mostly known for 2012 drama “Watchtower,” about the attraction between two people with dark pasts, which was released in the U.S. by Film Movement. In her latest work she is exploring the impact that theater has on the lives of women who put on Shakespeare plays in Turkish mountain villages. “Queen Lear” stems from her debut, doc “The Play,” which made a splash at Tribeca in 2006. Pelin’s other works include Istanbul-set drama “10 to 11,” a homage to the city and to her grandfather.

“In the Shadows”

This sci-fi feature by Erdem Tepegoz, whose 2012 debut “Particle” was praised on the international festival circuit, is set in an apocalyptic Anatolia where the working class is the only class left and rudimental technology rules. A loyal mine worker named Zait begins to have doubts about the system he lives in and rebels. Pic is produced by Turkey’s Contact Film Works with Hong Kong’s Johnny Hon serving as executive producer.

“Omar and Us”

Directed and produced by Mehmet Bahadır Er and Maryna Er Gorbach, who are known internationally for their 2009 debut “Black Dogs Barking,” this immigration-themed drama is about a retired Turkish Coast Guard captain with family issues who overcomes his prejudices and decides to help his neighbors: two Syrian refugees.

“The Hunt”

This thriller is set in patriarchal Turkey where a young woman named Ayse is being chased by the police and other men who are trying to fulfill an archaic “honor code.” Producers promise this unusual Turkish pic packs a feminist punch. This is the feature debut for Akay, who has directed some award-winning shorts and helmed the documentary “Un Noeud Dans Mon Bosphore” for Arte France.

“Everything in Its Right Place”

This feature debut by Berlinale Talent Campus alumn Berrak Colak is about a woman who feels lost after her husband disappears following 40 years of marriage. Pic is produced by Engin Palabiyik’s Harikulade Film (also a producer on Berlin competition entry “A Tale of Three Sisters”) and by and Muge Ozen’s Solis Film.

“Passed by Censor”

This feature debut by Serhat Karaaslan revolves around 30-year-old Zakir, a worker at an Istanbul prison whose job is to censor sensitive parts of letters that inmates receive and send. His routine takes an unexpected turn after he becomes infatuated with the wife of one of the inmates. Developed at the Cannes Film Festival’s Cinéfondation residence, Berlinale Talents and other festival incubators, “Censor” is produced by Turkey’s +90 Film Production, Germany’s Departures Film and France’s Silex Films It will be released in France by Bad Films, which is also handling world sales.

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