You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Turkish Directors Find Homes at Berlin, Other Global Film Festivals

Political turbulence is making it tough for filmmakers in Turkey with ambitions to make movies that can travel globally. But despite many impediments, Turkish auteurs are still managing to maintain a significant presence on the festival circuit.

The past year has seen auteur Nuri Bilge Ceylan back at Cannes with “The Wild Pear Tree”; newcomer Omar Atay’s “Brothers” bowed to positive reviews at Karlovy Vary; Tolga Karacelik’s “Butterfiles” make a splash at Sundance, where it won the Grand Jury prize; and Mahmout Fazil Coskun’s biting “The Announcement,” about a failed 1963 Turkish army coup, scooped the Special Jury nod in Venice’s Horizons section, among other outings.

Kicking off 2019 with an auspicious start is Emin Alper’s third feature, “A Tale of Three Sisters,” competing for a Berlin Golden Bear. Alper’s politically charged drama “Frenzy,” set in a dystopian Istanbul, won Venice’s Jury Special Prize in 2015.

Alper’s new film unfolds in his native central Anatolia where three sisters, who had been assigned as foster children to affluent city families, are made to return to their biological father’s house in his poor village. There they oscillate between solidarity and competition as they attempt to go back to the city while contending with decisions being made by the men around them.

“This film is a bit different compared with my previous films, both of which had a political context,” Alper says, noting that those “were both allegories about the politics of Turkey,” while “Sisters” “is much more personal.”

Paradoxically, while Alper’s first two films, the “political ones,” tapped into Turkey’s public funding, “Sisters,” which went into development after the country’s 2016 failed coup attempt, did not.

“It’s not that this film is dangerous in terms of story,” he says. It’s because of my previous films…. because I’m known as a sort of opposition filmmaker,” Alper adds. So producers Nadir Operli, who says the “Sisters” project was “blacklisted,” and Muzzaffer Yildirim had to find private equity and European co-producers.

“Three Sisters” is a co-production between Liman Film (Turkey), NuLook Production (Turkey), Komplizen Film (Germany), Circe Films (Netherlands) and Horsefly Prods. (Greece).

Operli is actually quite upbeat about prospects for Turkish cinema going forward.

New Turkish film legislation in the works — it’s been approved by parliament, but must clear more hurdles — which Operli hopes will go into effect later this year “could bring big changes for the industry,” he says. A key aspect is it will offer a 30% incentive to foreign productions that are fully or partially shot in Turkey, which is crucial “in terms of being able to attract more co-productions,” notes Operli.

The “Sisters” producer laments that, unlike in most of Europe, Turkey’s new film law doesn’t force the country’s broadcasters to invest in film. More generally, Turkish producers don’t get much TV coin because TV screen time is dominated by the country’s local skeins which, incidentally, have also conquered the world.

Meanwhile, 2018 can be considered a banner year for Turkish movies at the home box office where the domestic market share was a whopping 62.9% market share of admissions with U.S. titles accounting for a mere 27.9%  of ticket sales. “Avengers: Infinity War,” which came in a number six on the 2018 Turkish box office chart, was the only Hollywood blockbuster in the top 10.

But local industry critics contend that the problem is the Turkish box office is dominated by local comedies that don’t travel, while quality/arthouse fare is suffering.

In terms of mere numbers, Turkish production is buoyant with more than 200 local features made last year, roughly 25 of which didn’t get theatrical distribution, according to figures from analyst Deniz Yavuz at local film data compiler Antrakt.

But diminished government funding — the culture ministry supported only 22 films in 2018 — and the double-digit drop in value of the Turkish lira are causing budgets to shrink and productions values to deteriorate.

Also, the country is becoming increasingly polarized between pro-government producers, who tend to be those who just want to keep feeding escapist fare to local audiences, and those who oppose President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and are making movies with more gravitas and a more global mindset. Not everyone, however, falls in one of these two camps.

But “a young generation of filmmakers is emerging,” points out prominent Turkish film industry multi-hyphenate Ahmet Boyacioglu. “Every year there is an unknown director [from Turkey] who makes a really good film that travels to a festival,” observes the veteran fest programmer, producer, director and promoter. “In fact,” he says, somewhat like in neighboring Greece, “the economic and political crisis could even help us to make better films.”


Popular on Variety

More Film

  • La vaca

    Alec Baldwin’s El Dorado Boards Debut by Chile’s Francisca Alegria (EXCLUSIVE)

    In what marks the company’s first Latin American project, Alec Baldwin’s El Dorado Pictures has boarded Chilean filmmaker Francisca Alegria’s debut feature, “The Cow Who Sang a Song About the Future.” The multi-Emmy-winning actor and his El Dorado partner Casey Bader will serve as executive producers of the film, slated to start principal photography in [...]

  • Hustlers Box Office

    Box Office: Why 'Hustlers' Soared While 'The Goldfinch' Flopped

    Though STX’s “Hustlers” and Warner Bros.’ “The Goldfinch” couldn’t be more different in terms of genre or style, the two new releases prove the divergent paths that mid-budget movies can take at the box office. Both films arrived last weekend in an environment that has been increasingly hostile to anything that’s not of the superhero [...]

  • The Irishman

    Martin Scorsese's 'The Irishman' Set for Centerpiece Screening at Rome Festival

    Martin Scorsese’s “The Irishman” will be among highlights of the upcoming Rome Film Festival, following its European launch as the closing film at the BFI London Film Festival. As with the Oct. 13 London premiere, key cast members of the hotly anticipated Netflix film are expected to attend the screening in Rome, as is Scorsese. [...]

  • 'Cheer Up, Mr. Lee' to be

    Korean Comedy 'Cheer Up, Mr. Lee' to be Remade in French

    Currently on-release South Korean comedy drama, “Cheer Up, Mr. Lee” is to be remade in French. “Mr. Lee” is the story of a mentally-challenged man who learns that he has a sick daughter, and embarks on a voyage of discovery with his new family member. A remake deal was struck between Yong Film, part of [...]

  • The Bad Guys: Reign of Chaos

    Korea: 'The Bad Guys: Reign of Chaos’ Rules Chuseok Holiday Box Office

    Local films dominated cinemagoing in South Korea over the 4-day Chuseok holiday weekend, traditionally one of the year’s busiest periods. The winner was “The Bad Guys: Reign of Chaos.” Opening on Wednesday, the CJ Entertainment release earned $20.2 million from 1.97 million admissions over five days. A film adaptation of CJ E&M’s 2014 hit TV [...]

  • Disco

    New Europe Sells Toronto and San Sebastian Film 'Disco' to Several Territories (EXCLUSIVE)

    Jan Naszewski’s New Europe Film Sales has signed several distribution deals on “Disco,” which had its world premiere in Toronto Film Festival’s Discovery section and makes its European premiere in San Sebastian’s New Directors competition. The film has been picked up by Palace for Australia and New Zealand, Artcam for Czech Republic and Slovakia, Kino [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content