July 13, 2004 - feature
A Brief History of a Century of Turkish Cinema by Emrah Guler | Ankara- Turkish Daily News
See Also: Turkish Cinema
Scenes from Turkish Cinema The first Turkish movie was a documentary produced by Fuat Uzkinay in 1914, depicting the public's destruction of the Russian monument in Ayastefanos
From 1923 to 1939, Muhsin Ertugrul was the only film director in the country. He directed 29 films during this period, generally incorporating adaptions of plays, operettas, novels and foreign films. It could be said that Ertugrul established a monopoly over cinema which lasted for two decades, and also that it was he who introduced cinema to the Turkish people
After 1970, a new and young generation of directors emerged, but they had to cope with an increased demand for films on videocassette after 1980. Increased production costs and difficulties faced in the import of raw materials brought about a decrease in the number of films made in the 1970s, and the quality of films improved
Cinema, like any other form of entertainment, paints a clear picture of the social and cultural structure of a specific society. A detailed look at the history of cinema would reveal much about the social life and cultural inclinations of the specific period in question. And as with the history of cinema in general, Turkish cinema goes back a century, at about the same time that film emerged as a new technology and a form of art and entertainment in the West.
The first film screening in Turkey goes back to the 19th century, specifically in 1896, and it took place at the Yildiz Palace in Istanbul. Public shows by Sigmund Weinberger in the Beyoglu and Sehzadebasi districts of Istanbul followed the next year. Naturally, the films shown were foreign ones.
The first native Turkish movie was a documentary produced by Fuat Uzkinay in 1914 depicting the public's destruction of the Russian monument in Ayastefanos. The first thematic Turkish films were "Himmet Aga'nin Evliligi" (The Marriage of Himmet Aga), which was made from 1916-18, which was started by Weinberger and completed by Uzkinay; "Pence" (The Paw) in 1917; and "Casus" (The Spy) in 1917, the latter two by Sedat Simavi. The army-affiliated Central Cinema Directorate, a semi-military national defense society, and the Disabled Veterans Society were the film-producing organizations of that period.
The reign of Muhsin Ertugrul
In 1922 a major documentary film, "Kurtulus, Izmir Zaferi" (Independence, the Izmir Victory), was made about the First War of Independence, prior to the establishment of the Turkish Republic in 1923. The same year, the first private studio, Kemal Film (inspired most probably by Turkish commander and hero Mustafa Ataturk's middle name), commenced operations.
From 1923 to 1939, Muhsin Ertugrul was the only film director in Turkey. He directed 29 films during this period, generally incorporating adaptions of plays, operettas, novels and foreign films. The influence of the theater dating back to Uzkinay, Simavi, Ahmet Fehim and Karagozoglu was very influential in Ertugrul's work.
It could be said that Ertugrul established a monopoly over cinema which lasted for two decades, and also that it was he who introduced film to the Turkish people.
The years from 1939 to 1950 were a period of transition for Turkish cinema, during which time it was greatly influenced by the stage as well as the earthshaking developments of World War II. While there were only two film companies in 1939, the number increased to four from 1946 to 1950. After 1949, Turkish cinema was able to develop as a separate art, with a more professional caliber of talents.
Social changes from the '50s to the '70s
The equality of income distribution and the existence of the middle class achieved after the establishment of the Turkish Republic was replaced in the 1950s by an orientation towards capitalism, inequalities between higher and lower socioeconomic classes, political conservatism, migration from rural areas to cities, and an increasing consumerist culture within society.
The 1960 military coup and the 1961 Constitution which followed were interpreted by some as being valuable and revolutionary for intellectual life, bringing an air of hope and freedom to social and political life. But after some time, the progressive trends within cultural and social life unfortunately came to an end, eventually making a negative transformation into movements towards Westernization due to increasing restrictions within Turkey.
Turkish society was caught between the duality of East and West. While the West seemed to offer improvement on a material and intellectual level, the East seemed to convey spiritual, social, and cultural values; various Islamic practices; and the influential Anatolian tradition of folk culture as well.
People's everyday social life was politicized by the implementation of a variety of daily Westernized practices and the appropriation of popular Western culture as embodied in clothing, lifestyles, food, movies, and music.
The year 1965 saw a change in government. This change was the starting point of a restoration period which saw both severe inspections and tension between opposing ideologies. The beginning of the '70s were chaotic years in Turkish political life due to the rapid polarization of political groups.
These conditions caused new paths of individualization to develop, and these various paths can be grouped under the umbrella term "arabesk" (the name comes from the word "Arab," but in fact it's a Turkish cultural production and phenomenon which emphasizes the low-quality sector of art and lifestyles). The polarization of social life became more evident in mid-'70s. Interestingly, Turkish cinema flourished between the years 1965 and 1975, also known as the golden years.
A 'Golden Bear' for Turkish cinema
Between 1950 and 1966, more than 50 directors practiced the art of filmmaking in Turkey. Omer Lutfi Akad had a strong influence on the period, but in fact Osman F. Seden, Atif Yilmaz and Memduh Un made more films. Metin Erksan's film "Susuz Yaz" (Dry Summer) won the Golden Bear Award at the 1964 Berlin Film Festival. The numbers of Turkish cinema-goers and films show a constant upward trend, especially after 1958.
In the 1960s, cinema courses were included in theater department programs in the language, history and geography faculties of Ankara and Istanbul Universities and at the Ankara University Press and Publications High School. A cinema branch was also established in the art history department of the State Fine Arts Academy. The Union of Turkish Film Producers and the State Film Archives also were established during that era. The State Film Archives became the Turkish Film Archives in 1969. During the same period, the Cinema-TV Institute was established and subsequently annexed to the State Academy of Fine Arts. The Turkish State Archives also became part of this organization. In 1962, the Cinema-TV Institute became a department at Mimar Sinan University.
The golden years of Turkish cinema
When the decade of 1965-75 is examined, it is evident that the postwar unproductive era was over. The social movements of the '60s and society's addiction to cheap and collective entertainment was another reason for the rapid growth in filmmaking during those years. The 1960s witnessed two types of films being made in Turkey: films about the realities of society and "Yesilcam" movies that answered the needs of the newly-emerging consumerist culture.
But when the '70s finally drew to a close, the growing popularity of television, continuing economic crises, political instability, and an increase in migration led to the close of a number of film houses. At the same time, family melodramas were replaced with arabesk melodramas -- i.e., melodramas with singers, action and sex. These movies were far cheaper to produce.
Among the well-known directors of the 1960-70 period are Metin Erksan, Atif Yilmaz, Memduh Un, Halit Refig, Duygu Sagiroglu and Nevat Pesen. In 1970, the numbers of theatres and cinema-goers rose spectacularly. A record 246 million viewers could go to see their favorite movies at over 2,000 cinemas.
In 1970, approximately 220 films were made and this figure reached 300 in 1972. After this period, movies began to lose their audience to the newly nationwide TV broadcasts. After 1970, a new, young generation of directors emerged, but they had to cope with an increased demand for films on video cassette in the years after 1980. Increased production costs and difficulties faced in the import of raw materials brought about a decrease in the number of films made in the 1970s, and the quality of films improved.
In January 1986, a new cinema law established support for those working in cinema and music. A reorganization of the film industry began in 1987 in order to address certain problems and ensure its development. The Ministry of Culture established the "Professional Union of Owners of Turkish Works of Cinema" in the same year. The Copyrights and General Directorate of Cinema was founded in 1989, as was a Support Fund for the Cinema and Musical Arts. This fund is used to provide financial support to the film sector.
What happened after the '70s?
In the 1970s film production increased and the era of black and white films came to an end. The film industry, affected negatively by the sweeping popularity of television and economic and political developments, had to fight to regain its popularity for many years.
Yet at the same time, the '70s was a productive period in which much was achieved for the development of Turkish cinema. In fact, producers like Yilmaz Guney, Lutfi Akad, Tunc Okan, Zeki Okten, Erden Kral and Yavuz Ozkan gained considerable international recognition for their valuable work.
New names were added to this list of directors in the 1980s, including leading directors such as Ali Ozgenturk, Omer Kavur, Sinan Cetin, Serif Goren, Yavuz Turgul, and Zulfu Livaneli. Directors of the old school such as Atif Yilmaz and Tunc Basaran also made some fine films. During that time, apart from films focusing on social problems, a trend emerged which stressed individuality, especially women's search for identity. Comedy films also enjoyed a surge in popularity. And the last couple of years have seen a revival of the Turkish movie industry. Many recent Turkish films share a place alongside Hollywood films at movie houses and some have been screened at major international film festivals and competitions.