Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Rotterdam | Young Turkish Cinema Introduction

Young Turkish Cinema Introduction
Ludmila Cvikova

When is the right time to pay attention to a film industry in a specific region, and why would one actually do so?

In September 2008, the IFFR had a first meeting in Holland with a number of young Turkish film critics, some of whom are affiliated with the prestigious film critic magazine Altyazi, to discuss recent developments occurring in the Turkish film industry. A few more meetings followed, among others during the Festival on Wheels in Kars and later on in Istanbul. Our discussions initially revolved around the generation of film makers who began their careers in the 1990s and have achieved worldwide acknowledgement with outstanding auteurs cinema, such as Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Yesim Ustaouglu, or Semih Kaplanoglu, but later on we also focused on the newest generation and names that have appeared recently. As the IFFR is known for its focus on young and upcoming talents, the outline for our special thematic programme started to take shape. The Altyazi film critics embraced this concept, as they agreed that there is a lot of young talent within Turkish cinema worth paying special attention to.

Another interesting phenomenon that should not go unnoticed is that a new generation of young film critics are closely following what is happening in film in their country – the ideal combination of a generation that is artistically and intellectually connected. (Although it was never a formally organised film movement, weren’t the film critics who came up with the blanket term of French new wave in the sixties in fact French?)

The year 2008 was exceptionally dynamic and successful for Turkish cinema and directors. Let’s have a chronological look at their concrete successes: The film débutMy Marlon and Brando (Gitmek) by Hüseyin Karabey, a semi-biographical love story about a young Turkish woman, Ayca, and her journey to Northern Iraq to meet her great love, Hama Ali, a Kurdish man. It was successfully presented during the IFFR in January and received many acclaims thereafter.
Another rewarding presentation of a first film at a big festival followed very shortly after – this time it was the picturesque and moving story of a Turkish family in a provincial Mediterranean town – Summer Book made by Seyfi Teoman and presented at the Berlinale.
The Best Director award at Cannes for Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s Three Monkeys was a very much expected acknowledgement for this extraordinary visually depicted family drama with outstanding acting.
Autumn (Sonbahar), a film that tackles the issues of forsaken young generations in Turkey and their struggle for social change, directed by Özcan Alper, who according to Variety is an ‘impressive new voice in Turkish cinema’, was selected for the International Film Competition at the 61st Locarno Film Festival and awarded the CICAE Prize.

Milk (SÜT), the second part in Semih Kaplanoglu’s Yusuf Trilogy, in which he sketches the progressive industrialisation of the countryside, was selected for the competition section of the 65th Venice International Film Festival, while the first part of the trilogy, Egg (Yumurta), was included in Sight&Sound magazine’s list, ‘The Best of 2008 – 50 Critics 150 Films’.
First-time director Selim Evci’s film Two Lines (Iki Cizgi), in which he observes the young generation’s male-female relationships in modern Turkey, took part in the 23rd International Film Critics Week of the Venice IFF.

Yesim Ustaouglu and her work have been supported by IFFR’s Hubert Bals Fund since 1999. Ustaoglu’s latest project, Pandora’s Box (Pandora’nin kutusu), was successfully presented last September in San Sebastian and awarded two prizes: a Golden Seashell for Yesim Ustaoglu and a Silver Seashell for Tsilla Chelton as best actress. It is the story of a Turkish family in which the modern world meets the old, alienation and isolation occur and individuals go through universally understandable self-discovery.

Also worth mentioning is the fact that this year for the first time the IDFA competition included a Turkish documentary, On the Way to School by
Orhan Eskikoy and Özgür Dogan.

Actually, the last decade and a half has been a good time for Turkish cinema, and that’s why we have selected for this special programme some older films that have played an important role. After the collapse of many production companies in the mid-1990s, the actual number of films decreased but films with a new sort of funding increased – directors took over the production of their own films. The rising artistic quality of some of those films hasn’t remained unnoticed. No one knew who Dervis Zaim was when his low-budget cinema-verité style début Summersaults in a Coffin (Tabutta Rövasata) came out in 1996, but he was soon to become a household name for young Turkish film enthusiasts, inspiring a few independent Turkish films produced in the next decade, among them Zeki Demirkubuz’s Innocence(Masumiyet) from 1997. This important film, supported by a great cast, redefined the genre of melodrama, which has been inherent in the Turkish movie culture ever since the 1960s.

The Small Town (Kasaba, 1997), the directorial début of Nuri Bilge Ceylan, is a wonderful black-and-white intimate family portrait based on an autobiographical story, a film that still continues to maintain its irreplaceable position in Turkish cinema with its inspirational minimalism that, together with his following works, would make Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s name as a directorial genius.
The first film by the social-realist film collective Yeni Sinemacilar, On Board(Gemide, 1998) by Serdar Akar, began a new style of filmmaking in Turkey: straightforward and thought-provoking. This film continues to exert its unique influence over independent Turkish cinema.
Yesim Ustaoglu’s second feature Journey To The Sun (Gunese Yolculuk, 1999) was an arresting portrait, with a pronounced documentary-style feel, of the oppression of the Kurdish minority in Turkey.

Semih Kaplanoglu’s unique narrative style in Angel’s Fall (Melegin Dususu, 2004)and his use of end-to-beginning chronological flashbacks of his protagonist’s life in the provinces in his Yusuf Trilogy, would heighten his virtuosity through his contemplative reflection on the concept of ‘time’.

Besides films you may have already seen throughout the year, we are proud to present you a few new titles that will have their premières during the IFF Rotterdam 2009: A dynamically shot story of two friends who get into deep trouble in Istanbul’s chaotic underground scene, Black Dogs Barking (Kara köpekler havlarken ), a directorial début by Maryna Gorbach and Mehmet Bahadir Er.
Kazim Öz’s second feature The Storm (Bahoz) is a true-to-life epic of a group of Kurdish students at the Istanbul University in anticipation of social revolution.

And last but not least, for the first time ever in the IFFR’s Tiger Award Competition, a Turkish film: Wrong Rosary by Mahmet Fazil Coskun, a story of sensuality, love and grief growing within the anonymity of a big city between the young muezzin Musa and the Catholic nurse Clara, in today’s Istanbul. This exceptional début by Mahmut Fazil Coskun is certainly a strong representative of up and coming young talent from Turkey.

We are quite sure that new names and films will still be appearing as you read these words or are enjoying watching the films that we have selected for you from these two generations. Only time will tell us what the present dynamics of the Turkish film industry will mean for the history of Turkish cinema. Enjoy this wonderful, challenging visual trip to this modern and modernising culture!

With special and enormous thanks to Emine Yildirim, and many special thanks to Gozde Onaran, Senem Aytac, Nadir Operli, Yamac Okur, Seyfi Teoman and Christine Dollhofer.
During the IFFR 2009, a special Young Turkish Cinema booklet will be available. It is written, edited and published by the film critics of Altyazi film magazine in co-operation with the IFFR and Crossing Europe Film Festival Linz, Austria

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