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Cinema writes a script for success 9 juin 2009

Posted by Acturca in Art-Culture, Economy / Economie, Turkey / Turquie.
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Financial Times (UK), 9/06/2009, Surveys Turkey, p. 4

By Pelin Turgut

Television soaps are setting an example to film makers, says Pelin Turgut. Blond, blue-eyed and possessed of a boyish charm, Turkish actor Kivanc Tatlitug – a former model – has been called the Middle East’s Brad Pitt. His is the face fronting a new wave of Turkish soap operas and TV sitcoms taking the region by storm. A record 85m Arabs tuned in last year to watch the finale of Noor , in which he stars, and a slew of other Turkish TV series have followed.

Now Turkey’s burgeoning cinema industry is hoping films will be the region’s next big thing. Local films, mainly comedies, are booming – the country produced 70 titles last year, up from 17 in 2004. Turkish films accounted for 60 per cent of the $225m in box office receipts in 2008, from 12 per cent in 2004, despite comprising just 18 per cent of total films released to movie theatres.

« This boom has been five years in the making, » says Zeynep Ozbatur, long-time producer for Cannes-winning director Nuri Bilge Ceylan. « There are a couple of factors at work. Since 2005, a strong, systematic state funding system has been in place. People are bolder in terms of telling stories and taking risks, technology has improved and become cheaper. The popularity of TV shows helped create revenues to invest. And audiences had a real need to see their own stories on screen after years of scarcity. »

Local titles now regularly outperform international blockbusters such as Quantum of Solace and Indiana Jones , so the country ranks fourth after the US, India and South Korea in its audiences’ preference for homegrown fare. Eight of last year’s top 10 most-watched films were Turkish.

There is also the professionalisation of what used to be a free-wheeling industry – known as Yesilcam, a term synonymous with emotional excess and dire melodrama – that began in the 1990s when laws were passed allowing big studios such as Warner Bros and UIP to set up local offices.

« We had an infrastructure problem, » says Adnan Akdemir, chief executive of AFM Cinemas, Turkey’s largest movie theatre chain, which is 88 per cent owned by Russia’s Alfa group. « Producers, distributors and theatres were not professional in their outlook.

« The producer had to deal with individual theatres; he never reliably knew what ticket revenues were or received payment on time, so this meant he made one film instead of three. Now there are professional distributors who work with producers. They have instant access to box office data and they are paid within weeks of exhibition. It’s a spiral effect which has created an industry. The fast, smooth transfer of funds to producers means more films are being made. »

But although popular at home and with diaspora communities in Europe, there is little appetite in the west for Turkish commercial blockbusters.

For those, experts say, South Korean cinema is a model to emulate, with its emphasis on distribution to culturally similar neighbour countries and a 78 per cent market share at home.

« Turkey’s export market isn’t Europe, » says Mr Akdemir. « On a mass scale, my expectation is that the next step is to start exporting films to countries with similar cultural backgrounds, like parts of the Balkans, Central Asia, Russia and the Middle East. Not India, nor Italy. The stories, the background, the way movies look – these need to be culturally applicable. »

Alongside the domestic boom in commercial films, a number of Turkish arthouse titles are raising the country’s profile abroad, even though they are not widely seen at home.

Acclaimed director Mr Ceylan won the grand prize in Cannes last year for his Three Monkeys , which subsequently sold to 50 countries. His previous film Distant was seen by 100,000 people in France, four times as many as in Turkey.

This year’s Rotterdam film festival featured an entire section devoted to young Turks.

« The year 2008 was exceptionally dynamic and successful for Turkish cinema and directors, » says programmer Ludmila Cvikova.

Award-winning films on the international festival circuit recently include the debut My Marlon and Brando by Huseyin Karabey, a semi-biographical love story about a young Turkish woman journeying to northern Iraq to meet her Kurdish love; Summer Book , by Seyfi Teoman and chosen for the Berlina film festival; Autumn , a first film by Ozcan Alper about political prisoners and the struggle for social change and Pandora’s Box , by Yesim Ustaoglu.

At 0.5 per cent, the rate of movie-going per population is still much lower than the European average of 3 per cent. As the industry matures and more cinemas are built, both commercial local hits and arthouse titles are likely to benefit.

« The two feed each other, » says the producer Ms Ozbatur.

« Commercial cinema is critical to creating an industry and getting audiences to theatres, while arthouse films help create a national cinema. The next step is really opening up to the world. »

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