Ten Best Turkish Films

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A Journey to Turkey At the European Coordination of Film Festivals annual conference in Brussels last year I met Wilhelm Faber of the Berlin Film Festival. When he found out I was Turkish, he said that as a student in Paris he’d seen a film that changed his life. It was after watching Sürü (The Herd), a film written by Yılmaz Güney and directed by Zeki Ökten, that he decided to work in cinema. And 20 years later he was working at the Berlin Film Festival.

There are some films that have the power to change an individual, a city or even a country. The 10 Best Turkish Films were determined in a poll carried out by the Ankara Cinema Association. They will have their first world screening at the 39th Karlovy Vary International Film Festival.

The project has been a collaborative effort and in this respect I would like to extend my sincere thanks to Eva Zaoralova and Julietta Zacharova . I also wish to thank Erkan Mumcu, the Turkish Minister of Culture and Tourism, Dr. Abdurrahman Çelik, General Director of the Copyright and Cinema Department of the Ministery of Culture and Tourism, Sema Fener, the marketing and sales manager EI – Kodak Turkey, Cemal Okan, the managing director of Fono Film Studio and Muzaffer Hiçdurmaz, chairman of the Turkish Association of Film Directors, for their valuable contributions to the project.

Since 1914, Turkey has generated some 6058 feature films. Of these, 4425 were made between 1960 and 1986. During the 1960s, in particular, cinema was the most popular form of entertainment in Turkey. To be part of a project that incorporates the 10 most important and memorable films of Turkish cinema history is a great honour for me. These films represent Turkish cinema at its very best and promise audiences a visual feast. To watch films from one country in a condensed period of time is something like making a journey to that country. The audience learns about everyday life in that country, its customs, traditions and social problems when their previous knowledge was probably sketchy. They have the chance to gain a deeper insight into the country. Most foreigners who come to Turkey on business or for pleasure leave only with memories of Istanbul and Antalya, the Cappadocia region or sun-kissed beaches. Now, however, you can head off to a small town in Anatolia and spend a few nights in The Motherland Hotel. The hotel is dark and dilapidated and the owner, Zebercet, a solitary, obsessive kind of guy. You’ll find him a little weird, but he’s basically harmless. He’s pinned his hopes on a mysterious woman, who stayed one night in the hotel. As she was leaving, she said she’d come back. And there he is waiting. After 110 minutes you’ll be saying goodbye to Zebercet, but you’re unlikely to forget him for quite some time. In another cheap hotel – this time in Izmir – you’ll meet Yusuf, Uğur and Bekir, three hopeless characters created by Zeki Demirkubuz. Daunted by the outside world, Yusuf is reluctant to leave the prison he’s been in, even though his sentence is served. Bekir, bound to Uğur by a strange obsession, is heading slowly towards self-destruction. You may spot the poster for Charlie Chaplin’s The Kid in a shop window while Yusuf is out with Çilem, Uğur and Bekir’s deaf and dumb daughter. But don’t be fooled: Masumiyet(Innocence) is an unequivocal tragedy. The Girl With The Red Scarf, played by Türkan Şoray, is another acquaintance you’ll make in small-town Anatolia. This is one of Turkish cinema’s greatest love stories and the work of master director, Atıf Yılmaz. Making his directorial debut in 1951, Yılmaz has put his name to 113 films to date and is still actively involved in film-making. Should you be heading Adana way, don’t be shy of taking a ride in Cabbar’s cart. Both cart and horses may have seen better days, but climb aboard and you’ll be treated to a black and white masterpiece from 1970 that marked a turning point in Turkish cinema. And, like Yılmaz Güney’s father, you’ll find yourself embarking on a journey towards Hope. Back in Istanbul, be sure to dive into the backstreets of Beyoğlu. There you’ll meet Muhsin Bey, an organizer in the music business who has never erred from the straight and narrow, never compromised on his principles. You’ll like him: he’s a little behind the times but a good-hearted and thoroughly scrupulous sort, who takes under his wing a young Anatolian with singing ambitions. Perhaps you’ll also drop by at a tiny house on the fringes of Istanbul and witness the everyday struggles of a family who left Anatolia for the big city. Gelin (The Bride) takes up the theme of migration, a major part of people’s lives in Turkey, and gives a taste of the cinema of Lütfi Akad, another master director. Did you ever get to see Yol(The Road) You remember the story of five prisoners released from jail on a week’s leave? And Tarık Akan in the role of Seyit Ali, as he trudges through an icy blizzard with his wife on his back, flogging her every now and then so she won’t get frostbite? I would defy any cinephile to remain unmoved by this masterpiece, which was written behind bars by Yılmaz Güney, directed by Şerif Gören and cut in Switzerland after Güney made his break from jail. You might find the clan leader, Hamo Aga, a little disconcerting: of awesome appearance and booming voice, it’s almost as if he’ll step off the silver screen while he showers threats on the people around him. In Sürü(The Herd) Tuncel Kurtiz gives one of the finest performances in Turkish cinema, and you’ll find that the film has lost none of its potency even 25 years after the making. You might also find yourself stumbling on a small Anatolian village and witnessing the remorseless struggle between two brothers, symbols of good and evil respectively. Susuz Yaz (Dry Summer) brought Turkish cinema its first international success, winning the Golden Bear at Berlin in 1964. The film is also an ideal opportunity to get to know Metin Erksan, one of Turkish cinema’s most original directors. The final title in our line-up of the 10 Best Turkish Films is Uzak (Distant), a work by one of Turkish cinema’s leading representatives, Nuri Bilge Ceylan, who has one short film and three features to his name since he began directing in 1995. The film, which scooped both the Special Jury Award and the Best Actor Award (for its two lead actors) at the 2003 Cannes Film Festival, is a study of loneliness and lack of communication in the big city set in a snow-draped Istanbul.

Welcome to Turkey…

Dr. Ahmet Boyacıoğlu Chairman, Ankara Cinema Association