The Broken Story Of The Award And The Box Office

Turkish cinema continues to draw increased attention from the world with the awards it has received. It will be quite beneficial to take a look at the recent past now, at a time when directors are fervently shooting new movies.

Turkish cinema has been experiencing its golden age over the last few years. Certainly the only reason for this isn’t just the awards received at respected festivals. As opposed to the past, local productions are among the top ten most watched films each year. However, the picture before us isn’t entirely peachy. Domestic productions which receive acclaim in the international arena are never listed among the top ten most watched films.

The 1990s witnessed a significant period of activity for cinema in Turkey. In 1996, a domestic production – Eşkıya (“Bandit”, by Yavuz Turgul) – broke box office records for the first time, leaving foreign films in the dust. As popular cinema was on the rise with Eşkıya, audiences were once again drawn to theaters by comedies and dramas. The rise of a generation of independent directors such as Derviş Zaim, Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Zeki Demirkubuz, Reha Erdem, and Yeşim Ustaoğlu, who shot their first films by their own means – thus creating low budget films – was another important development of the 1990s.


These upcoming directors expressed their small-scale stories with minimalist, financially risky narratives heralded the birth of an alternative in the face of mainstream cinema. Limited budgets made it necessary for independent filmmakers to create their films with the support of international partnerships. While partnerships made in the international arena made it easier for directors to participate in international festivals, as a result of the situation, the directors’ films were labeled “festival films” or “art films” in popular parlance.

While Piano Piano Bacaksız (“Piano Piano Kid”, Tunç Başaran, 1991), Berdel (Atıf Yılmaz, 1991), Gizli Yüz (“Secret Face”, Ömer Kavur, 1991), Lola + Bilidikid (“Lola and Billy The Kid”, Kutluğ Ataman, 1999), Güneşe Yolculuk (“Journey to the Sun”, Yeşim Ustaoğlu, 1999), 3. Sayfa (“The Third Page”, Zeki Demirkubuz, 1999) stood out in the 1990s for achieving success in the international arena, Ağır Roman (“Cholera Street”, Mustafa Altıoklar, 1997), Her Şey Çok Güzel Olacak (“Everything’s Gonna Be Great”, Ömer Vargı, 1998), Cumhuriyet (“Republic”, Ziya Öztan, 1999), and Propaganda (Sinan Çetin, 1999) were among the most viewed domestic productions.

When looking at films in general, it’s possible to recognize themes which are antecedents to those of today. The films of Demirkubuz and Ustaoğlu, which explored the stories of the impoverished outside the traditional dramatic tropes of Yeşilçam, signaled the arrival of a fairly new and different approach to Turkish cinema. Cumhuriyet (“Republic”), one of the films which succeeded at the box office, tries to fill the gap created by the neglect of Turkey’s rich history in the field of cinema. Her Şey Çok Güzel Olacak (“Everything’s Gonna Be Great”) is the first film which has Cem Yılmaz appearing on the silver screen and is the first example of Yılmaz’s effect on the audience.

THE 2000s

Awards received and the box office success of Turkish films increased during the 2000s. Turkish cinema became quite popular abroad, just like Iranian or South Korean cinema, and attracted much attention. The likes of Nuri Bilge Ceylan as well as Zeki Demirkubuz, Reha Erdem, Yeşim Ustaoğlu, and Semih Kaplanoğlu were among the most talked about figures in international festival circles. In his essay for the film Bal (“Honey”), German film critic Rüdiger Suchsland also mentions Yeşim Ustaoğlu and Reha Erdem, indicating that Erdem’s Beş Vakit (“Times and Winds”) was the best Turkish film of the past ten years. Meanwhile, striking the eye in 2007-2008 was a new generation of filmmakers who worked with the aforementioned directors along with the fresh approach of their first films.

The young filmmakers, who created a group under the name “The New Cinema Movement”, adopted a documentary-style approach. Political subjects and autobiographical stories are frequently featured, while different identities and children are also included. The Black Sea region comes forward as a popular location. The documentary style pioneered by Bulutları Beklerken (“Waiting for the Clouds”) was succeeded by Sonbahar (“Autumn”), Gitmek (“My Marlon and Brando”), İki Dil Bir Bavul (“On the Way to School”), and Köprüdekiler (“Men on the Bridge”). Hiçbir Yerde (“In Nowhere Land”), Çamur (“Mud”), Beynelmilel (“The International”), Sonbahar (“Autumn”), and Fırtına (“The Storm”) are involved in current political developments. Takva (“A Man’s Fear of God”), Adem’in Trenleri (“Adam and the Devil”), and Uzak İhtimal (“Wrong Rosary”) approach the clerical establishment from a different, unconventional perspective.

Yumurta (“Egg”), Süt (“Milk”), and Bal (“Honey”), also known as the “Yusuf Trilogy”, Beş Vakit (“Times and Winds”), Tatil Kitabı (“Summer Book”), Mommo, and Hayat Var (“My Only Sunshine”) tell the story of being a child in the backwater provinces and the transition from childhood to adolescence – essentially, the process and experience of growing up. Vavien and Gölgesizler (“The Shadowless”) bring about significant innovations regarding the notion of provinces as covered by films so far. The remarkable geography of the Black Sea region is depicted in Turkish cinema for perhaps the first time in Bulutları Beklerken (“Waiting for the Clouds”), Pandora’nın Kutusu (“Pandora’s Box”), Sonbahar (“Autumn”), and Bal (“Honey”).


Gani Müjde, Yılmaz Erdoğan, Cem Yılmaz, Sahan Gökbakar, Çağan Irmak, Mahsun Kırmızıgül, Osman Sınav, Necati, Zübeyr, and Raci Şaşmaz are usually the ones behind the box office films of the 2000s. Turkish films which are successful at the box office typically embrace universal tropes which are also found in the history of world cinema. Comedy films, which can be exemplified by the productions of Müjde, Erdoğan, Yılmaz, and Gökbakar; drama films, such as those by Irmak and Kırmızıgül; and period films with a strong nationalist bent such as Mustafa, 120, and Veda (“Farewell”) were met with great interest.

We could say that the first example of adapting sketches and characterizations from television to the silver screen was Levent Kırca’s Son (“Last”). While the idea that Recep İvedik – which made its mark on the past three years – could not be considered within any category or genre framework has been widespread among film critics, Şafak Sezer continues to adapt his characterizations on television to the silver screen in films such as Kadri’nin Götürdüğü Yere Git (“Go To The Place That Kadri Taken You”) and Kutsal Damacana (“Holy Carboy”). The films of Irmak and Kırmızıgül, typical dramas, became the subject of intense public debate with their topics, which range from the political to the social. Besides being successful at the box office, they also take a serious stand as they attract the attention of critics.

That television series adaptations, pioneered by Asmalı Konak (“Vine Mansion”), continue to appear before us with such productions as the Kurtlar Vadisi (“Valley of the Wolves”) series, Muro, and Çok Güzel Hareketler Bunlar (roughly, “These Are Very Nice Actions”), this is an indication of the collaborative relationship between television and film will continue in the long term. Speaking of the box office in Turkish cinema, it is necessary to add that Kenan İmirzalıoğlu, who first appeared on screen with Deli Yürek (“Crazy Heart”), has become a star actor who ensures box office success with the films Son Osmanlı Yandım Ali (“The Last Ottoman: Yandım Ali”), Kabadayı (“For Love and Honor”), and Ejder Kapanı (“Dragon Trap”), and is currently the only actor who possesses the prowess of classical Yeşilçam era actors such as Tarık Akan, Kadir İnanır, or Cüneyt Arkın.