Turkish Cinema

Filmmakers' Fear Their Audiences

Turkish and German-Turkish cinema is booming. But clichés and old notions of role models still dominate, especially in the representation of Turkish women. Lennert Lehmann reports

​​The film "40 Square Meters of Germany" by Tevfik Baser, made twenty years ago and now a classic, Özay Fecht plays the wife of a Turkish "guest worker" who wants to have nothing to do with German society and therefore forbids his wife all forms of contact with the outside world, locking her away inside their small apartment.

Since debates have recently been stirred again in Germany about honor killings, forced marriages and head scarves, Fecht now concludes with resignation: "'40 Square Meters of Germany' is still contemporary. Maybe things haven't changed so much after all".

Turkish cinema has gone international

Not everyone shares this pessimistic view. In terms of Turkish cinema, Istanbul producer Kadri Yurdatap sees a "strong trend upward". Yurdatap has been in the business over forty years and is chairman of the Professional Association for Turkish Film Producers (Sesam). Sesam has something of a monopoly on marketing films in Turkey.

In Germany in the 1960s, Yurdatap recalls, Turkish films were only shown in the afternoon in places where guest workers gathered. Today Turkish cinema has gone international, demonstrated by film festivals such as the steadily growing Turkish Film Week in Berlin.

Reproducing old clichés

What has remained, however, is a sense of not being completely free, of being caught in presumed traditions—traditions that do not just apply to the immigrants from the Turkish provinces who are looked upon with suspicion.

In the now booming Turkish and German-Turkish movie business, Fecht notes that women are still forced into certain roles, and forbidden others.

These roles are forced upon women from the outside. Even German film subsidies tend to support the reproduction of clichés. "Why does a Turkish actress always have to play a Turkish housewife, and not simply a housewife? I don't want to see these kebab stand owners and their mute wives with headscarves anymore. Turkish directors have to move away from the clichés".

But the realm of art is not free, especially when it comes to money, as Yurdatap knows. "In Turkey you can shoot anything today. There are no limitations anymore. Before, the professional association of Turkish bath owners could stop a film, not to mention the police. But today a film has to be able to pull the money back in."

Fear of audiences

Filmmakers are not just fighting against a dearth of financial means—hardly anything is produced with a budget over 600,000 euros in Turkey. The decisive moment is how the Turkish public receives a Turkish film. Confrontations are to be avoided.

Many screenplay writers are afraid of audiences, says actress Hülya Duyar ("Superseks"). "If authentic stories about the working classes will be shown, some fear that they won't let us into the EU."

Birol Ünel ("Head On") agrees. The question: "Are we still morally correct?" influences everyone in the film business in Turkey. "It's absurd: On television in Turkey half-naked moderators with half-naked studio guests debate about the moral of a film!"

But Turkish cinema is on the move, in both Turkey and Germany. The outcome seems to be wide open. Films from Germany are sometimes able to become big hits in Turkey, too. For example, Fatih Akin's "Head On".

Having the EU in prospect has opened up new perspectives and opportunities in Turkey. "There is nothing holding us back anymore except for ourselves," says Yurdatap. Meanwhile, Ünel observes with a sense of alienation that "the so-called third generation of Turks in Germany are taking up old roles, images and ideas about honor".

Lennart Lehmann

© Qantara.de 2005

Translation from German: Christina White

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