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The film industry in Turkey has seen incredible changes over the last 100 years. It has grown through stages of rapid expansion in the 50s, suffered from political turmoil in the 70s, battled with the advent of TV and videos in the 80s, and witnessed a remarkable resurgence in the mid-90s. This article sees Erdinch Yigitce track the journey of Turkish cinema to its modern form, looking at why this dip in cinematic creation occurred and what brought it back to life.
As with the Hollywood studio era in America, Turkey had its own golden age of cinema from the 1950s to 1970s. Known as the Yesilçam era, this was named after Yesilçam street in Istanbul where many actors, directors and studios were based. During the 1960s, Turkey became the fifth biggest film producer worldwide, far outstripping neighbouring countries in the Middle East or the Balkans. The actress Hülya Koçyiğit became a household name in Turkey during this period and her debut film Susuz Yaz (Dry Summer) won the Golden Bear Award at the 14th Berlin International Film Festival. This was the first time a Turkish movie had achieved such a prominent international award. Hülya Koçyiğit has so far appeared in almost 200 films and was recently honoured with a lifetime achievement award at the 17th London Turkish Film Festival (2011).
Political instability, a failing economy and rising production costs all contributed to the decline of Turkish Cinema in the post-Yesilçam era. This was accelerated by the widespread popularity of television and video, replacing the cinema as popular entertainment. By the early 1990s, production had fallen to just two or three titles a year; a minuscule output compared to the 300 films a year of the 1960s and 1970s.
The mid-1990s saw a surprising return to success as box office numbers began to rise again and a considerable number of Turkish art-house films achieved recognition at film festivals around the world. The period from 1996 to the present is considered to be a strong revival of Turkish Cinema. In Asuman Süner’s New Turkish Cinema (2010), she argues that as a response to the drastic transformation of Turkey since the 1990s, film-makers – both commercial and art-house – have persistently returned to the themes of belonging, identity and memory. This new mode of inward-looking national cinema has won back old audiences and drawn in international viewers.