The rise of the Turkish film empire

By Vanessa Hilary Larson

“Once upon a time, we had one of the biggest film industries in the world,” said Mevlut Akkaya, reminiscing on the heyday of Turkish film in the 1960s and 70s. Now, Turkish film is rising again, thanks to an explosion of new talent over the last decade among Turkish filmmakers living both in and outside of Turkey. The 7th Annual New York Turkish Film Festival, of which Akkaya is the director, brings some of that vibrant, young talent to American audiences. Held at Anthology Film Archives, the festival will present 26 films, a dozen of them features and the rest documentaries and shorts—most of them not previously shown in the U.S.

As the film industry in Turkey has grown in recent years, the New York Turkish Film Festival has itself expanded from just six films in 1999 to its present form. It is presented by the Moon and Stars Project, a non-profit organization that showcases Turkish art and culture and promotes cultural exchange between Turkey and the U.S.

“We’re starting to get our culture out there more,” said Isil Bagdadi, the festival’s Turkish-American publicity and marketing director. “These films are finally starting to get the recognition that they deserve.”

Festival highlights include Fatih Akin’s searing love story “Head-On,” first shown in New York last winter; and “G.O.R.A.,” a parody offering a Turkish take on Western sci-fi blockbusters. Fans of Akin will also be interested in “Short Sharp Shock,” his 1998 debut feature film. Another young Turkish-German director to pay attention to is Ayse Polat, whose film “En Garde,” about an unlikely friendship between two adolescent girls, won awards for best actress and second-place film at the Locarno International Film Festival in 2004. Also notable are “Boats out of Watermelon Rinds,” a sort of Turkish “Cinema Paradiso”; “Toss Up,” a haunting story about two men after their return from military service; and “Kebab Connection,” an offbeat look at the lives of Turkish immigrants in Germany with a kung-fu twist. Documentaries about the Cyprus conflict and nomadic women in Turkey plus a dozen shorts round out the mix.

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