Cinema of Turkey

Cinema of Turkey, also known as Yeşilçam (literally means The Green Pine in Turkish language) (Turkish pronunciation: [ˈjeʃiltʃam]), is the sobriquet that refers to the Turkish film art and industry. It is an important part of Turkish culture, and has flourished over the years, delivering entertainment to audiences in Turkey, expatriates across Europe, and more recently prospering in the Arab world and in rare cases, the United States. The first film exhibited in the Ottoman Empire was the Lumière Brothers' 1895 film, L'Arrivée d'un train en gare de La Ciotat, which was shown in Istanbul in 1896. The first Turkish-made film was a documentary entitled Ayastefanos'taki Rus Abidesinin Yıkılışı (Demolition of the Russian Monument at San Stefano), directed by Fuat Uzkınay and completed in 1914. The first narrative film, Sedat Simavi's The Spy, was released in 1917. Turkey's first sound film was shown in 1931.

Cinema of Turkey
No. of screens2,093 (2012)[1]
  Per capita3.0 per 100,000 (2011)[2]
Main distributorsCGV Mars Distribution 50.83%
UIP 22.52%
TME Films 14.43%[3]
Produced feature films (2012)[4]
Number of admissions (2012)[4]
  Per capita0.8 (2016)[5]
National films20,487,220 (47.0%)
Gross box office (2012)[1]
Total$234 million
National films$109 million (46.6%)



In terms of film production, Turkey shared the same fate with many of the national cinemas of the 20th century. Film production wasn't continuous until around the 1950s and the film market in general was run by a few major import companies that struggled for domination in the most population-dense and profitable cities such as Istanbul and İzmir. Film theatres rarely ever screened any locally produced films and the majority of the programs consisted of films of the stronger western film industries, especially those of the United States, France, Italy and Germany. Attempts at film production came primarily from multinational studios, which could rely on their comprehensive distribution networks together with their own theatre chains, thus guaranteeing them a return on their investment. Between the years 1896–1945, the number of locally produced films did not even reach 50 films in total, equal to less than a single year's annual film production in the 1950s and 1960s. Domestically produced films constituted only a small fraction of the total number of films screened in Turkey prior to the 1950s.

Film production in Turkey increased drastically after World War II. With a total of 49 films produced in 1952, this single year equaled a greater output produced in Turkey than all previous years combined. During the 1960s, Turkey became the fifth biggest film producer worldwide as annual film production reached the 300 film benchmark just at the beginning of the 1970s. Compared to other national cinemas, the achievements of the Turkish film industry after 1950 are still remarkable.

During the 1970s, the impact of TV and video as the new popular forms of media and political turmoil (often hand in hand with deep economic crises) caused a sharp drop in ticket sales, resulting in a steady decline starting around 1980 and continuing until the mid-1990s. The number of annual ticket sales decreased from a peak of 90 million tickets in 1966[6] to 56 million tickets in 1984 and only 11 million in 1990.[7] Accordingly, the number of film theatres declined from approximately 2,000 in 1966[6] to 854 in 1984 and 290 in 1990.[8] During the 1990s the average number of films produced per year remained between 10-15; usually half of them not even making it into the theatres.

Since 1995 the situation has improved. After the year 2000, annual ticket sales rose to 20 million and since 1995, the number of theatres has steadily increased to approximately 500 nationwide. Currently, Turkish films attract audiences of millions of viewers and routinely top the blockbuster lists, often surpassing foreign films at the box office. However, it is difficult to speak about the existence of an industry, since most films are rather individual projects of directors who otherwise earn their living in television, advertising or theatre. The distribution of these films are mainly handled by multinational corporations such as Warner Bros. and United International Pictures.


Most of the Turkish films produced before 1950 were projects initiated by import companies owned by local families, most notably İpek Film, a daughter company of the İpek Merchandise, an import company that was advertising in Ottoman literary journals such as Servet-i Fünun as early as the 19th century. Another important company in the early era of Turkish cinema was Kemal Film, a company whose continuous presence as a leading import company has been often overlooked for a few local films it produced during the 1920s. (The founders of Kemal Film bought their first film camera on loan from the Ipek Merchandise). Both companies were the strongest film distributors until the 1950s and the only companies that were financially sound enough to produce films themselves, with low risks for financial failure as they already were in possession of a distribution system and theatre chains that guaranteed a return on investment.

However, the notable developments of these companies must be seen as necessary adaptations to the technological progress of the western film industries whose films they were importing. One example here being the establishment of the Marmara Dubbing Studio in the early 1930s, when the silent era came to an end in the West and sound films became the standard, prompting the import-dependent companies to adjust themselves to the new technological requirements.

The big distributors in Istanbul, led by İpek Film and Kemal Film, gradually expanded their distribution system throughout the rest of the country during the 1930s, leading to the so-called "regional system" (Bölge İşletmeleri), which consisted of seven distribution areas headquartered in the most significant cities in those regions: Istanbul (Marmara Region), İzmir (Aegaean Region), Ankara (Middle Anatolian Region), Samsun (Black Sea Region), Adana (Mediterranean Region), Erzurum (East Anatolian Region) and Diyarbakır (South East Anatolian Region).[9] The Regional System became much more important after the 1950s, when local film production dramatically increased and local films surpassed imported films in both ticket sales and revenues. This system became the financial foundation of Yeşilçam (often referred to as "Turkish Hollywood"), which was the heart of Turkish film production between the years 1955–1975. After 1965, a so-called "Combined System" (Kombine Sistem) led by a trust of regional leaders is said to have taken control of almost everything regarding production.[9] A leading figure of the trust was producer Türker İnanoğlu, who is still active in the media business today, now running Ulusal Film, Turkey's largest TV production company.

The first film showing in Turkey was held in the Yıldız Palace, Istanbul in 1896. Public shows by Sigmund Weinberg in the Beyoğlu and Şehzadebaşı districts followed in 1897. Weinberg was already a prominent figure at that time, especially known as a representative of foreign companies such as Pathé, for whom he sold gramophones before getting into the film business. Some sources suggest he was also a photographer, again as a result of being one of the representatives of foreign companies such as Kodak.

The first Turkish movie, Ayastefanos′taki Rus Abidesinin Yıkılışı, a documentary produced by Fuat Uzkınay in 1914,[10] depicted the destruction of a Russian monument erected at the end of the 1877-1878 Russo-Turkish War in Yeşilköy (then known as "San Stefano") following Turkey's entry into World War I. The first thematic Turkish films were The Marriage of Himmet Aga (1916–1918), started by Weinberg and completed by Uzkinay, and The Paw (1917) and The Spy (1917), both by Sedat Simavi. The army-affiliated Central Cinema Directorate, a semi-military national defense society, and the Disabled Veterans Society were the producing organizations of that period.

In 1922, a major documentary film, Independence, the İzmir Victory, was made about the Turkish War of Independence. That same year, the first private movie studio, Kemal Film, commenced operations. From 1923 to 1939, Muhsin Ertugrul was the only active film director in the country. He directed 29 films during this period, generally incorporating adaptions of plays, operettas, fiction and foreign films. The influence of the theater dating back to Uzkinay, Simavi, Ahmet Fehim and Şadi Karagozoglu is very strong in Ertugrul's work.

The years between 1939 and 1950 were a period of transition for Turkish cinema, during which it was greatly influenced by theater as well as by World War II. While there were only two film companies in 1939, the number increased to four between 1946 and 1950. After 1949, Turkish cinema was able to develop as a separate art form, with a more professional caliber of talents.

The Yeşilçam era

Yeşilçam ("Green Pine") is a metonym for the Turkish film industry, similar to Hollywood in the United States. Yeşilçam is named after Yeşilçam Street in the Beyoğlu district of Istanbul where many actors, directors, crew members and studios were based.

Yeşilçam experienced its heyday from the 1950s to the 1970s, when it produced 250 to 350 films annually. Between 1950 and 1966 more than fifty movie directors practiced film arts in Turkey. Ömer Lütfi Akad strongly influenced the period, but Osman Fahir Seden, Atıf Yılmaz, and Memduh Ün made the most films. The film Susuz Yaz (Dry Summer), made by Metin Erksan, won the Golden Bear Award at the Berlin Film Festival in 1964.

The number of cinemagoers and the number of films made constantly increased, especially after 1958. In the 1960s the programs of the theater departments in the Language, History and Geography faculties of Ankara University and Istanbul University included cinema courses, as did the Press and Publications High School of Ankara University. A cinema branch was also established in the Art History Department of the State Fine Arts Academy.

The Union of Turkish Film Producers and the State Film Archives both date from the 1960s. The State Film Archives became the Turkish Film Archives in 1969. During the same period, the Cinema-TV Institute was founded and annexed to the State Academy of Fine Arts. The Turkish State Archives also became part of this organization. In 1962, the Cinema-TV Institute became a department of Mimar Sinan University. Well-known directors of the 1960–1970 period include Metin Erksan, Atıf Yılmaz, Memduh Ün, Halit Refiğ, Duygu Sağıroğlu, Remzi Aydın Jöntürk and Nevzat Pesen. In 1970, the numbers of cinemas and cinemagoers rose spectacularly. In the 2,424 cinemas around the county, films were viewed by a record number of 247 million viewers.

In 1970, approximately 220 films were made and this figure reached 300 in 1972. Turkish cinema gave birth to its legendary stars during this period, notable examples being Kemal Sunal, Kadir İnanır, Türkan Şoray and Şener Şen. After this period, however, the cinema began to lose its audiences, due to nationwide TV broadcasts. After 1970, a new and younger generation of directors emerged, but they had to cope with an increased demand for video films after 1980.

Yeşilçam suffered due to the spread of television and the widespread political violence at the end of the 1970s. Yeşilçam totally ended after the 1980 Turkish coup d'état. However, Yeşilçam has seen a revival since 2002, having produced critically acclaimed movies such as Uzak (Grand Prix (Cannes Film Festival), 2003), Babam ve Oğlum (My Father and My Son) and Propaganda.

Decline of Yeşilçam and the post-Yeşilçam era

Increased production costs and difficulties in the import of raw materials brought about a decrease in the number of films made in the 1970s, but the quality of films improved. In the early nineties, there were barely two or three movies released per year. During this period, most of the seventies' stars had either moved to TV, or were trying to rebuild the Yeşilçam's former glory. Some of the notable examples of this era are Eşkıya (The Bandit) and Züğürt Ağa (The Agha), both starring Şener Şen. Both movies were critically and commercially acclaimed.

However, the resurgence of Yesilçam didn't truly take place until the release of Vizontele in 2001. The film was directed, written, and starred by Yılmaz Erdoğan, who was already well-known from his long-running sitcom Bir Demet Tiyatro, and his dedication to theatre. The movie starred the cast of his usual plays, most notably Demet Akbağ, Altan Erkekli, and Cem Yılmaz. This movie's huge commercial success (watched by 2.5 million viewers, which earned the movie the most viewed film for its day) brought attention to the industry. A few years later, Cem Yılmaz released his own film, G.O.R.A., which he both wrote and starred in. This, and Vizontele's sequel Vizontele Tuuba, broke Vizontele's records by achieving 3.5 million and 3 million viewers, respectively.

Since then, larger-budgeted films have been produced, including notable examples such as Kurtlar Vadisi: Irak (Valley of the Wolves: Iraq), which was viewed by a record 4 million people, Babam ve Oğlum (My Father and My Son), and Cem Yılmaz's second movie Hokkabaz (The Magician) .

There has been a rise in experimental films in the 2000s. These include the 2005 feature Türev, which was filmed without a prewritten script and even featured candid shots of the actors, and Anlat Istanbul (Istanbul Tales), an ensemble piece divided into five "mini films" that received a strong reception.

"Körler / Jaluziler İçin" is the first internationally awarded Turkish science fiction feature film which is not a comedy, a cult film, a remake or an animation which marks its unique place as a milestone in the history of Turkish cinema. It was written, directed, produced and edited by Ozan Duru Adam. The film invents an innovative, unconventional visual language.

Production numbers also soared in the second half of the 2000s, reaching 40 films in 2007, with the top four box office hits that year claimed by Turkish films, as the film industry became profitable again with improving technical quality corresponding with commercial films' production costs increasing.[11]

In 2015, number of admission per capita was 0.8. Also Sinemia has published a research that Konya has become the city with the most frequent cinema goers.[12]

Although the need for a cinema law has been frequently debated throughout the history of the Turkish Republic, until 1986 no specific law or regulation had been developed. While films have generally been treated as goods subject to laws regarding taxation, content-wise they were controlled by commissions that have been often criticized for being mechanisms of censorship.

In the 1930s, some members of the parliament raised the issue of whether films would have a bad impact on children. This was a popular theme at that time, not just in Turkey, but also in the United States and elsewhere in the world. Later, in the 1960s, a debate around the so-called "Baykam Law" became quite famous for the tension it created amongst the parliamentarians and the stakeholders in the industry. In 1977 and 1978, further discussions for a cinema law have been held, but without any result.

Finally, in 1986, a cinema law, though highly criticised by members of the industry and the cinema intelligentsia of that time, was passed by the parliament and has since been the fundamental legislative document regarding cinema issues in Turkey. The new law aimed to ensure support for those working in cinema and music. A reorganization of the film industry began in 1987 to address problems and assure its development. The Ministry of Culture established the "Professional Union of Owners of Turkish Works of Cinema" the same year.

The "Copyrights and General Directorate of Cinema" was founded in 1989 as well as a "Support Fund for the Cinema and Musical Arts". This fund is used to provide financial support to the film sector.

Rating systems and censorship

One of the most interesting studies on the issue of film censorship in Turkey is Alim Şerif Onaran's Sinematografik Hürriyet (Cinematic Freedom), published in 1968 by the Ministry of Internal Affairs, but written in 1963 and being the first study in Turkey which received a PhD for a topic related to film. This study is still the most important -if not only- study on the film evaluation methods applied in Turkey before the 1950s. Onaran himself being active as a member of the Film Rating Commission in his younger years, was a true expert on the topic, and his research also includes examples of the late Ottoman Period. Ironically, Onaran became one of the most important intellectuals on film in Turkey, owing his wealth of knowledge on early world film history to the years he spent watching the films he was enrolled to evaluate as a committee member.

A very interesting example on the level of absurdity that censorship could reach is mentioned in Çetin Yetkin's book Siyasal Iktidar Sanata Karşı (Political Regime vs Art), published in 1970. It tells the story of a film which was classified as "inappropriate for export" because the Evaluation Committee decided that the film contains "communist propaganda". The film-owner, who applied to the committee for an export certificate, was surprised to see the decision because he mentioned on his application form that his intention was to sell a copy of the film to a distributor in the Soviet Union, the world's leading communist country at that time.[13]

Important figures


Actors and actresses


Notable films


Modern era films

Cult films

Commercial successes

List of Turkish films

Once Upon A Time in Anatolia

Major events


  • Adana Film Festival - Another important film festival held annually in the city of Adana. Its top award is the Golden Boll received in the past by such prominent figures as Yılmaz Güney, who himself grew up in Adana.
  • Ankara Flying Broom Women's Film Festival - (Turkish: Uçan Süpürge) (Flying Broom) is Turkey's only festival devoted to Feminism and Gender-Issues. The festival is held on an annual basis in Ankara. The festival aims to support young women in making their debut-films and organizes workshops on scriptwriting and film-making.
  • International Antalya Golden Orange Film Festival - The most prestigious and popular festival in Turkey. Each year participants are rewarded with the Golden Orange for outstanding performances in categories such as best film, best director, and best actor/actress.
  • Istanbul International Film Festival - First held in 1982, this annual film festival is one of the most important intellectual events in Turkey, often causing many cineastes living outside of Istanbul to go there for vacation to see the most precious examples of world film history presented there.

Major international awards

Film schools

Unions, foundations, professional organisations

  • Turkish Film Commissions ( Association of Turkish Film Commissions )
  • FILM YON — Film Directors' Union
  • FIYAB — Film Producers' Professional Association
  • Istanbul Chamber of Commerce, Film Makers' Professional Committee of Film Producers, Importers, Cinema Owners and Video Distributors.
  • SESAM — Professional Union of Film Producers, Importers, Cinema-owners
  • SINE-SEN — Turkey Cinema Worker's Union
  • SODER — Cinema Actors' Association
  • Mardin Film Office - is a not-to-profit organization aims to promote Mardin locally and internationally as a filming location and to contribute development of sustainable cinema culture in Mardin.

See also


  1. "Market Study - Turkey" (PDF). German Films. Archived from the original (PDF) on 12 November 2013. Retrieved 9 November 2013.
  2. "Table 8: Cinema Infrastructure - Capacity". UNESCO Institute for Statistics. Retrieved 5 November 2013.
  3. "Table 6: Share of Top 3 distributors (Excel)". UNESCO Institute for Statistics. Retrieved 5 November 2013.
  4. "Box-Office". General Directorate of Cinema. Archived from the original on 12 November 2013. Retrieved 12 November 2013.
  5. "Annual Report 2016" (PDF). Union Internationale des Cinémas. Retrieved 16 June 2016.
  6. Özön, Nijat (1966) Türk Sineması Kronolojisi 1896–1966. Istanbul: Bilgi Yayınları.
  7. T.C. Devlet Istatistik Enstitüsü Eğlence İstatistikleri.
  8. T.C. Devlet İstatistik Enstitüsü Eğlence İstatistikleri.
  9. Abisel, Nilgün (1987) "Yerli Yapımcılık Üzerine Notlar", Türk Sineması Üzerine Yazılar, Ankara: İmge Yayınları.
  10. Kitchen, Xhtml. "Ayastefanos'taki Rus Abidesinin Yıkılışı ~".
  11. Basutçu, Mehmet (May 2008), "Turkey. Consolidation", Cahiers du cinéma (Special issue 2008: World Cinema Atlas): 97, ISSN 0008-011X
  12. "En az sinemaya giden: Samsun". Report by: Sinemia, Published in: Milliyet, 04 June 2016
  13. Yetkin, Çetin (1970) Siyasal İktidar Sanata Karşı, Ankara: Bilgi Yayınları.

Further reading

  • Savaş Arslan: Cinema in Turkey: A New Critical History, Oxford University Press, 2011, ISBN 978-0-19-537006-5
  • Gönül Dönmez-Colin: Turkish Cinema: Identity, Distance and Belonging, Reaktion Books, 2008, ISBN 1-86189-370-1
  • Ekkehard Ellinger ; Kerem Kayi: Turkish cinema 1970–2007 : a bibliography and analysis, Frankfurt am Main [etc.]: Peter Lang, 2008, ISBN 978-3-631-56654-1
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