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Culture

Popular Cinema, Turkish-style

Turkish films are securing a place in German cinemas now that producers have discovered a new target audience of German-Turks. Far from being on the fringe, the films are making it into the nation's biggest theaters.

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Filmmakers are appealing to the German-Turkish population, for example with "Güle Güle."

Turkish films shown in Germany have long conveyed a rather bleak view of the Bosporus state. They typically dealt with issues such as the Kurdish conflict, the problems facing women, illiteracy, military dominance, and censorship. But in recent years, that's started to change. Following the success of Yavuz Turgul's drama "Eskiya, the Bandit," more and more popular Turkish films have made it onto German movie screens, including those in the big multi-plex cinemas.

Whereas in the past, Turks in Germany had to wait months for a film showing in Turkey to be released here, now it's often only a matter of days separating release dates, making it easier for the Turkish community to stay in touch with the Zeitgeist in the Bosporus.

Distributors making the trend

Two companies are leading the way in distribution. Warner attracted Turkish and German audiences alike with films such as "Propaganda," "Güle Güle," and "Commissar Shekspir." And then there's Maxximum Film Distribution, started by Anil Sahin, a former executive with the Hamburg-based Cinemaxx cinema group. When he saw the potential of the Turkish market, he immediately founded his own company.

Sahin's first venture, "Balalaika" in October 2001 proved to be a flop in German cinemas, so the businessman set about refining his marketing strategy. Turkish movie-goers proved to be loyal customers with a high level of attachment to the product. The particular film being shown matters less to them than the movie-going experience.

Though Warner had high box office numbers, it didn't make a huge profit, since it had falsely calculated the advertising budget. Maxximum, on the other hand, began collecting German "Bogeys" -- prizes for the highest number of screenings.

"Deli Yürek" played in 150 cinemas in over 70 cities. The final episode of the Turkish cult soap "Asmali Konak" was the most successful title with 35 copies and over 220,000 viewers. Maxximum productions run in other countries as well, for example Austria, Bulgaria and Switzerland. A few weeks ago, one of its films took third place in the Dutch box office charts.

Here, the films are shown with German subtitles. That doesn't just help the handful of non-Turkish audience members, it also helps to fill the gaps in the sometimes scanty knowledge of Turkish among German-Turks. And surprisingly, any scenes containing swear words or naked skin have to be cut out of all the films shown in Germany, as the target audience here is much more conservative than in Turkey.

Moritz Bleibtreu

German actor Moritz Bleibtreu.

The increasing level of German involvement in the Turkish film industry could soon see the tables being turned, with German-Turkish productions being exported back to the Bosporus. Maxximum, for example, is planning to produce a vehicle for popular German actor Moritz Bleibtreu (photo). And in Hamburg, a film called "Süperseks" is in the works. The comedy by a German director about a Turkish sex hotline is being produced with German money -- and it has a good chance of being successful in Turkey.

Rambo and big happy families

Just how well these films reflect the realities of everyday Turkish life can be left for viewers to decide. "Propaganda" and "Vizontele," for example, are filled with the kind of antics and buffoonery that are guaranteed to have even German audiences splitting their sides. But while they portray Turkey as a conflict-free, multi-ethnic society full of big happy families, the film "Deli Yürek" shows quite a different side. The action flick takes its inspiration from the conflict in Kurdistan, and presents it as a conspiracy between the CIA and Hizbollah that can only be resolved by a Turkish version of Rambo.

Possible superficialities aside, Anil Sahin deems the trend toward popular Turkish cinema a positive one. These colorful films convey a more positive image of Turkey and help create a closer affiliation to Europe. But one of the superstars of Turkish cinema sees things differently. Haluk Bilgener welcomes the current hype, but he's skeptical about the dominance of these so-called "popcorn films."

"They cater to a pleasure-seeking generation that is totally apolitical," he said.

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