Yeşilçam Cinema




Yeşilçam Cinema

by Sherif Awad
The art of cinematography has fascinated many great  directors  since  their  youth,  exactly  as  we  have  seen  in  the  classic  film,  Cinema  Paradiso  (1998)  by  the  Italian  director Giuseppe Tornatore. In this film, narrated by Tornatore, we learn the story of  one  great  Italian  director  returning  to  the  small  Sicilian  village  where  he  grew  up,  to  re-discover  his  childhood  love  of  watching  movies  at  the  little  theatre  there, an experience that inspired him to become a filmmaker. An occasion of art imitating  his  life,  Tornatore  echoed  this  theme in two later films, Malena (2000) and Baaria (2009).The           Turkish           director    Cem    Kaya    might   have   a   back-ground  similar  that  of  Tornatore  and  the  plot  of Cinema  Paradiso  but Kaya  chose,  instead,  to  make   a   documentary   about   the   films   that   influenced   him   rather   than     providing     an     autobiographical     film     about his own life. Kaya moved  to  Germany  with  his  parents  when   he   was   a   child   and   grew   up   watching  Turkish  films  on  VHS  tapes  rented  from  video  clubs  that  were  often  set  in  a  corner  inside  Turkish  grocery  stores throughout German cities.Kaya later became a film editor and then  the  director  of  the  Remake  Remix  Rip-Off  documentary  that  shows  how  Turkish  films  made  in  the  sixties  and  seventies of the last century lacked logical plots   and   technical   aspects.   Extreme   violence or exaggerated melodrama char-acterized these Turkish films, mindlessly and  laughably  imitating  American  films  of  the  era.  Kaya  kept  on  seeing  more  and  more  of  these  films,  called  Yesilcam  Cinema, after a street by the same name located at Beyoglu district of the Turkish capital Istanbul. Filmmakers and stars of the era use to live on Yesilcam and this is where Kaya went to meet dozens of them for the interviews of his documentary.Using  a  quick  editing  style,  navi-gating  between  the  current  interviews  and  bits  and  pieces  from  footage  of  the  films,  Kaya  explains  how  Yesilcam  Cinema   lacked   the   budget   to   create   innovative scripts and this drove its direc-tors  and  screenwriters  to  remake  films  from all over the world. So viewers were exposed  to  Turkish  versions  of  Tarzan, Dracula,  The  Wizard  of  Oz,  The  Exorcist, Rambo,  Superman,  Star Wars,  James Bond, Flash  Gordon,  Zorro  and  many  others,  readapted  to  suit  local  audience  across  rural Anatolia districts.The   proliferation   of   television   in   Turkey  in  the  mid-seventies  along  with  the weak financial and structural aspects of these films brought the Yesilcam genre to an end. At that time, there was no film institute  in  Turkey,  no  laboratories  for  processing  and  printing  of  films  and  no  production  values  or  equipment.  All  the  directors  and  scriptwriters  did  was  meet  the  demands  of  the  public  by  recycling  the  same  stories  over  and  over  again.  Plots  such  as  the  poor  young  man  who  falls in love with rich girl, the story of two brothers  separated  at  birth  or  the  rural  countryside  boy  who  comes  to  big  city  proliferated.  The  directors  of  Yesilcam  also benefited from the lack of copyright laws,  ripping  off  story  lines  and  music  soundtracks.Among the film interviewees, Turkish director Cetin Inanc appears and describes how  he  helmed  his  sci-fi  Turkish  movie  The Man Who Saved the World (1982) with action star of the era Cuneyt Arkin. Inanc did not have enough money to create the visual effects for a film that mixed the plots of Star Wars and Flash Gordon. So what did he  do?  He  bribed  a  film  theater  clerk  to  “lend” him the copy of Star Wars, playing locally  and  sliced  some  scenes  featuring  spaceships  to  add  to  his  own  film.  Inanc,  who  is  quite  funny,  then  explains  how  he  was  invited  to  Columbia  University  in  New  York  to  talk  about  this  film  in  par-ticular  in  front  of  hundreds  of  students  of  cinema  who  were  eagerly  asking  him  about his filmmaking process. The young enthusiastic students thought his film was a work of a genius.Yesilcam    Cinema    began    disap-pearing  when  American  films  started  to   dominate   Turkish   theaters   during   the  early  eighties  but  was  saved  in  its  last  days  when  its  directors  started  to  produce   some   musical   films   starring   older  singers,  a  subgenre  that  was  nick-named  “Arabesque  Drama.”  During  the  following years, many new laws for copy-right and syndication were implemented while  new  generations  of  filmmakers  were   born,   who   eventually   presented   new  cinematic  trends  and  more  mature  films.  However,  due  the  absence  of  an  underlying  strong  production  structure  and  sound  archival  procedures  within  the  Yesilcam  Industry,  many  film  posi-tives  and  negatives  were  lost  for  various  reasons  whether  poor  storage  or  bad  accidents.  The  rest  were  sold  in  quanti-ties  to  several  German  companies  for  redistribution.Cem Kaya spent seven years making this  film,  in  the  process  meeting  dozens  of  Yeslicam  directors  and  film  stars  of  Yesilcam  to  synthesize  them  into  his  valuable  and  quite  funny  documentary,  Remake, Remix, Rip-Off.