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.