DOCUMENTARY CINEMA IN TURKEY: A BRIEF SURVEY OF THE PAST AND THE PRESENT (2014)

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DOCUMENTARY CINEMA IN TURKEY: A BRIEF SURVEY OF THE PAST AND THE PRESENT (2014)
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  D OCUMENTARY  C INEMA   IN  T URKEY : A B RIEF  S URVEY   OF  T HE  P AST   AND  T HE  P RESENT C   C  Documentary film has been the ‘red-haired stepchild’ of Turkish cinema, condemned to invisibility 31and triviality, and the Turkish viewing public has thus been left with a very nar-row understanding of its workings and possibilities. Nevertheless, more than a century after the very first moving images were shot in Turkey, documentaries are now more visible than ever before, and despite lack of opportunities to watch historically significant or contemporary creative documentaries, audiences seem to in-creasingly appreciate the documentaries that they are able to see. Moreover, especially since the 1990s, the documentary scene in Turkey has been expanding and documentary production is on the rise, with ever more filmmakers representing diverse and critical  voices in their documentaries. Consequently, documentary film have slowly begun to play a role in the country’s democratization process, by offering an alternative to official historical narra-tives and the mainstream media, and thereby creating a space for free and creative expression and political activism. With this in mind, this article aims to give a brief historical and contemporary overview of documentary cinema in Turkey, by focusing on docu-mentaries produced locally.  114   | The City in Turkish Cinema A short historical overview Not much has been written about documentary cinema in Turkey, so a great deal of work remains to be done. There is, as of yet, no national archive where historically significant films are housed, preserved, catalogued, and made accessible to the public, making it very difficult to even find the films to study. Many films have probably been lost or damaged by now, while others are sim-ply buried in various depots in the country. Therefore, any writing of the history of documentary cinema in Turkey today is doomed to be partial and fragmentary, and this attempt will only be able to focus on what I understand to be some highlights or milestones.We learn from film historians that the very first moving im-ages were shot in Turkey circa 1897, when Alexandre Promio, a cameraman trained and equipped by the Lumiere Brothers, was sent to Istanbul. 67  It was not until 1996 that this very first film-strip was discovered in the archives. 68  Unwilling to identify this “French” film as marking the “birth” of the national cinema, Turk-ish film historians have debated whether the history of Turkish cinema begins with  Ayastefanos’taki Rus Abidesi’nin Yıkılı  ş ı  (The Demolition of the Russian Monument in Ayastefanos,   1914), a yet-to-be-located, mythical film reputedly shot in İ stanbul by Fuat Uskınay, an Ottoman army officer, or with the film footage shot by Manaki Brothers in Macedonia circa 1905 (then part of the Ottoman Empire), now housed in the Macedonia Film Archive, but also claimed to be the heritage of many Balkan countries. 69   67 McKernan, Luke and Herbert, Stephen. Who’s Who of Victorian Cinema (BFI Publishing, 1996). Content available at: http://www.victorian-cinema.net/promio . Accessed: 18 July 2013.68 Based on Bertrand Tavernier’s English language commentary, available in the  Lumière Brothers’ First Films  DVD, published by Kino International in 1998.69 Dilek Kaya Mutlu, “The Russian Monument at Ayastefanos (San Stefano): Between Defeat and Revenge, Remembering and Forgetting,”  Middle East-ern Studies , Vol. 43, No. 1, (January 2007), pp. 75-86; also, unpublished re-search by Saadet Özen.  Documentary Cinema in Turkey: A Brief Survey of The Past and The Present   |   115 Whichever film one would choose as “the first film” made in Tur-key, it would be a short non-fiction film. With the establishment of  Merkez Ordu Sinema Dairesi  (The Central Army Cinema Department) in 1915, the military’s monopoly over documentary production began, with its main purpose being the documentation of the activities of the state and the military. Various compilation films were later said to have been created from the archival footage shot by this entity. 70  To this day, the military is believed to possess one of the most exten-sive film archives in Turkey, but it remains largely inaccessible to researchers and the public.The next milestone in the history of documentary in Turkey is the 1934 film Türkiye’nin Kalbi Ankara  (Ankara, The Heart of Turkey) shot by the filmmakers Sergei Yutkevic and Lev Os-carovich Arnstam, who came to Turkey as a part of the official Soviet delegation invited to the 10 th  anniversary celebrations of the Turkish Republic. Under what circumstances this film was made, how many versions of this film exist, and how it was used in the years after its production are yet to be researched. How-ever, this film was re-discovered in 1969 in the archives and was promptly censored during its broadcast on TRT (the Turkish Radio and Television, est. 1968) on the grounds that it was com-munist propaganda. Nevertheless, it was broadcast again, this time in its entirety, the following year. 71  A version of this film re-appeared in the late 2000s on the official website of the President of Turkey and is still available there. 72 70 For example, Bilgin Adalı in his book  Belgesel Sinema  (Istanbul: Hil Yayın-ları, 1986) cites a 1923 film titled  Zafer Yolları  that is alleged to be such a compilation documentary. 71 Mahmut Tali Öngören  , Sinema Diye Diye (Kalem Yayıncılık, 1985), pp 109-110.72 Video gallery at the official website of the Presidency of the Republic of Tur-key: www.tccb.gov.tr/sayfa/ata_ozel/video/. Accessed: 18 July 2013.  116   | The City in Turkish Cinema It is also worthwhile to mention that, in the early 1950s, a se-ries of Marshall Plan Films were shot and distributed in Turkey and in other countries in support of the Marshall Plan’s economic and military involvement in Turkey. Among which are: Yusuf ve Sabanı (Yusef and His Plow), 1951; Suyun Kontrolü (The Control of Water), 1951; Tepkili Uçaklar Türk Semalarında (Interceptor Jets Over Turkey),   1954. 73 The establishment of the Istanbul University Film Center in the mid-1950s by two academicians, Sabahattin Eyuboglu and Mazhar Ş evket İ p ş iro ğ lu, broke the institutional state monopoly of documentary production and created the first non-governmen-tal and academic institution for documentary film production, which lasted until 1974 with brief interruptions from the two military coups, in 1960 and 1971. The “cultural” documentaries produced at this center, collectively referred to as the “Anatolian Epics,” were mostly about the cultural and historical heritage of Turkey, aimed at informing and educating. Their first and the best known film was  Hitit Güne  ş i (The Hittite Sun, 1956) in which they traced the material remnants of the Hittites and argued for their cultural continuity with contemporary Anatolia, suggesting a national heritage that goes back to the pre-Islamic times. 74 With the 1960 military coup in Turkey, the Istanbul University Film Center temporarily halted its production of documentaries and, as a result of the cooperation between Eyubo ğ lu from Istan-bul University and Ş akir Eczacıba ş ı (and with the support of the Eczacıba ş ı pharmaceutical company), a series of short documen- 73 For more information on the Marshall Plan films see the work of Sandra Schulberg ( Selling Democracy  Project Director and Marshall Plan Film His-torian) www.sellingdemocracy.org and www.marshallfilms.org. Accessed: 18 July 2013.74 For more information on the films of Istanbul University Film Center, see: Berrin Avcı,  Belgesel Sinemacı Yönüyle Sabahattin Eyubo  ğ  lu , (Ankara: Ana-dolu Üniversitesi Yayınları, No. 1087 1987).  Documentary Cinema in Turkey: A Brief Survey of The Past and The Present   |   117 taries titled ‘Eczacıba ş ı Cultural Films’ were produced. 75  In late 1960s, Yapı Kredi Bank also followed suit to become the second private sector company to support production of documentaries. This trend still continues today. 76 In the same decade, more specifically in 1963-64, the French director Maurice Pialat made a series of documentary shorts in Turkey titled Turkish Chronicles . These were a series of beauti-fully shot essay films, mostly about Istanbul, based on a visitor’s insightful observational footage and sometimes using poems as the narrated text. These films have once again surfaced in the recently produced DVD-set of Pialat’s films and some were shown at the 2010 Istanbul Film Festival. 77 In late 1960s, as a reaction to the commercialization of the lo-cal film industry and the influx of US imports, as well as due to the inspiration of the ‘68 student movements in Europe, a group of young activists decided that it was time to take the cameras out into the streets to document the struggle for the imminent revolution. Publishing manifestos in their revolutionary cinema magazine Genç Sinema: Devrimci Sinema Dergisi , (Young Cine-ma: The Revolutionary Cinema Magazine), armed with hand-held 8mm and 16mm cameras, and film stock they could only afford by literally selling their blood, and the short-lived “Young Cinema Movement” (1968-1970) not only documented the revolutionary spirit and the struggle of the times, but in my opinion, also laid the unacknowledged groundwork for video activism that exists in Turkey today. 78 75 Can Candan, “Kültür Filmleri,”  Altyazı: Aylık Sinema Dergisi , No: 96, June 2010, p. 76.76 For example, Garanti Bank, one of the major private banks of Turkey was the main sponsor of Tolga Örnek’s big-budget documentary Gallipoli  (2005).77 For the Istanbul Film Festival program notes, see. http://film.iksv.org/tr/ar-siv/festivalarsivi/65/647. Accessed 18 July 2013.78 Dossier on ‘Genç Sinema’ in  Belgesel Sinema  [Documentary Cinema], No. 3, Spring-Summer 2003, pp. 41- 89, published by Association of Documentary
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