National cinema in Turkey from a cultural perspective

Academic Paper, 2018

11 Pages, Grade: 3



Common to the evolution of other numerous film art industries, the studio system in Turkey has seen a significant transformation, predominantly influenced by filmmakers, film critics, theoreticians and intellectuals. Enthusiastically and painstakingly advocating for a national cinema that embraces the Turkish cultural aesthetics, Halit Refiğ was one of the key players that would ultimately see the Turkish film industry remodel for the good of the future generation. He had to endure the massive and rapidly changing political storm that hit Turkey in the 1960s as well as take into consideration the aspect of cultural diversity apparent from the continuous mixing and merging of different cultures. During his time as a film director, Refiğ together with his team, known for the fight for a National Cinema Movement, faced awful dissent from their opponents, the Turkish Cinematheque Association (Erdogan). Undoubtedly, that was a tough period for Halit Refiğ. This study focuses on the national cinema in Turkey within cultural perspective or similar. It delves further into the perpetual efforts of Halit Refiğ to pave the way for acceptance of a culture-based national cinema, his achievements in persuading his countrymen to embrace culture-based cinema and the challenges he faced during his period as a film director, film critic and theoretician pushing forward for his standpoint in support for the matter.

A number of aspects should be put into consideration when defining national cinema including the location in which a film is produced, the location in which the film is intended to be consumed, the film actors, the people who are responsible for the production of the film and the subject portrayed by the film.

The Turkish film critics present three different definitions for national cinema, which include the People’s Cinema (Halk Sineması), Cinema of the Nation (Milli Sinema) and the National Cinema Movement (Ulusal Sinema Akımı) (Kevin and Aksoy). The People’s Cinema concept defines national cinema as the type targeting the Turkish audience. They are primarily meant for consumption by the Turkish audience. The Cinema of the Nation defines national cinema as that which picks a topic or subject of an exhibition from the Turkish people alongside their way of living and themes. The National Cinema Movement defines national cinema based on the self-praise movement exhibited by a group of directors.

From the history of Turkish cinema, the German, American and French companies were primarily responsible for the production and exhibition of films (Richard). This came to a halt after about 18 years, in 1914, in the wake of the First World War declaration, when the ruling party at that time (Committee of Union and Progress) embraced economic nationalism. Despite gaining domestic control on the Turkish film industry, cinema was adversely affected as it was expensive. By then, Turkish film production was dominated solely by Muhsin Ertuğrul, who produced films adapted from the western stage plays. Also, his theatre independently produced the actors in the cast crew. Admittedly, this was of minimal help to the film market since only 67 films were produced between 1914 and 1947.

The Russian government played a critical role in improving the number of films produced. In 1942, the Republican People’s Party induced the rate of film production by imposing a ban on the Egyptian melodramas. This gave an opportunity for the local films to gain control of the film market. Six years later, the Russian government further proceeded to offer support for the local film production by reducing the municipal taxation on the products produced locally while at the same time raising taxation on the foreign films. Another boost for the local film industry was seen following a surge in the Russian economy prompted by the new Democrat Party governments, which increased the rate of Turkish films being produced and consumed locally. Also, the government’s sustained efforts to invest in infrastructure influenced the rural to urban migration, which boosted the cinema market since many people started acknowledging cinema as a mode of entertainment.

The fact that Hollywood played some role in influencing Turkish cinema cannot be disregarded. Despite local actors desiring to focus solely on culture-based films, they had to listen to their audiences and consider their preferences since they greatly relied on their audiences for a breakthrough in the competitive film industry. Since Turkish audiences had already suffered partial influence by the Hollywood products, they desired some Hollywood-blend to be included in the domestic films. In response, Turkish filmmakers came up with Hollywoodish films that included film noirs, Turkish westerns, gangster movies and melodramas. The adoption of domestic filmmaking integrated with local themes would later push forward for the idea of introducing a national cinema movement.

As Turkish filmmakers continued to struggle to fight for improvement and national identification of domestic films, some young directors saw the essence of having a local and cultural-based cinema. To try and reach out to a large mass of audience, these group comprising majorly of critics adopted social mobilization as their theme of generation. Halit Refiğ was the key player behind this ideology. To effectively push forward for his agenda, Refiğ partnered with Lüftü Akad, Metin Erksan, Memduh Ün, Atıf Yılmaz, Ertem Göreç, Duygu Sağıroğlu and Osman Seden. Together, they launched the National Cinema Movement (Ulusal Sinema). They made their stories and themes steady and fully controlled their films. Halit Refiğ, together with his colleagues, revealed that Turkish cinema was candidly labour intensive, basically relying on the Turkish audience to remain alive, hence, not making them a national cinema at all. They compared the Turkish cinema with Hollywood cinema, citing a massive difference between the two. Hollywood was receiving substantial support from the state. Refiğ advised people to resist the type of filmmaking that adopted Hollywood styles as well as those that seemed to feature a blend of both Hollywood and local styles. He wanted something local devoid of any foreign contamination.

The right-wing governments played a crucial role in the success of the film industry. During the 1960s, the state could oversee the Turkish cinema through economic incentives and be censoring of film content. They could offer incentives to encourage the production of quality films as well as increase the number of films produced. While censoring film content, they considered the interests of the film industry.

The National Cinema Movement faced strong opposition from the Cinematheque group. Their ideologies were completely different, with the Cinematheque in support of the western cinema. The fate of the National Cinema Movement worsened when they couldn’t be invited to participate in the national film festivals. Also, in the 1970’s, Halit Refiğ’s work, The Tired Warrior, was destroyed through burning of his work’s negatives. This adversely affected the determination of The National Cinema Movement, consequently, bringing an end to the movement in 1980. The downfall of this movement can mainly be attributed to the military coup that took place in the same year Refiğ’s work faced destruction. The Cinematheque suffered adverse consequences as well as the military coup also halted their activities. Normalcy in the cinema industry would later resume in the wake of establishment of a civilian government. Despite the end of the National Cinema Movement, the key players in the movement still continued to produce films. The introduction of a new government after the military coup allowed for the exhibition of films from the former members of the National Cinema Movement. This worked in favor of Metin Erksan, a former member of the movement. His work, Time to Love, saw him receive great appreciation from the Turkish audience. Time to love enjoyed considerable attention from the Turkish audience majorly attributed to its characteristics that meet the parameters of a national cinema. Looking at the production, Time to love was produced completely in Turkey, which meets one of the definitions of a national cinema. Looking at the cast actors, the film was produced by a team from Turkey.

Before the fall of the National Cinema Movement, at the time when there were massive opposition and conflicts between the Cinematheque and the National Cinema Movement, Halit Refiğ could organize for weekly meetings held at the homes of his group’s team members, with the primary agenda surrounding the concern regarding the future of his country’s cinema. In his focus to fight for a national cinema, Refiğ merged several old and new influences, which included the emanation of a contemporary music style introduced in the 1940s by Ahmet Adnan Saygun, appearance of a modern national architecture in the 1930s by Sedad Hakki Eldem, medieval Turkish vaudeville (Orta oyunu), Shadow Theater (two-dimensional storytelling in Karagöz) and a modern dialectic-materialistic literature in the 1950s by Kemal Tahir.

Halit Refiğ’s film theory is based on concepts including his intellectual status and expertise in the Film culture, the chain of films emanating from Turkey from the 1950s to 1970s, the state-regulated film censorship and the reaction of the nationalist directors to censorship.

From the 1950s up to the 1980s, the Turkish studio system was known as Green Pine (Yeşilçam). Green Pine denoted a joint imaginary of common taste and an economic mean of production. The system was founded on non-union labour, star actors, cheap and fast production. The main source of finance was obtained from advance receipts system, entirely relying on Anatolian theatre owners. However, a ‘Bond System’ was considered to help film producers, who were financially unable to exhibit their films. This method of acquiring finance involved an agreement (bond) between the film producers and theatre owners. Following the ‘Bond System’ agreement, the theatre owners gained the rights to screen the films, the types of films that were to be produced and the role of actors in various projects. Yeşilçam achieved many things. It created a famous film language, served in many theatres based in small towns and big cities, created modern hybrid-genes and the launch of private TV channels.


Excerpt out of 11 pages


National cinema in Turkey from a cultural perspective
Bilgi University İstanbul  (Communication)
Modernization in Turkey
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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474 KB
cinema, communication, media, media studies, cinema turkery
Quote paper
Bora Kurum (Author), 2018, National cinema in Turkey from a cultural perspective, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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