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March 08, 2012, Thursday

‘Fetih 1453’: Turkish cinema on the brink of a new era

With some delays, I was able to watch Faruk Aksoy's box office and revenue champion “Fetih 1453” (The Conquest 1453) together with my son on Wednesday evening. Let me begin by saying that I liked this film despite its many defects and flaws.

First of all, Aksoy and his team deserve congratulation for spending TL 26 million ($17 million) to shoot an important event from Turkish history, making the project the most expensive Turkish film ever. Aksoy and his team, I must admit, managed to use epic cinematic language to depict the conquest of İstanbul, which was a major milestone in world history, and was later used by historians as the historical event signifying the end of the Middle Ages and the start of the Renaissance.

Aksoy's achievement goes beyond this as he has proven that every single penny and every move of hard labor spent for attaining quality and avoiding convenience and simplistic approaches will be duly rewarded. As the conquest of İstanbul in 1453 ushered in a new era in world history, this movie about it has opened the doors of a new era for Turkish cinema. Hopefully, those who aspire to improve Turkish cinema will soon come up with more expensive and ambitious productions. Moreover, no one should be surprised to see producers who were not previously interested in making films start to make big investments in film production.

As the producer and director of a film that was watched by 4,651,715 people in 17 days and earned TL 40,514,684 since opening in Turkish theaters, Aksoy believes that he has broken fresh ground in Turkish cinema. The impression I got from those who watched the film justifies his claim. When the film completes its third week in theaters, we may expect the box office and revenue figures to be much higher. One may even suggest that it will be watched by 6-7 million people in Turkey. Given the fact that he has four films among the 10 most-watched films in Turkey, we may further expect Aksoy to prove his abilities in the film he is preparing to make about the Dardanelles War, with the motivation he gained from this film. In this project, I hope he does not run into the financial problems he faced when he exceeded the budget planned for “Fetih 1453” by 15 percent, which was shot in about three-and-a-half years. Having been convinced that they can earn money financing films, venture capitalists will eagerly invest in such films.

Also, I am sure such productions will be able to secure state support as they are highly successful in teaching Turkish history to young generations, or at least arousing an interest in historical events, albeit with some defects and errors. By state support, I don't mean public financing of films. But at least some major and important films like “Fetih 1453,” which serve to promote Turkish history and culture, may be spared from extreme taxation. Aksoy risked his entire wealth in order to produce this film, but he has to pay an 8 percent Value Added Tax (VAT) and a 10 percent entertainment tax over his box office revenues from this film. This is certainly something we must ponder and discuss. Out of the first 17 days' revenues, Aksoy will pay TL 7 million to the state and he will have to share the remaining TL 33,880,000 with theater owners. Given the fact that he has invested TL 26 million in this film, we can say that he will get a sufficient return from his investment. But we should also ask, “What will remain for similar, meaningful projects?”

We may rightly criticize the defects and flaws of this successful film, but we should also take into consideration the extent to which conditions in the country are ripe for better productions. Shouldn't public authorities, particularly the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, stop lending support to film and art projects in advance, before seeing their outcomes, and start facilitating the life and works of filmmakers who perform outstandingly, despite unfavorable conditions? Who doesn't want Turkish cinema to produce good films with budgets of hundreds of millions of dollars, getting stronger with each new production? So shouldn't we stop overwhelming this sector -- which is one of the most effective tools of cultural representation of a country or civilization -- with extreme taxes and start supporting it?

For the time being, I reserve my criticisms about the movie's flaws and defects to the extremely sanitary appearance of the battlefield when the corpses of the fallen soldiers were being collected; the portrayal of Akşemsettin as more like Santa Clause than an Islamic scholar; the visible contradictions in the events concerning Era, a character apparently included to add romantic spice; the apparent amateurism of the scene concerning Fatih Sultan Mehmet's entry into İstanbul -- which, in my opinion, is the film's most important final scene. I believe these glitches are minor in the face of the film's overall success and quality.

I congratulate the producer and cast of “Fetih 1453,” which I believe will achieve similar success in box offices across the Muslim world.

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