This year, which commemorates the centenary of the birth of Turkish cinema, has thankfully been a very successful one for Turkey’s film industry. The biggest news of the year has been that Nuri Bilge Ceylan took the Palme D’Or at Cannes for his three-hour-plus odyssey The Winter’s Sleep (currently in cinemas). And other Turkish films continue to do well at festivals, with Erol Mintaş’s Song of my Mother – a touching story of an elderly Kurdish woman yearning to return to her village in east Turkey – winning best picture at the 20th Sarajevo Film Festival just a few days ago. Tomorrow the Venice International Film Festival opens with two Turkish films in the running for the prestigious Gold Lion. And next month Istanbul Modern stages an exhibition paying tribute to 100 years of Turkish cinema.
Turkish documentaries too are gathering attention. Cem Kaya’s Remake, Remix, RipOff premiered earlier this month at the Locarno Film Festival and is attracting a lot of heat internationally. The venerable film magazine Variety describes it as ‘a raucous, rowdy and regrettably scatter-brain… side-splitting essay film’.
Kaya spent seven years researching the golden age of Turkish cinema, known as yesilçam. In the 1960s and 1970s, Turkey was one of the biggest producers of film in the world but didn’t have enough fresh material to pump out original movies, with the result that these decades became known as the ‘heyday of shameless exploitation movies’. Rather than writing new content, screenwriters and directors copied scripts and remade films made elsewhere. Name any Hollywood blockbuster and a Turkish version probably exists: Rocky (Kara Simsek), Rambo (Korkusuz), Star Trek (Omer the Tourist Travels to Space) and E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (Badi), to name but a few. It is this ‘copy culture’ that Kaya focuses on in his film. Full of interviews with academics and ex-industry players, and clips from the often hilarious Turkish remakes, Remake, Remix, RipOff is two hours of sensory overload on a fascinating subject.