New Wave Turkish Cinema: An Introduction

Turkey, like many other nations around the world, vigorously developed their film
industry between the 1950s and 1970s. Known as the Yeşilçam Period, the era was named after the street in the Beyoğlu district of Istanbul, where many actors, directors, and film companies were based. Producing mostly commercial films for domestic consumption, the industry became one of the world’s biggest.

(Law of the Borders, 1967) Lütfi Akad

Law of the Border.jpg



Economic and political problems throughout the 1980s and early 90s in Turkey did not only cripple the Turkish film industry, it also greatly shaped the renaissance that would come soon after.


The mid 1990’s defined a new wave of young Turkish artists, motivated by Internationally acclaimed director Nuri Bilge Ceylan.

Ceylan is known for his minimalist aesthetic created by static and wide-angled shots inspired by his photographic background as well as long pauses and the omission of soundtracks, adding to his films’ realism.

These new filmmakers were fueled by the idea of creating films without artistic compromise. During its inception, this new style of cinema was not popular in Turkey, yet managed to survive with its small local fanbase due to its global appeal in the international film festival circuit through its aesthetic, political subtext that reflected a certain global awareness of international cinema. Its success also motivated filmmakers to create further content without much focus on box office success.


(Winter Sleep, 2014) Nuri Bilge Ceylan


Common characteristics of New Turkish Cinema include:

  • Children narrating the stories of ordinary people.
  • Small town settings.
  • Unknown or nonprofessional actors.
  • Generational micro-political discourses reflected through isolation and identity.
  • Reflection on the effects of the military intervention of 9/12/80 and it’s effect on Turkey. Narrative usually involve children suffering.
  • Films set in big cities usually have a multicultural and progressive political perspective focusing on marginalized groups.

Thematic and Stylistic Inspirations

Turkish New Wave films draws a likeness to Italian Neo-Realism. Directors like Ceylan, for example, often hired nonactors, sometimes his own family members. This is similar to Vittorio De Sica’s 1948  The Bicycle Thieves where non-actors were hired to foster more realistism. Protagonists are often ordinary people dealing with daily routines. Slow storytelling, long takes, minimal action and dialogue and natural lighting and décor are all common stylistic characteristics of New Wave Turkish Cinema.

A Man’s World 

Although the representation of women in these films is a vast improvement from earlier films, Female representation within the new circle of directors was few and far in between. This is shaped by an ambivalence of the filmmakers and is representative of the cultural subordination of women to men. Yesim+Ustaoglu+56th+San+Sebastian+Film+Festival+B8EpfZk1Uekl.jpg

Acclaimed Turkish female director, Yesim Ustaoglu, is one of a handful of women to gain recognition in Turkey’s male dominated industry. Her international recognition began with Journey to the Sun (1999), her story about a friendship between a Turk and a Kurd. Her fourth film Pandora’s Box (2008) won the Best Film and Best Actress awards at the San Sebastian festival and is so her biggest international achievement so far.



Other pioneers of the Turkish New Wave

Zeki Demirkubuz:

His life and films are highly influenced by political turmoils in 1980’s Turkey.  He gained the notice of film critics and international audiences with Innocence (1997), which was screened at numerous festivals in Turkey and Europe. This was followed by the successful reception of Fate (2001) and Confession (2002), both screened at Cannes. His films tackle ethics and explore the darkness of the human soul.

(Fate, 2001) Zeki Demirkubuz


Dervis Zaim

Born in Cyprus, Zaim achieved international recognition with his 1997 debut feature Somersault in a Coffin. His Cypriot-Turk identity has led him to tackle political issues in many of his films.

(Summersault in a coffin, 1997) Dervis Zaim


Unlike other New Wave directors, he does not agree that minimalism is a necessary component of non-mainstream cinema. Music and dialogue are essential elements of his films, which often depart from conventional film structure.


Today, Turkish cinema blurs the line between mainstream and independent. The new brood of auteurs that ventured to manifest their visions through film two decades ago are now the most prominent filmmakers in Turkey.


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