by mh musings
Yeşilçam is to Turkey what Hollywood is to the United States. It was the epicenter of the Turkish film industry and named after Yeşilçam street in the Beyoğlu district, where many of the filmmakers, actors and theaters were based. The industry’s most prolific period was between the 1950s and 1970s, when at its peak the industry produced 250 to 350 films annually. Political tensions, funding constraints and, eventually, the advent of the VCR brought the industry to its knees, until Turkish film-making became rejuvenated in the 90s through the world of dizis we know today. Despite its decline, Yeşilçam movies are well-loved in Turkey as the famous ones depict tales of love, brotherhood, morality, family and other social mores that speak to the masses. They represent a nostalgic period of the country’s history while social-political changes forced cultural and economic shifts across the country between the 50s to the 80s.
Written by Levent Cantek and Volkan Sümbül, who spoke to us earlier this year, the Turkish streaming service BluTV original Yeşilçam, starring Çağatay Ulusoy, takes the viewer into the chaotic world of Yeşilçam in the 1960s. It gives us a slice of life for various players of the film industry, set against social movements in Turkey.
Çağatay plays the role of Semih Ateş, a passionate film producer down on his luck but not on his vigor to tell good stories through cinema. Unlike the commercial producers who only care about financial gains, Semih is entrepreneurial and has a moral compass that attempts to do the right thing. With the industry still adapting to the political changes from the 1960 coup d’état and with current tensions from upcoming elections of 1965, politics and the film industry gets irreversibly entwined. Through Semih’s experiences, we see the emergence of a political awakening among filmmakers as we witness the best and the worst in people. Brutal realities of a cutthroat industry define the course of lives.
Among the important cast of characters are Mine, Semih’s ex-wife and a well-known star of Yeşilçam; her younger brother Hakan, who is Semih’s business partner; Belkis, Semih’s estranged mother and a powerful madame in Yeşilçam; Reha, a smooth-talking, well-financed producer who rides on his wife’s wealth while keeping Mine as a mistress; Tülin, a fresh-faced newcomer into Yeşilçam who shares Semih’s pure love for films; Izzet, a rising star within the Justice Party and heir apparent to Ragip Gümüşpala, the elderly leader of the party; Rifki, a henchman for the Justice Party or a rainmaker who aligns himself with whoever wields power; and Turgut, one of Semih’s writer friends who is a known communist and has been persecuted as such.
Some real-life characters such as actor Ayhan Işik, Director Atif Yılmaz, controversial filmmaker and actor Yılmaz Güney, are also interwoven into the narrative, creating a rich tapestry of life in Yeşilçam. A world where alliances, passion, integrity, ambition, atonement all interplay with each other as social changes sweep through the country. For a brief recap of the 10 episodes from Season 1, watch this translated video:
A well-crafted period piece with renowned director Çağan İrmak at its helm, Yeşilçam is a statement from and about the Turkish film industry. Standing on the shoulders of a well-researched and brilliant script, this limited series is as much a showcase of modern Turkish film-making as it is an ode to a bygone era.
The first season focuses on Semih’s journey as he works to regain his position in the industry after a series of failures, a divorce from the love of his life, and the increasingly intolerant political climate. He keeps on hitting walls but the ever-enterprising, optimistic and astute storyteller somehow always lands on his feet, helped by his allies in various ways. All the characters are well sketched out, costuming and set design are well researched, and cinematic details allude to historical events in creative ways.
The stunning production gives the casual viewer deep insights into how the industry got shaped in a secular country trying to define its own identity within a turbulent global political wave. For deeper context and understanding, as a complement to your viewing experience, you can read our episode reviews on our website for Cagatay Ulusoy North America.
Season 2 is coming to BluTV on Thursday, October 28. The service will drop 5 episodes on the first day and then release one episode per week. The new season takes a five year time jump into 1969, another election year. Pop culture and the entertainment industry is greatly influenced by the West, while anti-American sentiment is growing in the country. There are increasing tensions between the political left and the right, while certain filmmakers venture into confronting social issues through cinema. Meanwhile, extra-marital affairs, drugs, drunken orgies, rock and roll, have all seeped into the fabric of an industry looking to thrive against the tide. How will the new waves change Yeşilçam and how will Semih Ateş adapt? Will he remain true to himself and his love?
We are looking forward to another season of a tight story well told. We hope for a satisfying conclusion for a project that made us question, understand and learn about an important film industry and how it boomed in its heydays. At the hands of an excellent ensemble cast led by the versatile Çağatay Ulusoy, it is a keystone production for the industry in many ways. We wish it the best for local and international success!
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