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Censorship Bedevils Movie Makers in Turkey

May 16, 1987|EMEL ANIL | Associated Press

ISTANBUL, Turkey — The best and the brightest in the Turkish movie industry are lining up against strict government censorship, which they claim is stifling the artistic growth of the film industry in Turkey.

"If the censorship law does not change, the only solution may be unified protest," says award-winning director Akif Yilmaz. "Whatever it is, something absolutely must be done."

Film maker Mujde Ar agreed. "We must organize against censorship. We may refuse to make any movies, or we may refuse to send them to the censorship board," she said.

Ar's latest movie, "A Woman to Be Hanged," was rejected by the censorship board, which is composed of six dozen mid-level bureaucrats and only one movie industry representative. Board decisions can be appealed in court, which is what Ar has done.

Also awaiting a court decision for release is Serif Goren's "Alley of Hope." He also directed "Yol" ("The Road"), which won the Cannes Film Festival's Golden Palm award in 1982.

Several other new movies cleared the censorship board only after significant cuts and changes were made.

A watered-down censorship decree was passed last year, raising hopes that government vigilance would be relaxed. The decree authorized the Culture Ministry to set up a "supervision committee," or censorship board. In addition, prior approval of scripts was lifted.

"Police censorship was over; a more civilian control was established," recalled Onat Kutlar, movie critic and manager of Istanbul's annual film festival.

However, hopes quickly crumbled when some of the best productions of the 1986-87 season got the thumbs down sign from the board.

Writers and directors claim the better movies usually run into the most trouble because they typically deal with controversial subjects, espouse new views and knock down taboos.

"The Woman to Be Hanged," for instance, is the story of a young female servant who is brought up in a decadent, rich household and eventually ends up sexually serving the men of the family.

"It is the most moral of stories. The movie criticizes sexual abuse of women, repression and use of women as a piece of property," says writer Pinar Kur, who is also a well-known novelist.

Basar Sabuncu, the director of the movie, laments that authorities never even explained exactly what they found objectionable in the film.

"They only implied that they objected to words in the film such as tramp, whore, or lice-infested peasant, as if these are not in everyday use in the language," he said.

The major complaint is that censorship guidelines are extremely vague, generalized and subjective. Article 9 of the censorship code forbids anything that runs against traditions or public morality, that denigrates friendly countries or Turkey's honor or any respectable profession.

"I once asked a board member what he would consider pornographic, and he answered, 'Anything that turns me on,' " critic Kutlar said.

Two Copies Made

Ironically, cheaply made movies with plenty of explicit sexual scenes are shown in movie houses throughout Turkey. According to industry sources, producers of those movies make two copies--a "clean" one for the censorship board and another for actual screening with pornographic scenes added.

Sometimes a movie house is raided and the show stopped. But Kutlar said these film makers often get away with it because officials, aware that they cannot police all movie houses, ignore the problem.

For the ambitious film maker who hopes to take his work abroad for competition in international film festivals, there are other obstacles. To legally go out of the country, a movie must get the censorship board's seal of approval. Yilmaz's "Yol" was smuggled out of Turkey but was then banned from screening in the country.

The movie colony itself is divided on the censorship problem.

Most producers urge compromise in the form of cuts and changes and even prior self-censorship. Even though courts almost always overrule the censorship board, a lengthy court case and consequent delayed release can spell financial ruin for producers, Kutlar said.

On the other side are the artists, such as Ar, who call for resistance to any form of censorship. "There is no such thing as little or too much censorship," she said. "All censorship is meaningless, pitiful and primitive."

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