Posted by Jeff Stafford on November 17, 2006
On a recent trip to Istanbul, amid the expected sightseeing at the historical treasures (Topkapi Palace, the Basilica Cistern, the Haghia Sophia, the Blue Mosque), I wanted to experience a movie with a Turkish audience and chose to see a film – any film – at the majestic Emek Theatre which hosts the Istanbul International Film Festival every year in April. I was hoping that “Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan” would be playing but instead it was “Babel,” the new angst-ridden, infernally convoluted human tragedy from the creative team of director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu and screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga who are currently embroiled in an ugly credit war over the movie. But enough about them. The Emek is worth a visit, regardless of what is playing. Located on Yesilcam Sokak, a quiet side street off the busy Istiklal Caddesi, The Emek was build sometime in the 1920s and despite a renovation in 1993 has retained its beautiful original design, including a rococo-style ceiling, a spacious balcony section and a sprawling downstairs orchestra area.
When you buy a ticket, you get an assigned seat – no, you don’t get to chose except to request either downstairs or balcony. Then you are escorted to your seat by a middle aged or older usher. This must be the only place besides the Arclight Cinemas in Los Angeles that still has ushers. If you don’t like your seat, tough. Actually, you can move after the movie starts if you see any vacant seats you like but it’s best to wait at least 10-15 minutes because patrons keep drifting in right up until showtime. First comes a lot of trailers. My favorite was a new Turkish sci-fi film that looks almost as nutty and as low budget as the Turkish version of “Star Wars.” Then comes a bunch of commercials which are closer to comedy sketches than what we get in the States. And finally the main feature begins. It was refreshing to note that hardly anyone in the theatre was using a cell phone or text messaging during the film but maybe I just hit it on a day when everyone was more interested in watching Brad Pitt cry. Suddenly in the middle of the movie, the projectionist stopped the film, the lights came up and a beautiful gold brocade curtain which hadn’t appeared before came down over the screen. Intermission time.
This lasted for about 12 minutes as audience members retired to the lobby to chain smoke or sample some of the snackbar specialities. Popcorn is indeed served in Turkish cinemas but so are Coca-Cola favored gummy bears and nut-studded pastries. Then it was back for the misery-drenched conclusion of “Babel” but whenever my attention started to wonder I would stare at the opulent surroundings I was in. They don’t make grand movie palaces like this anymore. In fact, they usually tear them down because they only host one screen and are not profitable. The Emek’s days may be numbered too since it faces a huge development-in-the-works and it’s said that the block that houses the Emek, where several Turkish movie companies once prospered (now gone) during the peak of the Turkish film industry in 1970, has been approved for redevelopment as well. It will be terrible shame if this cultural treasure gets destroyed by progress so if you visit Istanbul anytime soon, check this place out if you want to have a memorable movie experience or just hide out from the rug hawkers in Sultanahmet. For more information about the Turkish film industry, check out this link
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