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The 56-year Story Of The Unmade Ataturk Film

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  • The 56-year Story Of The Unmade Ataturk Film


    Turkish Daily News
    Oct 31 2007

    Last week, famous American actor Kevin Costner was quoted saying
    "I may play Ataturk." Coming on the eve of the 84th year anniversary
    of the Turkish Republic, the statement hit a sensitive point in the
    Turkish psyche

    Last week, famous American actor Kevin Costner was quoted saying
    "I may play Ataturk," a seemingly inconsequential statement yet one
    that frustrates Turks because no such advancements have been made
    even though many other celebrities including Omar Sharif, Antonio
    Banderas, Yul Brynner and Robert De Niro have previously claimed they
    would be playing Turkey's founding father, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk,
    on the big screen.

    Since the 1950s, attempts to make a film based on Ataturk's life
    have been on the agenda but they have not yielded any fruit. Renowned
    Turkish director Metin Erksan said that the whole adventure dates back
    to when famed American actor Douglas Fairbanks Jr. was greeted with
    a state ceremony upon his arrival in Turkey in 1951. Fairbanks was
    then quoted saying that he is ready to play Ataturk. Once Fairbanks
    returned to the United States, however, problems were encountered in
    the script and the project landed itself a place in history as the
    first Ataturk film never to be made.

    British actor Laurence Olivier believes that the film will be realized
    regardless of the difficulties, and wants to play the part.

    Nevertheless, his attempts, as well as his son's many years later,
    remain futile.

    Next is world-renowned producer Cecil B. DeMille. Known for his films
    "The Ten Commandments" and "Samson and Delilah," DeMille asked for
    help from both Turkish and English governments to make a film on
    Ataturk. Even though he received a positive answer from England,
    Turkey remained indifferent. Following DeMille's death, his Turkish
    co-producer Adil Ozkaptan mets with president at the time, Cemal
    Gursel. Even the leading actor of the project is set: Yul Brynner,
    the 1950s' heartthrob.

    Cinema historian Burcak Evren recounts Yul Brynner's adventure about
    the role of Ataturk as follows: "He was determined to play in a
    film about Ataturk. He went to the Sultanahmet Mosque (Blue Mosque)
    listening to the Koran for some time. He was affected but he wanted
    to affect others more. He was later invited to a dinner at the
    Dolmabahce Palace. Upon entering the room where Ataturk had passed
    away, he took off his hat, fell on his knees, and said he bowed in to
    Ataturk's memory. He met with President Cemal Gursel for 35 minutes
    the next day."

    Made a book out of his 24 year work

    Even though one might think that everything went well, even with
    Ataturk's close associates Falih Rıfkı Atay and Kılıc Ali offering
    consultation about the project, it was never realized. There are also
    those that would not let such a project to be realized, arguing that
    "He is a being too grand to fit into history. He can never be fitted
    into a film."

    Journalists, however, are happy with the path Yul Brynner has paved
    and ask each and every Hollywood star whether they would like to play
    Ataturk. The 50 years that have gone by turned this into a tradition.

    Turkey had just come over a military coup in the 1980s. It was very
    difficult to talk about an independent Ataturk film. In 1987, Kenan
    Evren, president at the time, took the issue in his hands and gave
    instructions to have the film made. The big question at the time was
    whether Ataturk should be handled only as a soldier or would it also
    depict him with his human aspects. The answer was clear: It would
    handle his personal life, but not to the extreme.

    Finally 10 scripts made it to the presidential palace. Two of them,
    Halit Refiğ's "The War Veteran and Latife" ("Gazi ve Latife") and
    Refik Erduran's "Metamorphosis" ("Metamorfoz") were well liked.

    However, as Refiğ's scenario handled Ataturk's marriage, it was
    shelved and Feyzi Tuna directed "The Metamorphosis."

    Even in the face of all the negativity, former Bosporus University
    chancellor, Professor Semih Tezcan, also wanted to handle the
    subject. His adventure lasted 24 years and remained futile. But in
    2005, he wrote a book titled "How the Ataturk film was sabotaged." He
    dedicated the book to the two people he saw responsible for the
    sabotage of the film: Mesut Yılmaz, culture and tourism minister at
    the time, and Hasan Celal Guzel, state minister at the time.

    Actors have grown old waiting for the role

    The years that go by caused foreign producers to forget the walls
    Turkey has built around the project. Tarquin Olivier, the son of the
    famous actor, embarked on an adventure of 10 years, making him the
    most stubborn producer to strive for a film on Ataturk. The image
    of Ataturk he had in mind was Antonio Banderas. The fact that the
    Spanish actor's features were much darker than the blond-haired and
    blue-eyed Ataturk sparked debate.

    These debates faded as the film got stuck on the Feb. 28 process.

    It was later postponed for good after the Armenian lobby in the
    United States threatened Banderas that it would not be good for him
    if he played the part of Ataturk. During an interview a couple of
    years later, Banderas said he never got an offer to play Ataturk but
    that he could not imagine there would be any actor in the world that
    would like to play the part. He added: "Playing great beings such as
    Ataturk is very risky. I could have drawn much criticism with a very
    small mistake."

    Banderas's statement reminds one of actor Ahmet Mekin's worries.

    Resembling Ataturk, Mekin has waited for the part all his life but
    has grown too old for it. "I could not have played a simple role
    after having played a great man like Ataturk," he said.

    Today, there is still one man that is determined to make the film,
    not letting the previous failures get to him. With his script at hand,
    Fuad Kavur, who lives in England, meets with producers to realize
    the film. Kavur has two actors in mind for the role of Ataturk: The
    latest James Bond Daniel Craig and Jude Law. Both actors are British
    and both have blond hair with blue eyes.

    Only Americans can do it

    In his book, director Metin Erksan asks the question whether a film
    about Ataturk should be made by Turks or by foreigners. For Erksan,
    only Americans can undertake such a project. "It can be someone like
    Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, or George Lucas," said Erksan.

    The heated debate over "which Ataturk?"

    When one studies the chronology of 56 years of unmade Ataturk films,
    one can see the real reason why such a film was never realized. Turkey
    would never like to see its founding father, which it sees as a holy
    person, be portrayed as a person with human weaknesses. Ataturk's
    military personality is indisputable. But just as his charismatic pose
    in military uniform, his poses in a swimming trunk at the seashore,
    or swinging with childish joy are also equally effective. However,
    while the state supports Ataturk's military aspects in the projects
    it has supported up until today, it has overlooked an image of Ataturk
    that had good relations with women or enjoyed the drinking tables.

    Good luck to all adventurers that would still like to undertake such
    a project after having read this article and I hope that such an
    article is not written on the 100th anniversary of the Republic.


    Atilla Dorsay (Film Critic)

    "The state would not allow"

    I do not believe an Ataturk film that can have the Turkish state's
    backing can be made because we have not reached an accord on the past
    and placed Ataturk in place where everyone view him the same.

    Moreover, we are over sensitive and susceptible over this issue.

    This film should have been made a long time ago. But we need to start
    somewhere; it does not mean it can never be made. Just as films on
    Gandhi or Che Guevara were made, we must make a film on Ataturk.

    Everyone has an [image of] Ataturk in his mind and we should approach
    the subject with respect for all.

    Halit Refiğ (Director)

    "There is a schizophrenic idea about Ataturk"

    In Turkey, there is a schizophrenic idea about Ataturk, a division
    of opinions. It would be impossible to make film about Ataturk
    without getting rid of this first. For us, the subject of Ataturk
    has holy aspects. When foreigners would like to make such a film,
    they would not think like us but look at the subject commercially. I
    do not believe a serious and realistic film would attract Westerners
    because Ataturk founded the republic fighting against the West.

    Fuad Kavur (Director-scriptwriter)

    "His table was like a philosophy class"

    I wrote my script. The producer has it. I wrote it as a film, not
    as a history class. The viewer would not be pleased if it senses a
    propaganda film. Therefore, one needs to be objective. My film is based
    on his reformism. I did not abstract him from the table of dining and
    alcohol or from women. His table where he drank was not a table to get
    drunk. It was much like dialectic classes of Aristotle and Plato where
    he exchanged opinions with the others around the table. Why would we
    develop Ataturk into a taboo? He was a human being just like us. His
    only difference was that he was very intelligent. I do not think the
    government would prevent me from making this film. While I was writing
    the script, I was in close contact with the Turkish Embassy in England.

    Copyright 2005, Turkish Daily News. This article is redistributed with
    permission for personal use of Groong readers. No part of this article
    may be reproduced, further distributed or archived without the prior
    permission of the publisher. Contact Turkish Daily News Online at for details.
    What if I find someone else when looking for you? My soul shivers as the idea invades my mind.

  • #2
    Re: The 56-year Story Of The Unmade Ataturk Film

    it is a turkish advertisement film, published 10 octobet 07 (3 week ago)