chapter  8
21 Pages

Istanbul through Migrants’ Eyes

Withúpek Türeli

Cinema is a vital yet relatively untapped source that can be used to study Istanbul from many angles. While it entered Istanbul earlier (Nezih Erdoùan, Chapter 7), domestic cinema became a vibrant institution within the social and economic life of the city only from the 1950s onwards. Transformations in the city, including rural-to-urban mass migrations, housing problems, and class encounters, have all proved to be rich issues for films to draw on. The theme of migration is especially prominent across popular genres such as melodrama and comedy. If we were to make a list of ‘migration films’, Halit Refiù’s Gurbet Kuüları (Birds of Exile, or Birds of Nostalgia, 1964) and Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s Uzak (Distant, 2003) would be among the earliest and latest most well-known examples of internal (rural-tourban) migration films.1 Migration was formative in the rapid growth of Istanbul in the second half of the twentieth century so much so that contemporary Istanbul can be considered a ‘city of migrants’ with most of its adult population born elsewhere in Turkey. Although no longer the driving force of the city’s population growth, migration remains central to cultural imagination. How do these two films reflect the changes that occurred in the city in the forty years that separate them? Situating the films within the history of Turkish cinema, this chapter analyses the framing of the city, in particular of key buildings and vistas. Furthermore, it examines how ideas of the rural/provincial and urban are woven into articulations of national identity and citizenship.