This Turkish photographer, screenwriter, actor, and last but not least, film director, has been under the spotlight since May, when his latest film WINTER SLEEP won the Palme d’Or at Cannes Film Festival. The film also won the FIPRESCI Prize and has been selected as the Turkish entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 87th Academy Awards.
Nuri Bildge Ceylan fell in love with photography at the age of 15. In 1976, having graduated from high school, he began studying chemical engineering at Istanbul Technical University. These, however, were turbulent times; and lectures were constantly interrupted by boycotts, clashes, and political polarization. A couple years later he switched his course to bachelor studies of electrical engineering at Boğaziçi University in Istanbul, where he participated in cinema and photography clubs and took passport-style photos to make pocket money. After graduating from university, he travelled to London and Kathmandu to figure out what to do in life.During his military service back in Ankara Nuri discovered that cinema would be the common thread of his life.
He began by acting in a short film directed by his friend Mehmet Eryılmaz, but at the same time participating in the entire technical process of filmmaking from beginning to end, thus building on the knowledge he already had.
In 1993, he began shooting the short film KOZA (Cocoon), using a combination of negative he brought back in a suitcase from Russia and some stock long past its expiry date that he was given by the state broadcaster TRT. The film was screened at Cannes in May 1995 and became the first Turkish short to be selected for competition at the Cannes Film Festival.
His next three full-length feature films could be considered sequels to KOZA; they have also been described by some as his ‘provincial trilogy’: KASABA (The Small Town, 1997), MAYIS SIKINTISI (Clouds of May, 1999) and UZAK (Distant, 2002). In all of these films, Ceylan enlisted his close friends, relatives and family as actors and took on just about every technical role himself: the cinematography, sound design, production, editing, writing and directing.
When UZAK won the Grand Prix at the 2003 Cannes Film Festival, Ceylan suddenly became an internationally recognized name. Continuing on the festival circuit after Cannes, UZAK scooped a total of 47 awards, 23 of them international, and so became the most award-winning film in the history of Turkish cinema. The film took home the Best Actor Prize at Cannes; Best Director, Best Film, Best Screenplay, and Best Supporting Actor at the 2002 Antalya Golden Orange Film Festival, a Silver Hugo/Special Jury Prize at the 2003 Chicago International Film Festival, Best Turkish Director, Best Turkish Film, and the FIPRESCI Prize at the 2003 Istanbul International Film Festival, and the FIPRESCI Film of the Year at the 2003 San Sebastian International Film Festival.
His next film İKLİMLER (Climates), from 2006, again premiered at the Cannes Film Festival, this time getting the FIPRESCI Prize. The lead roles in this film were shared by Nuri Bilge and his wife Ebru Ceylan. Competing at the 61st Cannes Film Festival with his 2008 film ÜÇ MAYMUN (Three Monkeys), Nuri Bilge won the Best Director award. ÜÇ MAYMUN later went on to become the first Turkish film to make the Oscar shortlist in the Academy Awards Foreign Language Film category. In 2009, the director returned to Cannes, this time as a member of the main competition jury. In 2011, his film ONCE UPON A TIME IN ANATOLIA won the Grand Prix again at Cannes Film Festival.
His latest production, WINTER SLEEP, has been acclaimed by the public and the critics, being the longest film at the 2014 Cannes competition by far (with 196 minutes). The multi-awarded Turkish director was filled with surprise when he took the stage to receive the highest prize at Cannes. In his acceptance speech he said, “I want to dedicate the prize to all the young people of Turkey, including those who lost their lives”, in honor of those who were part of the protests that started in 2013. He also mentioned the workers who were killed in the Soma mine disaster, which occurred on the day prior to the commencement of the awards event. Ceylan’s films deal with the estrangement of the individual, existentialism, the monotony of human lives, and the details of everyday life. His style is marked by the use of static shots and long takes, usually in natural settings. He also enjoys to play with sound, including the use of menacing silences. He is known for filming his protagonist from behind, which, in his view, leaves the audiences to speculate on the brooding emotions of characters whose faces are obscured. Ceylan makes films on an extremely low budget. One of his unique characteristics is casting amateur actors, most of which are his family members, including his mother and father. Here at ÉCU we are big admirers of Nuri Bildge Ceylan’s work. We have been closely following his career for years and we can’t wait to see where his talent will still lead him.