1 April 1937
Yenice, Karataş, Turkey
|Died||9 September 1984 (aged 47)|
|Other names||Çirkin Kral (Ugly King)|
|Citizenship||Turkey (until 1982)|
|Occupation||Film director, screenwriter, actor|
(m. 1967; div. 1968)
Yılmaz Güney (né Pütün; 1 April 1937 – 9 September 1984) was a Kurdish film director, screenwriter, novelist, and actor. He quickly rose to prominence in the Turkish film industry. Many of his works were devoted to the plight of ordinary, working class people in Turkey. Güney won the Palme d'Or with the film Yol he co-produced with Şerif Gören at Cannes Film Festival in 1982. He was at constant odds with the Turkish government because of his portrayals of Kurdish culture, people and language in his movies. After killing a judge, something Yılmaz claimed to be innocent of, and being convicted in a trial in 1974, he fled the country and later lost his citizenship. One year before his death, in 1983, he co-founded the Kurdish Institue of Paris along with the Kurdish poets Cegerxwîn and Hejar among others.
Early life and education
Yılmaz Güney was born in 1937 in the Yenice county of Adana. His father Hamit was from Siverek in Şanlıurfa Province, who moved to Yenice after both of his brothers were murdered. His mother was from Varto in Muş Province. His parents migrated to Adana to work as cotton field laborers. As a result of his family background, young Yılmaz grew among the working class. Besides working in the cotton fields he also had several jobs like a movie delivery boy, a horse cart driver or writing short stories for a local magazine. This writing brought him into difficulties, as he wrote a story about a person aiming for a better world. The story was deemed as a communist propaganda and he had to stand trial for it. This was a strong background for his future works which generally focused on a realistic portrayal of downtrodden and marginalized strata of the population in the country. In 1957, Güney studied law at the Istanbul University for about 2 months, but was drawn into the film industry into which he had already connections from his time in Adana. In Istanbul he met Yasar Kemal, who connected him with other people from Adana working in the film industry in Istanbul.
Career in Turkey
As Yeşilçam, the Turkish studio system, a handful of directors, including Atıf Yılmaz, began to use cinema as a means of addressing the problems of the people. State-sanctioned melodramas, war films, and play adaptations had mostly previously been played in Turkish theaters. These new filmmakers began to shoot and screen more realistic pictures of Kurdish and Turkish life. Yılmaz Güney was one of the most popular names to emerge from this trend, a gruff-looking young actor who earned the moniker Çirkin Kral ("the Ugly King" in Turkish) or "paşay naşirîn" in Kurdish. After working as an apprentice screenwriter for and assistant to Atıf Yılmaz, Güney soon began appearing in as many as 20 films a year and became Turkey's one of the most popular actors.
The early 1960s brought restricted freedom to Turkey, and Güney was imprisoned from 1960 to 1962. In prison he wrote what some labeled a "communist" novel, They Died with Their Heads Bowed. The country's political situation and Güney's relationship with the authorities became even more tense in the ensuing years. Not content with his star status atop the Turkish film industry, Güney began directing his own pictures in 1965. By 1968 he had formed his own production company, Güney Filmcilik. Over the next few years, the titles of his films mirrored the feelings of the people of Turkey: Umut (Hope, 1970); Ağıt (Elegy, 1972); Acı (Pain, 1971); The Hopeless (1971). Umut is considered to be the first realistic film of Turkish Cinema, the American director Elia Kazan was among the first to praise the film; "Umut is a poetic film, completely native, not an imitation of Hollywood or any of the European masters, it had risen out of a village environment".
After the military coup in March 1971, he was in pretrail for weeks, and he decided to leave Istanbul to evade further trouble with the authorities. Arrested for harboring anarchist students, Güney was jailed in 1972 during preproduction of Zavallılar (The Miserable, 1975), and before completing Endişe (Worry, 1974), which was finished in 1974 by Güney's assistant, Şerif Gören. This was a role that Gören would repeat over the next dozen years, directing several scripts that Güney wrote in prison.
Released from prison in 1974 as part of a general amnesty, Güney was re-arrested that same year for shooting Sefa Mutlu, the public prosecutor of Yumurtalık district in Adana Province, to death in a night club as a result of a drunken row and given a prison sentence of 19 years. Güney has always declared his innocence. During this stretch of incarceration, his most successful screenplays were Sürü (The Herd, 1978) and Düşman (The Enemy, 1979), both directed by Zeki Ökten. Düşman won an Honourable Mention at the 30th Berlin International Film Festival in 1980.
Güney's first marriage was with fellow Turkish actress and Miss Turkey, Nebahat Çehre, who co-starred alongside Güney in several films. Their relationship began in 1964 and they married in 1967. Prior to his marriage, Güney fathered a daughter, Elif Güney Pütün, from his relationship with Birsen Can Ünal.
Despite Güney and Nebahat Çehre's divorce in 1968, many of those closest to Güney have always regarded Çehre to have been the love of his life.
Later, Güney married Jale Fatma Süleymangil, more commonly known as Fatoş Güney, in 1970. Together, they had a son, Remzi Yılmaz Pütün.
Exile and death
In September 1980, Güney's works were banned by the new military junta. Güney declared, "There are only two possibilities: to fight or to give up, I chose to fight". After escaping from prison in 1981 and fleeing to France, Güney won the Palme d'Or at the 1982 Cannes Film Festival for his film Yol, whose director in the field was once again Şerif Gören. It was not until 1983 that Güney resumed directing, telling a brutal tale of imprisoned children in his final film, Duvar (The Wall, 1983), made in France with the cooperation of the French government. Meanwhile, Turkey's government revoked his citizenship and a court sentenced him to twenty-two extra years in jail.
A biography of Güney, Halkın Sanatçısı, Halkın Savaşçısı: Yılmaz Güney, was published by Dönüşüm Publishing in 1992, and reprinted in 2000. Its publisher was fined in 2001 because of some of the book's content, although this was overturned in 2003 when the relevant law was repealed.
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