Yilmaz Güney


Personal Info

  • Birth Name: Yilmaz Pütün
  • Height: 5' 11¾" (1.82 m)


Güney and his work were almost entirely unknown outside of his homeland Turkey until his 1981 escape from imprisonment in Turkey and his “discovery” the following year at the Cannes Film Festival for his autobiographical screenplay for Yol (1982), the festival’s grand prize winner. Born in 1937 in a village near the southern city of Adana, Güney studied law and economics at the universities in Ankara and Istanbul, but by the age of 21 he found himself actively involved in filmmaking. As Yesilcam, the Turkish studio system, grew in strength, a handful of directors, including Atif Yilmaz, began to use the cinema as a means of addressing the problems of the people. Only state-sanctioned melodramas, war films and play adaptations had previously played in Turkish theaters, but these new filmmakers began to fill the screens with more artistic, personal and relevant pictures of Turkish life. The most popular name to emerge from the Young Turkish Cinema was that of Yilmaz Güney. Güney was a gruff-looking young actor who earned the moniker “Cirkin Kral,” or “the Ugly King.” After apprenticing as a screenwriter for and assistant to Atif Yilmaz, Güney soon began appearing in as many as 20 films a year and became Turkey’s most popular actor. More than a screen idol, Güney was a Turk who believed in the Turkish people and their way of life, as well as being personally committed to social change. Although the early 1960s brought some political reform to Turkey, Güney was imprisoned in 1961 for 18 months for publishing a “communist” novel. The country’s political situation and Güney’s relationship with the authorities only became 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 and, by 1968, had formed his own production company, Güney Filmcilik. Over the next few years, the titles of his films mirrored the feelings of the Turkish people: Hope (1970); Agit (1972); _Acý (1971)_; Umutsuzlar (1971). After 1972, however, Güney would spend most of his life in prison. Arrested for harboring anarchist students, Güney was jailed during preproduction on The Poor (1975) (completed in 1975), and before completing Endise (1974), which was finished in 1974 by Güney’s assistant, Serif Gören. This was a cherished role that Gören would repeat over the next dozen years, directing several scripts that Güney wrote laboriously while behind bars. Released from prison in 1974 as part of a general amnesty, Güney was re-arrested that same year for shooting a judge. During this stretch of incarceration, his most successful screenplays were The Herd (1978) and The Enemy (1980), both directed by Zeki Ökten. After escaping from prison in 1981 and fleeing to France, Güney was greeted at the Cannes Film Festival with a Palme d’Or for Yol (1982), again directed by Gören. It was not until 1983 that Güney resumed directing, telling a brutal tale of imprisoned children in his final film, Le mur (1983), made in France with the cooperation of the French government. At that point, Güney’s name was unspeakable in his homeland; eleven of the films he directed or appeared in were confiscated and reportedly burned to ashes; even so much as writing about Güney was forbidden. Despite the great international success of Yol and Duvar, Güney was ultimately a Turkish director for the Turkish people; his final separation from his home audience must have been even more painful to endure than his years of imprisonment.


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