Monday, May 1, 2017

Shooting the Great War in Turkey

In November 1914, the Ottoman Empire entered the First World War. The Turkish government was aware that propaganda activities were necessary to promote the war effort. The first step was to demolish a Russian monument in the suburbs of Istanbul and film the event so that it could be shown to a large audience. First an Austrian company was commissioned to do the filming. However later it was decided that such a patriotic event had to be filmed by a Turk.

Captain von Schroeder explaining the workings of a German cinematographic camera to Enver Paşa, the Turkish minister of war. Photo © Imperial War Museum 

The task was given to Fuat Efendi, who was then under arms as a reserve officer. The problem was that while he had mastered film screening, Fuat Efendi did not know how to shoot film. It is told by several Turkish film historians that Austrian experts taught Fuat Efendi and on November 14, 1914, the Russian monument was demolished with Fuat Efendi recording the event. Thus the first motion picture shot by a Turk in Turkey was made.

Turkish Army Cinematography Office

In 1915, during his visit to Germany, the minister of war, Enver Paşa, watched footage taken by the German Army for purposes of propaganda and training. The Germans had even made a film of Enver’s visit to a shooting range in Germany. Deeply impressed by what he had seen, Enver Paşa ordered the establishment of a cinematography branch in the Ottoman Army, modeled after its German counterpart.

The Central Army Cinematography Office was established in 1915. In its early stages, this office shot footage which was not directly related to military propaganda. Some of the first films were titled Enver Paşa’s Horses and The Newly Born Child of Enver Paşa’s Wife. Apart from meeting Enver Paşa's demands for self-promotion, these early films seem to have little historical value. The Army Cinematography Office was dissolved in 1918. During its short life, it managed to produce a significant number of documentaries and newsreels, using mostly camera equipment from Germany and Austria.

As described in our book, American Cinematographers in the Great War, the Germans were particularly interested in showing war films in Turkey to boost public morale, and in 1916 they sent Hearst cameraman Nelson E. Edwards to Constantinople (Istanbul) to cover the Turkish side of the war.

The website Turkey in the First World War has more on these early films.

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