ISTANBUL (Reuters Life!) - Israel may not like it, but a popular Turkish TV and film franchise which once depicted a Jewish doctor stealing organs from Muslim prisoners in Iraq now has plans to release a film set in Palestine.
“Valley of the Wolves: Palestine” is projected to cost over $10 million, making it one of the most expensive Turkish films.
Scheduled for a November release, the new project follows the 2006 feature “Valley of the Wolves: Iraq.”
That film, which showed American soldiers running amok in northern Iraq, racked up 4.2 million ticket sales in Turkey and accusations of rampant anti-Americanism and anti-Semitism.
“After Iraq, we decided that in the next Polat movie we are going to tell again an international story,” said scriptwriter Bahadir Ozdener, sitting in an office lined with antique cameras in Nisantasi, an upscale Istanbul neighborhood.
The series’ hero is Polat Alemdar, a gun-toting agent with a fondness for sharp tailoring and a dearth of facial expressions.
Played by Necati Sasmaz - who had never acted before - and dubbed by another actor, Polat is sometimes described as the Turkish James Bond. Millions of young Turks idolize him, imitating his mannerisms and speech.
In the new film Ozdener says his intention is “to shed light on the history, on what’s really going on in Palestine.”
He described the conflict as “a very good example of the imperialists’ targets.”
Turkey is a long-time NATO member, a traditional ally of the United States, and a friend of Israel’s since the mid-1990s.
The country has a secular constitution, but Turks are Muslim and Valley of the Wolves reflects some sentiments that may not always be sympathetic toward Israel.
“The narrative of the serial is an alternative narrative to what is going on,” added Orhan Tekelioglu, an academic who has written about the show in his column in the Radikal newspaper.
“It simply says, Turkey is under the attack of foreign powers, firstly the U.S., secondly Israel.”
Turkey’s ruling AK Party has roots in political Islam, and it has made concerted efforts to build better ties with fellow Muslim neighbors, while staying committed to the West.
But relations with Israel have deteriorated of late, mainly because of Turkey’s criticism of Israeli actions in Gaza.
Valley of the Wolves: Palestine comes shortly after the franchise’s last brush with Israeli disapproval.
In January - following an episode of the television serial that showed Israeli agents kidnapping a Turkish child - Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon summoned Turkey’s ambassador.
Their meeting turned into a very public snub, when Ayalon refused to shake Ambassador Ahmet Oguz Celikkol’s hand and sat the Turkish diplomat on a low chair in front of TV cameras.
A furor ensued, and now Israeli officials remain tight-lipped about the upcoming film, which will see Polat Alemdar at large in Gaza, the West Bank and Jerusalem.
“We cannot respond on anything we haven’t seen yet,” said Tal Gat, Israel’s deputy consul general in Istanbul.
The Anti-Defamation League - an American group that campaigns against anti-Semitism - argued that the franchise sits at odds with Ottoman traditions of religious tolerance.
“Turkey has a unique history of not having been infected by anti-Semitism,” said Abraham Foxman, the ADL’s National Director. “The irony is that today it’s engaging in anti-Semitism through mass media.”
The Valley of the Wolves franchise - made by production company Pana Film - has enjoyed tremendous success in Turkey.
The title evokes mythological images from a story beloved by nationalists of a lone wolf that guided Turks out of a Central Asian valley where they had been trapped by enemies.
The television series, known as ‘Kurtlar Vadisi’ in Turkish, first aired in 2003. The initial, mafia-focused plot saw Polat Alemdar tasked to penetrate Turkish organized crime.
With a regular quota of gunfights and mayhem the series rapidly gained and maintained an enormous following. Today, Pana claims between 20 and 40 million Turks watch each week.
Then came Valley of the Wolves: Iraq, the 2006 feature film, which saw Polat Alemdar avenging in fiction the real-life events of July 2003, when American forces captured and hooded a team of Turkish Special Forces in northern Iraq.
Styled like a Hollywood blockbuster, the film prominently featured abuse at Abu Ghraib prison.
After Iraq, Pana Film began a series about Turkey’s long conflict against Kurdish separatist guerrillas. But government pressure forced them to shelve Valley of the Wolves: Terror after just one episode as the subject was too sensitive.
The next series cast Polat as a secret agent defending Turkey against foreign threats.
Styled like a Hollywood blockbuster, Turkish film critic Alin Tasciyan believes Valley of the Wolves carries a very different message.
She called the 2006 Iraq film, “Anti-American in the most American way possible.”
Editing by Paul Casciato