The opening of Beykoz Kundura’s cinema not only offers cinephiles a unique selection of movies, it also brings the former leather and shoe factory a step closer to becoming a major cultural and artistic center. The historic site has a fascinating story to tell.
By Yao Hsiao
From the Ottoman Empire into the Republic of Turkey, the site of Beykoz Kundura has a rich history of over two hundred years. “Basically, it represents the milestone of industrialization attempted in the late Ottoman era,” Buse Yıldırım, the Director of Arts and Culture at Beykoz Kundura, told The Guide Istanbul.
The history of the site dates back to the early nineteenth century. A tannery and paper factory was initiated by Sultan Selim III in 1804 and later, steam engine boilers and extra stone mills were added to the tannery in 1842. After the Turkish Republic was founded, the site continued to operate as the state-owned Sümerbank leather and shoe factory, reflecting the state-led industrialization policy of the period. In 1955, the annual production capacity reached 186,000 pairs of shoes.
The Sümerbank factory transformed the district from an ordinary fishing village into a blue-collar quarter of Istanbul and was in its heyday until the late 1970s. But, with economic reforms in the 1980s, the factory struggled to compete on the free market and went into the red for the first time in 1986. The factory halted all production in 1999, and the site was privatized in 2003.
The initial aim of privatization was to transform the site into a touristic destination, and research and renovations were undertaken. “However, the feasibility studies led us in a different direction,” Yıldırım explained. “We have been caring a lot about the history of Kundura [throughout the restoration].”
The Kundura Hafıza oral history project, which is available online as a facebook page, was launched to gain a full understanding of the site’s past. Collecting memories and stories from the factory’s former employees, the project revealed aspects of Turkish life which have transformed almost beyond recognition. The sounds and smells of the factory played a significant role in the daily life of Beykoz neighborhood. One former employee recalled a time when most people did not have watches and would tell when it was noon from the factory’s whistle.
While a film studio was opened in the complex, shooting many popular movies and TV series in recent years, the development of the site has also been concerned with preserving, honoring, and reflecting the former factory’s unique heritage—not least in the newly opened Kundura Cinema.
New cinema, old history
Every movie at Kundura Cinema begins with screening of the short film Valimo (2017) by the Finnish director Aki Kaurismäki, which shows a group of foundry workers watching a Lumiére brothers’ film in a factory cinema during their lunch break. This prelude echoes the fact that the Sümerbank factory used to have its own cinema, holding screenings as a cultural event for the community. “The food hall was transformed into a cinema during the winter time, but in summer they preferred to watch the western American films open-air,” said Yıldırım. The old projector is now displayed at Kundura Cinema, in the former factory’s boiler room.
What makes Kundura Cinema distinct from other movie theaters is its specially curated film programmes; the opening season presented a selection of old movies set in various cities. According to Yıldırım, their audience is mostly comprised of cinephiles, students, young professionals, and locals in Beykoz who enjoy some nostalgia. New and old, mainstream and independent—the selection of screenings aims to keep a diverse balance between canonical and noncanonical films from around the world.
But the opening of Kundura Cinema is not only an exciting new development for Istanbul’s movie buffs, it also marks the next stage in a more ambitious plan to make Beykoz Kundura into a major new artistic and cultural hub in the city. “We would like to make high-quality art accessible and be a creative spot for a broad spectrum of artists and audiences,” said Yıldırım. Next to the cinema, a theater named Kundura Stage will opened to the public in fall 2019. Focusing on contemporary performance arts across genre boundaries, the space will also feature art residencies, workshops, and educational programs.
How to get there
Cinema guests can use a private boat service that runs in accordance with the screening schedule and departs from İstinye to Beykoz Kundura’s port. A one-way ticket costs 5 TL. For public transportation—plus a little walk—take the Yeniköy-Beykoz or İstinye-Çubuklu ferry line. You can also catch a bus or dolmuş to Beykoz in Üsküdar and Kadıköy.