Süha Arın: The Sociocultural Moustache of a Documentary Maker

Süha Arın, known as one of the most important documentary directors of Turkey, asked Anatolian villagers questions during one of his visits in order to gather information for his film “Hattilerden Hititlere” (From Hattians to Hittites), who in return not answer any of his queries because he did not have a moustache and therefore could not be accepted as a man. Documentarist Süha Arın groomed a moustache from that day on until his death as he toiled to draw a portrait of his people and country…

The history of documentary-making in Turkey starts with the Manaki Brothers. Milton and  Yanaki Manaki brothers, who contributed to the development of film-making and photography during the Ottoman era, filmed their grandmother in their village and this 1905 film titled “Büyükanne Despina” (Grandmother Despina) is acknowledged as the first documentary film. Fuat Uzkınay’s 1914 film “Ayastefanos’taki Rus Abidesinin Yıkılışı” (The Demolishment of the Russian Monument in San Stefano), on the other hand, also has an important place in the history of Turkish cinema. Founded during WWI, “Merkez Ordu Sinema Dairesi” (Central Army Cinema Department) filmed documentaries about the war in accordance with the requirements of the period.

Filmmakers such as Sabahattin Eyüboğlu, Mazhar Şevket İpşiroğlu and Aziz Albek are acknowledged as the first-generation documentary makers of Turkey and Süha Arın, who is the star of this article, belongs to the second generation of documentarists. Süha Arın is the most important representative of the period when the focus of the artistic aspects of documentary making was on the musical and visual aesthetics. The richness of Anatolian civilisations was noticed not only in Turkey but also abroad thanks to his films, whose aesthetical aspects were especially enriched through the use of music.

Arın’s relationship with the media started with radio in the 1950s and his work was quickly noticed by the Turkish government, who initially hired him as a scenario writer, then as a director at “Öğretici filmler merkezi” (Instructive Films Centre) which produced educational content.

His first movie in 1964 was about traffic safety and he produced a lot of content during his time with this foundation. Arın, who had decided that he wanted to work in this field by then, dropped out of law school and went to America with the invitation of his brother who worked at Voice of America radio in Washington.

Süha Arın saw a television for the first time when his plane stopped over in Rome during his trip to America and this got him very excited. He watched the TV in his brother’s house in Washington with the very same enthusiasm until the early hours of the morning.

He started his studies in Cinema and Television at Washington Howard University in 1965-66. Süha Arın, one of the best students at Howard where he completed his studies in 1970, also started to work at Capitol Film Laboratory part-time. He was initially assigned to put the rolls of the movies that were being dubbed in 16- and 35-mm machines. Arın also learned the responsibilities of a tonmeister at Capitol which led him to realise how important sound planning is for a movie. TV broadcasting had started in Turkey by then. He was assigned as the Washington reporter of the national television channel, TRT, and reported back the news from America to his country. For example, everyone in Turkey watched the news about the first step on the Moon with his narration in 1969.

Süha Arın’s work got noticed by NBC in America and this important institution offered him a job as a director. However, there was one catch; he needed to be a citizen of the United States and dual citizenship was not accepted at the time. Arın turned this offer down because he didn’t want to sever his ties with his country, quit his job at “Voice of America” and promptly returned to Turkey.

One of Süha Arın’s aims was passing on the knowledge he accumulated to the younger generations upon his return to Turkey in 1973. He applied to various universities as a teacher and wanted to go back to working at TRT, where he worked as a reporter in Washington, but the officers of the military coup that took place at the time turned him down saying “You are too knowledgeable; we cannot appoint you as an assistant to someone because you would know more than them.”. Following days of disappointment and hardship, Süha Arın was noticed by “Turkey Touring and Automobile Institution” which offered him to film a documentary. This institution opened its doors a year after the founding of the Republic in order to contribute to tourism, culture-arts and automobile sectors. Several institutions, mainly led by the banking sector, had started to create capital to film documentaries in the 1970s in Turkey. These documentaries mostly aimed to introduce the Anatolian civilizations to the world.

“From Hattians to Hittites”

Süha Arın’s first documentary, shot in 1974, was “From Hattians to Hittites” whose topic revolved around the first civilization in Anatolia, the Hattians. Hattians were a settled civilization in Anatolia, while the Hittites were an ancient group of Indo-Europeans that merged with the former. In his documentary, Süha Arın focused on two civilizations that melted and merged in the melting pot that is Anatolia. He distinguished himself from his predecessors with his choice in music, camera angles, sound, and many other elements seen and heard in the intro of the documentary.

Following the success of his first film, Süha Arın shot his second film titled “Midas’ın Dünyası” (The World of Midas) a year later.

King Midas, or Muşkili Mita as he was known in Assyrian sources, was a legendary Phrygian king who lived in Gordion, the capital city of Phrygia (which is now located in Polatlı) between BC 738-696. This film, which shed light on the arts and culture of Phrygians, was the second documentary in Süha Arın’s series titled “Anadolu Uygarlıklarından İzler” (Trails of Anatolian Civilizations). This documentary, which was the product of an intense year’s work, demonstrated how Ancient Greek arts and culture belonged to older civilizations of Anatolia, especially the Phrygians.

An interesting fact about the documentary is that its theme was composed by the famous Turkish composer Ferit Tüzün in the Phrygian maqam.


Süha Arın shot one of his most important works, “Safranbolu’da Zaman” (Time in Safranbolu) in 1976. The architectural texture of Safranbolu, a town located in the Black Sea region in Northern Turkey, was greatly neglected until this documentary. After Arın’s film was released, the Ministry of Culture and Tourism declared Safranbolu a landmark in 1977 and the town was later added to the list of World Heritage Sites by UNESCO in 1995, meaning that Safranbolu’s destiny was forever changed by a documentary.

The esteemed director filmed “Urartu’nun İki Mevsimi” (Two Seasons of Urartu) after his award-winning documentary on Safranbolu. The latter film, accepted as one of his most important projects, focused on the history, culture and arts of the Urartu, who lived around the Van Lake region located in Eastern Turkey. It also aimed to reflect upon the natural beauty of the area. The Urartu were one of the oldest groups of people to inhabit Anatolia who were also known for their stonework and metalsmithing. A significant aspect of the documentary is that it was shot in two seasons as its title suggests: Winter and summer. The filming team worked under very harsh conditions due to the geography and the climate.

The original soundtrack of the documentary belongs to Nevit Kodallı. Kodallı, a National Artist and a composer who lived during the foundation of the Turkish Republic, was known for his vocal and stage music. An important detail about this original work Kodallı composed for the documentary is that he directed the orchestra according to the melody of “mey”, a unique Anatolian instrument.


Süha Arın shot a documentary titled “Tahtacı Fatma” (Fatma the Forestry Worker) in 1979, which addressed the tough working conditions of forestry workers through the eyes of a child. This unique, pastoral film was chosen as the best documentary during the Balkan Film Festival.

Süha Arın took a keen interest in architecture in his lifetime and shot “Dünya Durdukça Mimar Sinan” (Until Eternity: The Life and Works of Sinan the Architect) in 1988 to honour the 400th anniversary of this most famous Ottoman architect’s death. The film received awards from Lausanne and Bordeaux International Film competitions as well as an award from UNESCO.

Süha Arın, considered to be one of the most important Turkish directors, shot more than 50 documentaries during his lifetime. Documentary cinema was a lifestyle for Arın, who also taught many students. We pay our deepest respect to this master who brought art and science together in perfect harmony in his films…