(Left: Ilhan Kuyululu and Ayten Kuyululu)

Murat (Ilhan Kuyululu), an older Turkish migrant in Australia, works hard to achieve his dream of buying a truck, and of returning a rich man to Turkey to marry the woman he loves. He uses his savings to visit Turkey to celebrate his sister's wedding.

Running in parallel is another story, featuring the younger Ayhan (Sait Memisoglu), who in contrast has an affair with an Australian girl Sarah (Kate Sheil).

He wants to marry her, but his family opposes the notion because she is an infidel and he a Muslim.

The pair drift apart, but not before Sarah becomes pregnant, and Murat decides he must marry her, because by Turkish tradition, no child should be without a lawful father.

Sarah refuses to change to the Muslim faith and refuses marriage, and the story ends in despair and suicide...

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Production Details

Production company: Independent Artists

Budget: A$20,000 grant from Film and Television Board (Sydney Morning Herald): ($22,500 - Oxford Australian Film), plus $20,000 marketing loan from the Film, Radio and Television Board at the Australia Council, and part of a $35,000 guarantee against loss from the International Women's Year Secretariat to assist in the distribution of the film.

Locations: Sydney and Istanbul (the latter primarily second-unit establisher inserts of mosques, the Galata Bridge, the Bosphorus and Istanbul locations)

Filmed: March-April 1975

Australian distributor: The film never attracted a commercial distributor, and so was rarely screened. Attempts at self-distribution were spasmodic.

Theatrical release: August 1975 during the August 9-17 International Women's Film Festival Sydney (which then travelled to Melbourne, Hobart, Adelaide, Perth, Canberra and Brisbane). After the festival tour, no commercial distributor or television network showed interest in screening the film.  

Rating: n/a

16mm       colour

Running time: 70 mins (Oxford Australian Film), 71 mins (ASO), 90 mins (NFSA)

Box office: minimal. The film was never given a commercial release.

 

Opinion

Awards

Selected for the Australian touring International Women's Festival 1975.

Availability

Not available outside the archive, though three short excerpts are available on the ASO site, here, if watching excerpts out of context is your idea of viewing a feature film.

Given the ongoing interest in migration and Islam in Australia, you'd think it possible that some budding entrepreneur would have packaged the film on DVD, say as "Obscure but interesting Australian feature films" ...

But as it is, anyone interested in adding the show to the filmography at the bottom of their thesis on the subject will have to head off to the archive.

1. Source:

The Minister for the Environment, Aborigines and the Arts, Mr. Howson, announced on 23rd May 1972, a grant of $1,5000 to Mrs Ayten Kuyululu towards the cost of developing a feature-length script from her existing story-line, The Golden Cage. 

The title for the film comes from a Turkish saying (see below), and the original draft was intended to be shot in Stockholm, and based on her experience as a migrant to Sweden.

She had previously made a film called A Handful of Dust (1973) in Australia, a forty minute story of a middle-aged woman's involvement in a blood vendetta. (Ayten and Ilshan Kuyululu played the leading roles). She and her husband also ran the Australian Turkish People's Playhouse in Surry Hills.

2. Production:

The project attracted a solid crew, including Russell Boyd as DOP, who was shortly to embark on Picnic at Hanging Rock

Future feature film director Phillip Noyce (Newsfront) acted as production manager. Producer David Elfick can be seen as a man at a party, and apparently director Frank Shields (Hostage) turns up as a wine waiter.

3. Release:

The Golden Cage deployed traditional Turkish as well as modern rock music, and featured dialogue in Turkish and English, though the amount of sub-titling was limited in a bid to appeal to Australian audiences.

The film bureaucrats who funded the project unwisely insisted that the film be made with as few sub-titles as possible, requiring the largely ethnic cast to deliver their lines in English, and in the process depriving them of the tang of authentic speech.

It was thought that this would assist in making the film accessible to local audiences, but it helped kill the potential of the project, which should really have been pitched to the indie art house audience, and to cinemas then willing to show sub-titled European fare.

It turned out to be a fatal mistake, with reports at the time complaining that the clumsy delivery of dialogue emphasised the amateurishness of some of the performers.

As a result, the film never received a commercial release. It wouldn't be the last time a film bureaucrat helped killed the thing that was supposedly loved.

4. Ayten Kuyululu

Director Ayten Kuyululu, "a splendidly framed earth-mother of a woman", migrated with her husband and their three sons in 1971, from Sweden, where they had lived since 1963, after leaving Istanbul to see the world. 

In Sweden, Mrs Kuyululu sang with the Royal Swedish Opera, and made a film The Outsiders, a 57 minute film for television about Turkish migrants to Sweden. 

Kuyululu and her family settled in a flat in Maroubra, and after working as a clerk in a department store, she sang with the Australian Opera. Kuyululu appeared in episodes of Matlock Police and Ryan.

After making The Golden Cage, Kuyululu nurtured plans for a feature film about an incident dubbed The Battle of Broken Hill, in which two Muslim migrants attacked a picnic train on the 1st January 1915, killing four people and wounding seven more, before being killed by police and the military (a semi-amateur version of this story was later made in South Australia in 1981 but failed to get a commercial release, and the project continued to attract the attention of many film-makers, including Tony Buckley and Donald Crombie, without becoming a feature film). 

Unable to raise the finance, Kuyululu and her husband returned to Turkey in the late seventies, and in 1989 she made the feature film Suçlu mu Piyon mu? (Is He Guilty or Is He a Pawn?

The Golden Cage was the first feature to be directed by a woman in Australia since Paulette McDonagh made Two Minutes Silence in 1933, itself a film which failed to receive any kind of distribution and was subsequently lost.

The film was also the feature film debut of Kate Sheils, who went on to some kind of fame as a soapie star in Prisoner.

Helen Frizeel's portrait of Ayten Kuyululu for the Sydney Morning Herald on 6th August 1975 remains the most accessible one available:

Ayten Kuyululu, a splendidly framed earth-mother of a woman, is a Turkish migrant to Australia, an opera singer and a film-maker.

Her film, The Golden Cage, made with a $20,000 grant from the Film and Television Board, will be seen at the Capitol theatre during the International Women's Film Festival, 1975, which runs from August 9 to 17.

"The title comes form a Turkish saying," said Mrs Kuyululu. "This goes: 'If you put a nightingale in a golden cage, it will cry out: Oh my country, oh my country!'

"The story is about two Turkish migrants who come to Australia - the golden cage. I've dedicated my film to mankind, equality and happiness. I don't want to describe people as Australians or as Turks - but want to prove in  film how hard it is to be a migrant."

Mrs Kuyululu, her husband, Ilhan, and their three sons migrated to Australia in 1971, not from Turkey but from Sweden where they had lived since 1963 when they left Istanbul to "see the world."

In Sweden, Mrs Kuyululu sang with the Royal Swedish Opera, made a film, The Outsiders, about Turkish migrants to Sweden, and began planning The Golden Cage, which she intended to set in Stockholm.

After the family came here, she switched the setting to Australia. In her perfect English, Mrs Kuyululu explains that she has no complaints about Australia, that her family leads a "good life" here, that they have a flat in Maroubra, and that the old days of migrant hostels and loneliness are behind them.

But many of the 15,000 Turkish familes in and around Sydney find it hard to adjust, says Mrs Kuyululu. Different customs, a different religion and a strange language bring their own brands of misery.

But the Kuyululus have established themselves here. Mrs Kuyululu, after working as a clerk in department stores, sang with the Australian Opera, made a film called A Handful of Dust, and now, with her husband, runs the Australian Turkish People's Playhouse in Surry Hills.

Ilhan Kuyululu, an actor, administers the Playhouse. Here, actors in the Turkish community perform Turkish plays which are also shown in the suburbs.

Mr Kuyululu produced his wife's film, and plays a leading role in it. He is Murat, the migrant, who works hard in Australia, hoping to achieve his dreams of buying a truck, and of returning, a rich man, to Turkey to marry the girl he loves.

Said Memisoglu is Ayhan, the other migrant. Ayhan has a love affair with an Australian girl, who becomes pregnant to him. Murat wants to marry her, because, by Turkish tradition, no child should be without a lawful father. The girl refuses marriage, and refuses to change to the Moslem faith.

The film builds up to violence and tragedy. A strange and melodramatic piece of cinema, The Golden Cage was filmed in Sydney and Istanbul.

Here, it's the Anzac Memorial, high-rise Sydney, the Harbour, Pittwater and koala bears. There, it's Istanbul, mosques, the Galata Bridge and the Bosphorus. All in colour.

The music is strident rock or traditional Turkish. The dialogue is in Turkish and English. In this two-nation effort, an Australian film-maker, Phil Noyce, was production manager, and Kate Shiel appears as Sarah Collins, the Australian girl who spurns her migrant lover.

Ayten Kuyululu says that her husband has backed her "with all his heart" in her film efforts. She thinks that it is a tremendously "good idea" to have the International Women's Film Festival, and says: "There are not many women directors in the world. Women can do anything in the world. Why not make films?