hidden features

the dilan theatre by serpil polat


The Dilan Theater, was the largest movie theatre in the Middle East and the Balkans, was constructed by the Armenian architect, Harutyan Sarafyan. It was inspired by the Italian opera buildings of 1950s.  The three-floor movie theatre has 1,900-2,000 seats, 70 separate balconies, and sits on 2300 square meters.  Parts of the building also included stores, small restaurants, and a small hotel.


In its heyday, from the 1950s through the 1990s, the Dilan Theater was a social hotspot in Diyarbakır, Turkey. In fact, people used to wear their best clothes just to come see a movie or even visit the theatre. This important building helped to foster the progress of cinema culture in the region.


The Dilan was a strong part of Diyarbakır’s identity. In 2000 the theater was subdivided into smaller rooms and ultimately was shuttered in 2010 because of the public’s lack of interest and declining attendance. The decline was hastened by the opening of more modern movie theaters in shopping malls throughout the city.


Owner Nejat Dilan sued the film companies because they would systematically delay the release of the films and give an unfair advantage to the more modern cinemas. Dilan won the case, but was unable to collect the damages due to the continued and ongoing litigation. Today, the Dilan theater stands abandoned as a testimony to a bygone era when attending the movies was a special, prestigious event.


The former employees who are pictured in the series worked for a long time at the theater and had a special connection to the place. A position at the Dilan Theater was once a sought after job. Many former employees grew up with the cinema. Abdul Kadir Aidan started working at the theater selling soda pop at the age of 9.


Once the theater closed the former employees were forced to improvise new ways to survive. One opened a café while another didn’t fare so well and is now shining shoes in front of the theater. Another man is managing another movie theater. Today, the theater is abandoned holds many remnants and memories of a time when celluloid ruled the city. 


The building is for sale, but because of its historical status development of the space is difficult. The municipality is currently trying to obtain the building and have tentative plans to restore it. Many residents in the community support the old theater and have fond memories and a real nostalgia for the building.


Serpil Polat was born in 1983 in Dersim, Turkey. She has been working in photography since 2010 and is a member of Narphotos. She makes photo reportages of issues that are close to himself and his surroundings, and also produces documentary projects. She loves to be in the field. Currently, she also works as a teacher in Diyarbakir.