Kutlug Ataman studied drama and film at the University of California in Los Angeles, graduating with a Master of Fine Arts in 1988. His short film, La Fuga, was screened at many international film festivals and won both the CINE Golden Eagle Award and First Prize at the New York International Film Exposition in 1988, as well as a Certificate of Merit from the Chicago Film Festival in 1989. His first feature film, Karanlik Sular (The Serpent's Tale) (1993), was an experimental piece that juxtaposed several forces encapsulating the crisis of contemporary Turkish culture. In 1997, Ataman directed an eight-hour video, Kutlug Ataman's Semiha B. Unplugged, on one of the legendary opera singers of Turkey, who was persecuted for her affair with the exiled communist poet Nazim Hikmet. Semiha Berksoy, an eccentric octogenarian, served as the subject as well as the shining star of this candid film, which was presented in several important art biennials and film festivals. Ataman's 1998 film Lola und Bilidikid looks at the transvestite subculture inside the Turkish guest-worker community in Berlin; the 49th International Berlin Film Festival awarded the film its 1999 Teddy Bear Award, given to films with a homosexual subject.