Cem Kaya was born in 1976 in Schweinfurt. After studying communications design at the Merz Academy in Stuttgart, he worked initially as a producer, editor, and director of advertising spots and music videos. His first two full-length documentary films were Arabeks and Remake, Remix, Rip-Off. Arabeks looked at the musical culture of internal migration within Turkey, while Remake, Remix, Rip-Off looked at the Turkish film industry and its practice of remaking Hollywood films, knockoffs of successful movies such as Star Wars, Rambo, and The Exorcist, produced on shoestring budgets. This documentary premiered at the Locarno Film Festival in 2014 and has had exceptional success on the international film festival circuit. His current film Liebe, D-Mark und Tod looks at the musical culture of Turkish immigrants in Germany. The film had its worldwide premier at the 2022 Berlinale, where it won the Panorama Audience Prize.
Kaya uses an extensive amount of archival material in his films from a broad range of sources. This colourful mix of materials combined with his own observations represent the main ingredients of his extremely insightful and clever documentary essays. Kaya also works as a cinematographer. In 2017, he shot the investigative film 77sqm_9:26min by the Londoner group Forensic Architecture, which reconstructed the NSU’s killing of Halit Yozgat. The film premiered at documenta 14 that same year.
Cem Kaya is a resident at the Tarabya Cultural Academy from October 2023 to January 2024.