Crossing borders comes naturally to Fatih Akin.
The Teuton-Turkish multitasking multihyphenate has two films in the race for a best foreign language Oscar nomination — Germany’s “Edge of Heaven,” which he helmed, and Turkey’s “Takva” which he co-produced. But he’s also got a slew of other projects under way, not all of them as a producer or director.
While he’s busy helming “Garbage in the Garden of Eden,” a years-in-the-making doc about the impact of the Turkish government’s policy of using an idyllic Turkish village as a landfill site, he’s also collaborating with Martin Scorsese at the World Cinema Foundation, a nonprofit org dedicated to restoring lost world cinema treasures.
Akin’s Hamburg-based shingle Corazon is also hard at work on developing a number of the helmer’s own projects — including a proposed biopic of legendary Kurdish filmmaker Yilmaz Guney (who won the 1982 Palm d’Or for “Yol” before dying of cancer in 1984) and the final part of Akin’s proposed “Love, Death and the Devil” trilogy — as well as boosting film industry ties between Germany and Turkey.
The globetrotting exploits of the 34-year-old Hamburg-born son of Turkish immigrants, who won the 2004 Golden Bear at Berlin for “Head-On,” are reflected in his work. “Edge of Heaven,” which won screenplay awards at this year’s Cannes fest and European Film Awards, travels between Germany and Turkey with its meditations of East-West miscommunication and the fractured intersecting lives of a group of ordinary Germans and Turks drawn together by extraordinary events.
Akin has taken an innovative approach to tubthumping the pic in Germany.
“I’ve toured all over Germany with the film, not just in the big cinemas but in the tiny villages, too,” he says. “For a long time, there was this idea that to be a German citizen you had to have German blood. This is a very old-fashioned idea. I am a Turkish-German filmmaker, which means I am a bastard of two cinemas.”
Akin’s decision to embark on a grassroots campaign to drum up support for his pic may be one of the reasons why Teuton auds have taken the pic — as much Turkish as it is German — to their hearts.
As the poster-boy for European multiculturalism, the wunderkind is doing more than most in the film biz to rep a positive face for Turkey as the country’s discussions to join the European Union inch ahead amid criticism from some quarters in the West over the nation’s human rights record.
“I wanted to add an extra dimension and perspective to how the media have presented Turkey joining the European Union, as I feel that their view can be at times limited,” he says.
But he acknowledges the challenges Turkey is facing. The internal battle over the future of the country between the secular traditionalists — who founded modern-day Turkey in 1923 under the leadership of Kemal Attaturk — and the current ruling AK party — whose leaders are devout Muslims — has been overshadowed by a rise in anti-Kurdish nationalism. The Turkish military’s air strikes in December against suspected Kurdish rebel bases in northern Iraq, in retaliation for a series of attacks this year against Turkish targets, threatens to further destabilize a region already reeling from violence.
The situation in Turkey has brought up an ironic, and unwanted, comparison with a dark chapter in the history of Akin’s adopted home. “It’s like Germany in 1935. This buildup creates anger against Kurdish people,” Akin says. “Kurdish people are getting hit in the street, getting their windows smashed. Cinema is a reflection of society, and what I like about Turkish films right now is their dialogue is forcing audiences to deal with these issues.”
One such film is “Takva.”
Akin’s involvement with “Takva,” about a devout Muslim living in Istanbul who finds his faith devastatingly tested when he takes on a job as a rent collector for his local imam, was crucial to the film getting made. With a modest budget of $1.6 million, the Turkish side had managed to raise 80% of the financing. It was the friendship between Onder Cakar, who penned the screenplay, and Akin that led to the all-important final coin arriving from funding body Eurimages as well as the Hamburg Film Fund via Akin’s shingle Corazon.
The expansion from auterism — Akin writes and directs all his own projects — into producing is a longterm shift for the breathless maven. “I love the fact that with producing I can protect my own work. That’s why I became a producer,” Akin says. “As a filmmaker, you have a story to tell, but maybe one day I won’t have anything more to say. At least I’ll still have producing left as an option. It’s like gambling. You put money in a slot machine and suddenly you have a project.”