Fatih Akin: ‘Filmmaking is a Holy War’

German-Turkish helmer talks about ‘The Cut,’ ‘Goodbye Berlin’ and his upcoming projects

MARRAKECH: Speaking to a packed auditorium during a 90-minute masterclass at the 15th Marrakech Film Festival, 42-year old German-Turkish helmer Fatih Akin provided fascinating insights into his inspirations and working methods and talked about his most recent film, “The Cut,” his recently lensed “Goodbye Berlin,” based on the novel “Tschick” by Wolfgang Herrndorf, and his next feature, about a neo-Nazi serial killer.

Commencing with his own personal inspirations, he referred to Bruce Lee as a key formative influence, although he admitted that he hadn’t yet made a film in direct tribute to Lee.
For his first major international breakthrough, “Head On” – that won the Berlinale Golden Bear in 2004 – he says that he was inspired by Soderbergh’s “Traffic,” especially in terms of the freedom of camera work, and by Lars von Trier’s “Breaking the Waves.”

Another key influence for “Head On” was Patrice Chereau’s “Intimacy.” Akin wanted to explore the boundaries of showing sex -scenes in the context of a hard-hitting drama and wanted a Turkish female lead, but this proved to be difficult because of the nude scenes. He ultimately cast former adult film actress Sibel Kekilli.
“I have to fall in love with my actors,” he said. “Filmmaking is a war, a holy war. It’s my own private jihad. When you’re in a war, you’re in the trenches. You create a brotherhood and you depend on each other for your lives.”

Akin also used this metaphor to talk about Bruce Lee. “Lee was a great philosopher of martial arts. He said that you get lazy when you adopt a specific style. In a war you have to be able to adapt. Bruce Lee is my real master. I try to be formless and shapeless, like water.”
Akin also sees himself as working in the tradition of the late John Cassavetes, extensively rehearsing with the actors before the shoot, but never pushing the rehearsals towards the limit of the scene, in order to make sure that the maximum energy is reserved for the shoot itself.

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For “The Edge of Heaven,” he adopted a completely different style to “Head On”. For writing the script he had been inspired by Alejandro González Iñárritu’s “21 Grams” and “Amores Perros” but for the filmmaking style he drew on Asian cinema, including classic filmmakers such as Ozu, and sought to reduce his camera movements to a minimum.

When it came to “Soul Kitchen,” inspirations were Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Boogie Nights” and the steadicam work in Scorsese’s “Goodfellas”.
For “The Cut,” he channeled Elia Kazan’s “America, America,” which he ranks as one of his Top Ten films of all time.

Akin regularly switches between making fiction films and documentaries and explained that this is decided in function of the subject. He also believes that his formative experiences in documentary filmmaking taught him to react in function of what’s going on around him at the time of the shoot.
Akin explained that music is a key element within his creative process: “I work with music, I make music, I go to the bathroom with music. I even sleep with music. Cinema is either 2D or 3D, but music gives us a fourth or fifth dimension. It gives us goose bumps.”

The helmer regularly works with the same crew, including his director of photography, Rainer Klausmann, who previously lensed for helmers such as Werner Herzog and whom Akin describes as “a very authoritarian guy, who brings the best out of me and forces me to explain the motivation behind each camera movement.”

Other regular collaborators include his wife, German-Mexican actress Monique Obermüller, who oversees the casting process, his editor Andrew Bird – “I am chaos, he is order” – and his music supervisor Pia Hoffman.

For his recently lensed film, “Goodbye Berlin,” not yet released, Akin only had seven weeks prep time and says that it was only in the fourth week that he fully understood what the film was about and channeled his own childhood experiences into the project.
Based on a novel about two 13-year old kids, he says that it was a very refreshing experience to work with such young actors.

His next project is about a serial killer in Germany who killed one person every year over a ten-year period. The victims were primarily Turks living in Germany, plus a Greek citizen and a German police officer. The only connection was that the same gun was used each time.
The media speculated that the perpetrators must be members of the Turkish mafia working in Germany, but it was finally discovered that a neo-Nazi group was behind the killings. “The victims weren’t allowed to be victims,” explains Akin. “They were persecuted.”
His main character will be a German mother, married to a Turkish man, whose son was killed. Akin is currently writing the script.

One of the main focuses during the masterclass was Akin’s 2014 feature, “The Cut,” about the 1915 Armenian genocide in Turkey, which he had wanted to direct for many years because of his own Turkish origins and because this is a taboo subject in Turkey.
He explained that he tried to make a film that would be appealing to both Armenians and Turks but ended up receiving severe criticism from both sides.
“I used to think that a film can change the world, just like rock n’roll has changed the world. But I now realize that one film can’t do that. The most difficult thing for ‘The Cut’ was its reception. I received criticism from all over the world. Both sides beat the shit out of me. Which I suppose means it has something, right?”

Akin lensed “The Cut” in the style of a John Ford western – with moody clouds against the blue sky – and says that he is increasingly interested in the psychology of colors, having read widely on the subject, including writings by Goethe, and increasingly watches Asian cinema, precisely due to their use of colors.
The helmer says that growing up in Germany made him want to address the Armenian genocide, in part because of the manner in which the Holocaust is a deep part of German culture, whereas the Armenian genocide continues to be taboo.

“As I grew up, I used to think that the Holocaust had nothing to do with me or my parents, because I wasn’t born at the time and they didn’t live in Germany. But while making ‘The Cut,’ I realized that I had equal responsibility for both genocides. Also for the genocides in Laos, in Algeria and in North and South America. Whenever one group of human beings gangs up to kill another group.”

Although “The Cut” received a frosty critical reaction, especially in Turkey, Akin says that he views the Turkish audience as his brothers and sisters. “They are my audience. When you love somebody, you also have to have space to criticize them. That’s what my critics don’t understand. And I’ve given up trying to make them understand.”

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