Tuesday, January 29, 2008
Turkish filmmaker Hüseyin Karabey poses for a photograph at the Rotterdam Film Festival, where his film “Gitmek” is being screened.
It is another frightfully cold and windy day as I head to meet with director Hüseyin Karabey during the International Rotterdam Film Festival.
His first feature film, "Gitmek" (My Marlon and Brando), just had its world premiere the night before -- and obviously it went quite well, as Karabey greets me with a relieved expression and a warm smile. As for me, not only am I excited to talk with the man who has shot this wonderful film but I am also more than happy to finally talk with a compatriot in this crazy jamboree. We are among the handful of Turks attending one of the most world's most popular festivals for film professionals in the world.
"Gitmek" is one of the best films I have seen that has come out of Turkey in recent years. It is simple, yet profound; meticulously shot, but with the right amount of documentary feel; it has a captivating female lead and, even more important, it is genuine. On a film set in Anatolia, actress Ayça (played by Ayça Damgacı) meets Hama Ali (Hama Ali Khan -- who happens to be a Kurdish actor). Ayça and Hama Ali fall in love, but Ayça lives in İstanbul and Hama Ali in Sulaimaniya, Iraq. In the following months, they communicate over the telephone and with letters and, once in a while, Hama Ali sends Ayça tender yet passionate video diaries. However, the year is 2003 and eventually the US declares war on Iraq. In this time of chaos how will they ever see each other? The strong-minded Ayça wants nothing more than to unite with her beloved. She decides to embark on a journey from İstanbul to Sulaimaniya via southeastern Turkey, Iran and eventually Iraq. Thus her real adventure and introspection begins. This is the story of a real woman in a real world and one has to congratulate Karabey for his determination in making this film.
Coming from a Kurdish family himself, Karabey ended up studying in İstanbul. He is better known for his documentaries. When I ask him how his journey toward fiction started he replies: "Well, I always saw cinema as a whole and never really differentiated between documentary and fiction. When I saw what was broadcasted on television I realized that the media never showed what was really going on in the country or the world. What I saw on the screen was not what I or the people I knew were experiencing. I wanted to change that and make something that told the story of ordinary folks like us and not far-fetched characters living in a bubble."
Indeed Karabey has achieved his aspirations, as the delightful Ayça Damagacı, whom the film's story is also based on, is not the picture-perfect damsel in distress. Ayça is chubby, not the smartest person in the world and, furthermore, she is a woman -- thank God, someone finally realized that strong female characters could lead a story in Turkish cinema!
As we continue our conversation Karabey further comments, "Besides the lead being a woman, another 'standard' we wanted to reverse was the concept of going to the East instead of the West in the search for happiness. Ayça's quest is not as such and her heart lies in the East -- in the middle of a war. As we watch her travel through Diyarbakır, Van and even Iran, we realize that the people residing in these places, which we have misconceptions about, also have lives and maintain wonderful traditions and practices that enhance their joy de vivre." I notice that Karabey always uses the word "us" when he is talking about the making of his film. To him "Gitmek" is the collaborative effort of his crew and I admire his sense of camaraderie.
The production story of the film is even more interesting. One of the few directors to hold the complete rights to his films, Karabey gathered a significant amount of his funding from abroad -- namely the Hubert Bals Fund of the Rotterdam Film Festival, where he is currently being hosted. He was also supported by the Turkish Ministry of Culture and, later on, he formed a co-production team with producers from the Netherlands and the UK. Karabey states: "As you know, the production of independent films is quite difficult in Turkey. However, if I managed to make this film, this means that I can form an example and shed a light for younger filmmakers who want to do something that is not the usual mainstream [material]."
"Gitmek" will open in Turkish theaters at the end of April. I recommend this film to anyone who enjoys good cinema. I am already looking forward to Karabey's next film.
EMİNE YILDIRIM ROTTERDAM
Saturday, January 26, 2008
Mavi boncuk (1974)
Directed by Ertem Egilmez
Writing credits: Zeki Alasya, Ertem Egilmez, Sadik Sendil
Cast (in credits order)
Emel Sayin as herself
Tarik Akan ... Yakisikli(handsome0
Zeki Alasya ... Seker Kamil
Metin Akpinar ... Süleyman
Halit Akçatepe ... Mistik
Münir Özkul ... Baba Yasar
Kemal Sunal ... Cafer
Perran Kutman ... Maid
Çağan Irmak was born in Izmir in 1970. He graduated from Aegean University, School of Press and Broadcasting from the department of Radio-TV. He has been awarded the "Sedat Simavi" prize for his short films "Fairy-Tale" and "Victim", which were shot during his time at university. In 1992 he started working in the movie industry as an assistant director to various acclaimed directors. A few of these directors are as following: Orhan Oğuz, Mahinur Ergun, Filiz Kaynak and Yusuf Kurçenli. His short film "Play Me Old and Wise", which he both wrote and directed himself, was awarded the first runner up prize at IFSAK (Istanbul Photography and Cinema Association) in 1998 and then went on to be screened at the London Film Festival.
After his extensive experience as an assistant director, Irmak started to work as a director in television and quickly made a name for himself with his original style of storytelling and his technical expertise. He eventually became a household name with two projects; ‘Asmalı Konak’(2002), which was also shown on Greek television, and ‘Çemberimde Gül Oya’(2004), which was a project that he had written himself and had managed to shed light on a specific period of political history bringing a wide range of audiences together despite their generational gaps.
His first feature film "Wish Me Luck" was produced in 2001. In 2004 his second feature film which he had both written and directed, "All About Mustafa", was highly acclaimed by film critics. In 2005 his third feature film, which he again had both written and directed, "My Father and Son" was awarded the "Best Director", "Best Screenplay" and "Best Picture" prizes by the Turkish Film Critics’ Association.
Play Me Old and Wise (1998)
Wish Me Luck (2001)
All About Mustafa (2003)
My Father and Son (2005)
The Messenger (2007)
"ALL ABOUT MUSTAFA" LIST OF AWARDS:
41st GOLDEN ORANGE AWARDS
Behlul Dal Jury Special Prize
Best Song Award
26th TURKISH FILM CRITICS’ ASSOCIATION AWARDS
Best Supporting Actress
"MY FATHER AND SON" LIST OF AWARDS:
13th CASOD (Contemporary Movie Actors Society) "Best Actor" Awards, 2006
Jury Special Prize
Best Leading Actor
25th Istanbul Film Festival, 2006
Best Leading Actor
Best Leading Actress
People's Choice Award
11th Nurnberg Turkish/German Film Festival, 2006
People's Choice Award
11th Sadri Alisik Awards, 2006
Best Supporting Actress
27th SIYAD (Association of Movie Critics) Turkish Film Awards, 2006
Best Leading Actor
Best Supporting Actress
Best Leading Actress
official web site of Ulak/messenger
Çağan Irmak’s long-awaited ‘Messenger’ finally hits the road
Director Çağan Irmak’s latest film “Ulak,” which opened this week in theaters across Turkey, follows Zekeriya, who travels from village to village to tell children stories about İbrahim, a “messenger.”
Finally, after all the curiosity we've experienced about what kind of film young Turkish director Çağan Irmak would give us following his successful "Babam ve Oğlum" (My Father and My Son), we receive news that his new "Ulak" (Messenger) has hit the silver screen.
Despite the fact that making films with only small breaks in between brings with it some obvious difficulties, after watching "Ulak," it was clear that director Irmak has not been spinning his wheels in this brief period between films.
It is completely normal that when people think of Irmak these days, the first thing to come to mind is his box office hit "Babam ve Oğlum." Almost all agree it was a film not easily forgotten. To those who thought this young director would continue on his path with similar styles, Irmak, with "Ulak," has begun to say something completely different to his audience. "Ulak" is the kind of film which, as you watch it, you'll start looking inside. It is as though, from the very beginning of the film to the end, you are wandering around in a fairy tale. But not just as an observer and a listener, rather, as though you are interacting with everything. It is a film that makes viewers ask themselves "is this real, or just a story?" over and over again, starting off somewhat like one of the stories your grandmothers and grandfathers might have told you when you were young. But as the film goes on, following the courier's specific tale, everything changes color suddenly. The screenplay for "Ulak," which has been well hidden until now, brings forth with it echoes of words we used to hear from our uncle, the storyteller: "Like all good tales, our story today begins with the name of our Creator..."
The person who we enter into this journey with is none other than Zekeriya, the traveler. Everywhere he goes Zekeriya gathers all the children around him to tell them stories about İbrahim, a "courier" or "messenger." (This is where the film gets its title from.) Zekeriya's goal is that everyone should know the stories connected with this enigma of a messenger. But this old man is no ordinary storyteller. When he tells his tales, he wants to enliven every aspect of the minds of the children he is talking to -- to the point that, no matter whether good or bad, his tales become unforgettable. And this "Messenger İbrahim" is in fact a symbol of courage. He is someone who can elicit the untapped sense of action just sitting and waiting in some people. Maybe he is an idol smasher or maybe a revolutionary. Whatever İbrahim is, as Zekeriya tells his stories, the pain in his own heart becomes lighter. But it is in the final village that Zekeriya stops in that the color of the story starts to change a bit. This village is a spot that seems literally damned, as though the sins surrounding it have washed over it wave after wave. Those listening to Zekeriya's stories here begin to believe that "Messenger İbrahim" will definitely one day come there and that, as such, there will be no more hidden sins in this village.
Perhaps Irmak is trying to tell a story from centuries of years ago with this film. Or perhaps this is a story from these days. But whatever the time frame, the message contained in the story is applicable to yesterday, today and even tomorrow. Maybe the film is an attempt to reach tomorrow using the language of yesterday. In any case, the actors are different but the roles are the same. The director underscores the necessity of people like İbrahim in today's world, with all its vulgarities. As we mentioned from the start, "Ulak" is not a film that can be compared to "Babam ve Oğlum." Some moviegoers might be disappointed by this, but for those interested in what Irmak has to say, it is still a film worth seeing. While cinematographer Mirsad Herovic captures scenes as beautifully as he did in "Babam and Oğlum," Evanthia Reboutsika's musical score adds incredible sounds and action to the visuals. Hümeyra, Şerif Sezer and Yetkin Dikinciler, as well as all the younger stars of this film, deliver great performances while Çetin Tekindor in the role of Zekeriya is quite unforgettable.
Friday, January 25, 2008
The 12-day festival, which kicked off Wednesday with the world premiere of Argentinean filmmaker Lucía Cedrón's debut feature "Cordero de Dios" (Lamb of God), will screen hundreds of independent productions from across the world.
Among Turkish titles lined up in the festival program is "Brain Surgeon," a short film by Ömer Ali Kazma, featured in the "Shorts: As Long as It Takes" section. The 15-minute film, part of the series "Obstructions," which centers on craftsmanship, details a brain surgery operation performed by Ali Zirh, a Turkish surgeon.
Another Turkish film in the lineup is "Gitmek" (My Marlon and Brando) by Hüseyin Karabey. The Turkish-Dutch-UK joint production, a dramatic road movie, is featured in the festival's "Time and Tide" category, in which "Egg" and "Hidden Faces" are also featured.
"My Marlon and Brando" is based on a true story about a young stage actress from İstanbul who wants to go to her lover. The only problem is that her lover is Kurdish, is in northern Iraq and the American invasion of Iraq makes communication even more difficult for the couple. The protagonists in the movie -- Ayça and Hama Ali -- are actors in their real lives, and in the movie they play themselves.
The Rotterdam Film Festival, under the direction of Rutger Wolfson, this year selected "Free Radicals" as its theme, referring to independent-minded filmmakers who often draw fierce reactions, drawing inspiration from the chemistry term that stands for "special atoms or molecules that can function as links in processes and catalysts of change."
Sunday, January 20, 2008
Yildirim, will be premiered at the Berlinale 08 in the Panorama section
Chico Germany 2007/2008, Feature Film
Director Özgür Yildirim
Screenplay Özgür Yildirim
Director of photography Matthias Bolliger
Denis Moschitto Chiko
Moritz Bleibtreu Brownie
Volker Özcan Tibet
Philipp Baltus Scholle
Jelica Batarilo Schwester Jessica
Fahri Ögün Yardim Curly
Production company:Corazón International GmbH & Co. KG (Hamburg)
Producer Fatih Akin; Klaus Maeck
born 1979 Hamburg
2004 Alim Market
2003 Der nötige Schneid/Under the Knife
Fatih Akin's projects cross borders
German-Turk has two films in the Oscar race
By ALI JAAFAR
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 Ataturk -- 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."
Interview conducted by Lars-Olav Beier and Matthias Matussek
SPIEGEL INTERVIEW WITH DIRECTOR FATIH AKIN
From Istanbul to New York
German director Fatih Akin, who shot to fame with his 2004 hit "Head-On," talks about Turkish-German filmmaking, his fondness for Istanbul and how his new film, "The Edge of Heaven," only worked when he introduced a lesbian love affair to the plot.
SPIEGEL: Fatih Akin, you have been compared with (legendary German film director) Rainer Werner Fassbinder for your new film, "The Edge of Heaven," which won the prize for best screenplay at the Cannes Film Festival and is now rumored to be an Oscar contender. Are you pleased?
Akin: The comparisons with Fassbinder have followed me around since my first film, "Short Sharp Shock." Critics said that the character Gabriel, who emerges from prison determined never to return to crime, reminded them of Franz Biberkopf in Fassbinder's "Berlin Alexanderplatz." It's funny, because I hadn't even seen the film at the time. I admire Fassbinder, but he and I work in very different ways.
SPIEGEL: How so?
Akin: (German actress) Hanna Schygulla once told me that Fassbinder forced his actors never to deviate from the script. But in my films everyone can do as he or she wishes. I like it when actors depart from the script to find their characters. Of course, that's also why it takes me three years to make a movie. Fassbinder would have been able to turn out 10 films in that amount of time.
SPIEGEL: In 1973, when Fassbinder shot his melodrama "Ali: Fear Eats the Soul," about a love affair between a Moroccan immigrant and a German cleaning woman, some in Germany were still referring to Turks as "foreign workers."
Akin: And SPIEGEL wrote at the time: "The Turks are coming -- save yourself if you can." I know, because I've researched it. It was in July 1973. I was born in Hamburg one month later.
SPIEGEL: And now you're here.
Akin: Exactly. And today we no longer tell our stories from the margins, but from the center of society.
SPIEGEL: And yet "The Edge of Heaven" describes, just as your film "Head-On" did, migration in exactly the opposite direction. Your characters leave Germany to go to Turkey. A Turkish-German professor of German Studies and a German student travel to Istanbul, for example.
Akin: Sure, why not? I feel incredibly comfortable here, and I also feel that it's my home. If the characters returned to Germany, perhaps the ending would be neater. But I like open endings.
SPIEGEL: Your characters are repeatedly drawn to Istanbul. Is it a city that you have a longing for?
Akin: That comes from my childhood, when my entire family made the trek by car down to Turkey. The trip took three or four days. When we arrived in Istanbul, I felt like I had traveled halfway around the earth and had landed in a completely different world. Nowadays Istanbul is much closer, and so it's no longer a place I miss so much. But it is a city where everything is constantly in motion.
SPIEGEL: Do you see yourself as a role model of Turkish emancipation?
Akin: No, although I do like the fact that people in Turkey are proud of me. On the other hand, I haven't done anything yet that portrays Turkey in a bad light. I haven't burned any bridges the way (Turkish author and Nobel Prize winner) Orhan Pamuk did. Maybe it'll happen someday, or perhaps Turkey will change enough so that burning bridges is no longer possible.
SPIEGEL: But is it possible that you actually portray Turkey in too positive a light? For example, you depict a women's prison with brightly lit, spacious group cells and inmates enjoying a game of volleyball in the prison yard.
Akin: We did a lot of research in Turkish prisons. I was keenly aware of the fact that I couldn't afford any inaccuracies. I wanted my work to be unassailable, and for that reason I had many conversations with friends of mine who were in fact imprisoned in Turkey for political reasons. We ended up shooting the scene in a prison in Istanbul for people being held on remand. What you see in the film are real prisoners and real guards. We didn't try to make Turkey more attractive than it is.
SPIEGEL: Does Turkey demand different images from you than Germany does?
Akin: Absolutely. I shot many scenes of Hamburg, albums full of postcard motifs, and I discarded almost all of them. I ride my bike through Hamburg every day. I go shopping here, I go to the doctor -- and yet I no longer have the eye for telling stories about this damn city, even though I love it. But in Turkey I have the feeling that I'm seeing everything with different eyes.
SPIEGEL: In "The Edge of Heaven," you tell the story of a lesbian love affair between a German and a Turkish woman. How did your parents feel about it?
Akin: Oh, they know what sort of a son they have by now. Why two women? Because everything else felt like a cliché. A young, dark-haired Turk comes to Hamburg, where he falls in love with an innocent blonde? No, that's too much like King Kong and the white woman. The story only became sexy once two women were involved.
SPIEGEL: Do you plan to tell a German-Turkish story again in your next film?
Akin: No, all roads lead to America. I'm planning a film about European immigrants who went to the United States in the early 20th century. We want to reconstruct Ellis Island in (the Potsdam film studio) Babelsberg. But after New York we'll be going to the Southwest. There will even be Indians. It'll be my first Western.
ABOUT FATIH AKIN
Fatih Akin is a German film director of Turkish descent. He was born in Hamburg in 1973 and studied visual communications at the city's College of Fine Arts. He made his first film, "Short Sharp Shock," in 1998 and won the Golden Bear award at the Berlin Film Festival with his 2004 film "Head- On," which brought him to the attention of international audiences. His latest film, "The Edge of Heaven," won the Best Screenplay Award at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival.
Saturday, January 19, 2008
By NICHOLAS KULISH
Published: January 6, 2008
FATIH AKIN has earned the right to be a little exasperated about the constant focus on his Turkish-German identity.
“Imagine I’m a painter, and we speak more about the background of the paintings than the foreground of the paintings, or we speak about the framing but not about the painting,” said Mr. Akin, a German film director and the son of Turkish immigrants. “For sure this is frustrating, and for sure that’s why I will leave it behind sooner or later.”
But he has not yet abandoned the journeys between Germany and Istanbul that have stood at the center of several of his films — including the breakout success in Europe of his dark, violent love story, “Head-On.” With his latest feature, “The Edge of Heaven,” Mr. Akin has created another film of similar geography but with a very different emotional landscape. It is a movie as much about bridging the gap between generations — father and son, mother and daughter — as between nations and cultures. He has had success with this latest film, for which he was writer, director and a producer, despite enormous expectations at home after “Head-On,” not the least of which were his own.
The film has stood up to scrutiny. “The Edge of Heaven” won the screenwriting prize at Cannes, received critical acclaim in Germany and will represent the country in the competition to be nominated for best foreign-language film at the Academy Awards. The movie is scheduled to open in New York at Film Forum on May 21.
In the meantime Mr. Akin, 34, will travel to the United States this month for his first shoot there. “It makes no sense to love the cinema and not take the chance once you have the possibility to work there, to refuse it,” Mr. Akin said. “If you love the cinema, you have to love America.”
German directors have flocked to Hollywood in recent years — among them, Oliver Hirschbiegel, “The Invasion”; Robert Schwentke, “Flightplan”; and Mennan Yapo, “Premonition.” Though he has had offers, Mr. Akin has not succumbed — and says he will not — to the allure or the financial payoff of a big Hollywood production, as so many of his countrymen have.
“I come from this European auteur thing,” Mr. Akin said. “I’m producing the stuff I’m doing, I’m writing the stuff I’m doing, I’m directing the stuff I’m doing. In the end it’s me on the front line, you know?”
Instead of going to Hollywood, he is making a short film called “Chinatown” for “New York, I Love You,” a follow-up to “Paris, Je T’Aime,” the collection of 18 vignettes that opened in New York last year. “That the first thing I do is, like, a five-minute film on U.S. ground, that feels healthy in a way,” Mr. Akin said in an interview here at the office of his production company, Corazón International.
Beyond his experience as a director, Mr. Akin has worked as a producer, through Corazón, on the Turkish director Ozer Kiziltan’s film “Takva,” also providing technical support in sound and editing. Mr. Akin said he was moved by its story of a humble, religious Turk forced to confront the material world by his promotion to rent collector for his religious group’s properties.
“If Fatih wasn’t involved in the project, it wouldn’t be that successful on the international side,” Mr. Kiziltan said on a sunny afternoon in Istanbul, where he was filming a television show. “If you showed the film with the first script to producers here, they say you can’t find the financing. Now everybody is saying they wish it was their film.” In addition to Germany’s nod for “The Edge of Heaven,” Turkey chose “Takva” for the Oscar foreign-language competition, a double for Mr. Akin.
A gifted raconteur in German and English, Mr. Akin is energetic and quickly engaging. Past collaborators describe his ability to communicate as one of his greatest strengths as a director. Mr. Akin is still based here in Hamburg, where he was born. His offices are just off a stretch of waterfront where a seven-ton anchor stands as a monument to this northern port city’s lifeblood: shipping. On the block sit a string of Portuguese restaurants and a red-brick church built to minister to Scandinavian seafarers a hundred years ago.
It was here that Mr. Akin set his first feature-length movie, “Short Sharp Shock,” a “Mean Streets”-style look at three friends — one Turkish, one Greek and one Serbian — trying to get ahead, or at least survive. He was just 19 when he wrote the screenplay and brought it to the German independent production company Wüste Film, hoping for a movie he could star in. Mr. Akin had been taking small acting roles and was disappointed with the stereotypical hoodlums he was asked to portray. The producers were trying out another director and got the idea of putting Mr. Akin behind the camera.
He had been operating a boom at a test shooting at a beach, remembered Ralph Schwingel, a producer at Wüste. Mr. Schwingel said he asked Mr. Akin what he was doing. The young man answered that he was figuring out how he would shoot the scene if he were the director.
“He was drawing the characters in the sand and wondering where he would put the camera,” Mr. Schwingel said. Using his own money, Mr. Schwingel paid for Mr. Akin to write and direct a short film, so he could learn the craft and also convince potential financial backers that he could pull off a feature. The result was “Short Sharp Shock” in 1998.
The film could have disappeared in the sea of Quentin Tarantino-inspired movie violence produced in the late ’90s, but quiet moments between the Turkish father and his troubled son stand out as more powerful than any spurts of blood in the finale.
“That he was unusually talented was clear very quickly,” said Mr. Schwingel’s partner, Stefan Schubert. The movie was a typical debut, well received but hardly a hit, Mr. Schubert said. In his eyes what set Mr. Akin apart from other German directors was that “he is not afraid to put feelings up on the screen.”
Mr. Akin demonstrated that clearly (if not completely successfully) in his second full-length film, “In July,” a romantic comedy about a German man following a Turkish woman from Hamburg to Istanbul. In his review in The New York Times, A. O. Scott wrote, “Mr. Akin pursues his happy, silly love story without embarrassment, and ‘In July’ is ultimately more endearing than irritating.” But it hardly seemed to herald the arrival of a great director. Neither did the follow-up, “Solino,” about a family of Italian immigrants in Germany.
Then came the surprise triumph of “Head-On,” which won the top prize, the Golden Bear, at the Berlin International Film Festival. Mr. Akin was unprepared for the celebrity it brought him in Germany as well as in Turkey. He was instantly seen as a cultural spokesman, far beyond his role as a filmmaker, to a large extent because of his Turkish roots, at a time when Germans were re-examining their complex relationship with their country’s large Muslim minority. About 2.7 million people of Turkish descent live in Germany today.
Speaking of “Head-On” and the Golden Bear, Dieter Kosslick, director of the Berlin International Film Festival, said, “In a way it was the perfect award because it shows a little bit also the change of our country and the change of our people’s mood about people who have come from different countries.”
Brought over as so-called guest workers decades ago, most of the Turkish migrants never went home. But as a group they have not been embraced by mainstream German society.
For Mr. Akin, who was 30 when he won the Golden Bear, it was hard enough to be the pride of one nation; he had to learn to thrive under the pressure of two and at the same time try to avoid the position of spokesman that had been thrust upon him.
Slouching on a sofa in his office, swaddled in youthful, baggy clothes and tired from the hectic schedule of the international rollout for “The Edge of Heaven,” Mr. Akin seemed far less like a man taking a victory lap than one relieved of a burden but still exhausted from it.
“Until ‘Head-On’ I exactly knew what I was going to do next,” he said. “I’m working on a film, and during the work on that film I knew what would be the next film. But with ‘Head-On’ it was not like that.”
“The more success the film had, the more nervous I became.”
He dealt with the problem in part by making his well-received documentary about music in Istanbul, ”Crossing the Bridge,” instead of beginning another feature.
Ultimately, though, he started to work on “The Edge of Heaven.” In the film a young Turkish-German man goes to Istanbul to find a murdered woman’s daughter, only to decide to stay in Turkey, his father’s homeland, and run a German bookstore in the city. In another strand of the story, a young German woman travels to Istanbul after her lover, a Turkish woman rejected for asylum by Germany and forced to serve prison time.
The film is marked by sudden, unexpected deaths. When tragedy befalls one of the young women, the German girl’s mother, played by the German actress Hanna Schygulla, travels to Istanbul also. Often called Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s muse, Ms. Schygulla, according to many critics, turned in the most affecting performance in the movie.
“It’s a very mature script,” Ms. Schygulla said by telephone from Paris. “I was amazed about that.”
Speaking of Mr. Akin, she said: “He’s a very natural boy. He’s not a boy; he’s a man. But he still has kept something of a boy.” It is a feeling she wants him to hold onto. “I hope he doesn’t get deformed by his success, that he stays the authentic boy he is,” she added.
“The Edge of Heaven” has its similarities in theme and some settings to “Head-On,” but it also reflects a more mature approach. The focus on parents and children may stem from Mr. Akin’s experience of becoming a father in 2005, when he and his wife had a son.
Still, “The Edge of Heaven” takes up the subject of cultural conflict for Turkish migrants that played to such powerful effect in “Head-On.” Those conflicts are universal, Mr. Akin insisted, rather than specific to the two countries. Mr. Akin, whose wife is of Mexican heritage, said that he feels great kinship with the Mexican filmmakers Guillermo Arriaga and Alfonso Cuarón.
“What I’m always trying to say is, this Turkish-German gap, you know, or this connecting element of the two nations, or systems, or worlds — you can change that and put other things instead,” Mr. Akin said. “Mexico and the U.S., same thing.”
Original Title:Sakli Yüzler
Production:Yeni Yapim Film
Co-Production:Tradewid Pictures, Bir Film
Cast:Senay Aydin, Istar Gökseven, Berk Hakman,
Helmut G.Weber, Thomas Springer, Ersan Çongar
Feza Çaldiran, Ümit Ardabak
Aytekin Birkon, Natalin Solakoglu, Handan Ipekçi
127 min, 35mm, 1:1,85, color&b/w, Dolby Digital
A documentary filmmaker unwittingly reignites a murderous vendetta that prompts an honor-obsessed man to track down his niece, whom he blames for soiling the family´s honor.
Horror, disbelief, enthrallment - the emotions flickering on the faces of the viewers in the theater speak volumes. They are watching the Turkish documentary �Honor Killings - A Violation of Human Rights�. The 'heroine' is Zurhe, a young woman from rural Turkey who loved the local shepherd and had a child from him before he abandoned her. To restore the family's honor, Zurhe�s uncle Ali forces her 17-year-old brother Ismail to strangle the baby in front of her eyes. Zurhe herself is the next to die, but instead of killing her, her father kills himself. When an enlightened uncle from Germany comes to take her with him, he too is killed by the family's men - bloodshed blamed on the underage Ismail, who is only given a five-year sentence. Finally, Zurhe is shot and left for dead. But she survives and, thanks to a kindly lawyer, begins a new life with a new identity in a town near Istanbul. By participating in the documentary, Zurhe wants to help prevent such honor killings. Unfortunately, her uncle Ali sees the film and is determined to finish the job he began several years ago ...
Known for her socio-critical films, award-winning Turkish filmmaker Handan İpekçi has crafted a searing indictment of honor killings and a suspenseful, intricately constructed crime drama with an exciting race-against-time component.
Director Handan Ipekci :
In Turkey, under the guise of 'cleaning the honor', violence is used against women, and many
women are murdered for dishonoring their families. In a way, the violence used against women
After studying radio and television at the Faculty of Communication of Gazi University, Ipekçi had her first experience of directing in 1993, when she made the documentary “Kemencenin Turkusu” (“Song of the Kemence). The following year, in 1994, she shot her first feature “Babam Askerde” (“Dad is in the Army”). In her latest feature “Büyük Adam Küçük Ask” (Hejar) Ýpekci won 21 awards over the world and “Büyük Adam Küçük Ask” was released in Germany, Englang and Japan, and it was shown in WDR in Germany.
1993 KEMENÇENIN TÜRKÜSÜ / SONG OF THE KEMENÇE, Documentary
1994 BABAM ASKERDE / DAD IS IN THE ARMY, Feature
2001 BÜYÜK ADAM KÜÇÜK ASK / HEJAR, Feature
Contact: Klaus Rasmussen
Phone +49 89 6499 3727
Fax +49 89 6499 3720
Turkey takes cinema on the road
By JAY WEISSBERG
KARS, Turkey -- No other festival on earth covers as many miles as Turkey's Festival on Wheels -- more than 25,000 of them by the organizers' reckoning.
Now in its 13th year, the budget is still tight but its success rate in creating audiences and bringing good cinema to provincial cities is nothing short of impressive.
After debuting in Ankara each year, the show literally hits the road, traveling to various regions not just in Turkey but, in recent editions, further afield including Tbilisi, Gerogia.
One city is designated the international hub where filmmakers, journalists and industry folk gather for screenings and workshops. For the past four years Kars, on the Turkish-Armenian border, has been that place.
"When we first came to Kars there were no cinemas," says fest director Basak Emre, so they brought their own 35mm projector and set up screenings in the local community hall.
The festival was such a success with the locals that Mayor Naif Alibeyoglu, a big supporter, had the hall fitted out with projectors, a good screen and Dolby digital so the city now has a fulltime cinema for the first time in years.
Made famous by "Snow," the novel by Nobel Prize winner Orhan Pamuk, Kars bears little resemblance to its fictional namesake, and its liberal atmosphere has proved a fertile ground for an appreciation of the European films at the core of the fest.
This year's edition, which ran Nov. 2-25, in Ankara, Kars, Samsun and Sarajevo, included Estonian pic "The Class," Romania's "The Rest is Silence" and Israel's "My Father, My Lord," as well as recent Turkish pics and a smattering of classics from Bresson to Antonioni.
Not all cities have always been so welcoming and others took time to nurture an audience.
"No one came from Bursa the first year there" recalls Emre, but repeat editions proved enormously popular with the locals.
Funding for this ambitious undertaking comes from a variety of national and regional sources as well as the fest's fairy godmother of sorts, Norwegian oil company Statoil.
Reviewed at Kars By JAY WEISSBERG (Variety)
Hidden Faces | Sakli Yuzler (Turkey-Germany)
With: Senay Aydin, Istar Gokseven, Berk Hakman, Cem Bender, Nisa Yildirim, Fusun Demirel, Dilan Ercetin, Bahar Aydin, Asli Ongoren, Necmettin Cobanoglu, Muhammed Cangoren, Kemal Ulusoy, Tanya Barut.
Frequent time shifts are clumsily edited as the story of Zuhre (Senay Aydin) unfolds. A teen from a rural town in Turkey, she's fallen in love with a local boy and had the audacity to sleep with him and get pregnant. When the family finds out, they force her gentle brother Ismail (sensitive heartthrob Berk Hakman) to strangle the baby, then send him out to shoot Zuhre on her way to school.
But Ismail can't go through with the horrific deed, and helps Zuhre escape. Flash forward five years to Germany, and the brother (Cem Bender) of Zuhre's former b.f. makes a documentary about the attempted honor killing. Scrupulously staying undercover for fear of giving away Zuhre's new identity, he can't help tormenting Zuhre's uncle Ali (Istar Gokseven) with the news of her escape.
Now a respected leader in Germany's Turkish community, Ali still believes his family's honor needs avenging.
Chilling statistics at the finale reveal the disturbing number of honor killings still practiced in Turkey, making "Hidden Faces" especially relevant at home. For everyone else, TV stylizations and predictable developments are unlikely to impress, though the overall force of the story still gets driven home.
Thesping largely avoids histrionics: Hakman, with his large, puppy-dog eyes reflecting a world of pain, is especially effective, and Nisa Yildirim, as Zuhre's strong-willed aunt, carries a force generally lacking in other players. Visuals tend to be bright and unremarkable.
Camera (color, mini-DV, HD-to-35mm), Feza Caldiran, Umit Ardabak; editor, Aytekin Birkon, Ipekci, Natalin Solakoglu; music, Anima; production designers, Deniz Ozen, Esra Yildiz; sound, Umut Senyol, Dinos Kitou. Reviewed at Festival of European Films on Wheels, Kars, Turkey, Nov. 11, 2007. (Also in Thessaloniki Film Festival -- Balkan Survey.) Running time: 127 MIN.