Ausgabe 23/2005

New Film from "Head On" Director Fatih Akin Turkey Is neither Eastern nor Western. Or Is it Both?

Turkish-German director Fatih Akin's film "Head On" was internationally acclaimed and took the top prize at the 2004 Berlin Film Festival. His new film, a documentary about music in Istanbul called "Crossing the Bridge," hits the cinema this week. He spoke with SPIEGEL about communicating through music and rifts within Turkish culture.

Turkish German filmmaker Fatih Akin, 31, took Europe by storm in 2004 with his immensely successful movie "Head On."

Turkish German filmmaker Fatih Akin, 31, took Europe by storm in 2004 with his immensely successful movie "Head On."


Mr. Akin, your new film "Crossing the Bridge -- The Sound of Istanbul" is debuting in theaters this week. After the success of your last film "Head On," there are naturally high expectations for this one. Did you make a documentary instead of a feature film in part to escape the pressure of those expectations?

Akin: It wasn't something I could escape. The next film would always have been referred to as the film that followed "Head On." But "Crossing the Bridge" really came about as a result of the momentum from "Head On."

SPIEGEL: What do you mean?

Akin: Alexander Hacke, the bass player from (the German industrial band) Einstuerzende Neubauten ("collapsing new buildings"), traveled to our set in Istanbul while we were filming and recorded the Romany choral composition for "Head On." It was fascinating to watch how he was able to communicate with the gypsies through music, since he didn't understand Turkish. The producer and I were sitting around the hotel one evening, complaining and vowing never to make another movie. Suddenly we hit upon the idea of shooting a documentary about Istanbul's music with Hacke.

SPIEGEL: Why had you lost interest in making movies?

Akin: It happens every time. Whenever I'm making a feature film, I wish I were filming a documentary, because making feature films is so stressful. But I also had another incentive for making "Crossing the Bridge." I had just formed my own production company, Corazón International, and I needed a manageable project to start off with -- a project that wouldn't ruin me completely if it failed.

SPIEGEL: And then you won the Golden Bear for "Head On" at the Berlin Film Festival. Wouldn't it have made more sense to bank on your success and make another feature film?

Akin: No. In fact, I jumped at the chance to get out of Germany for a couple of months, after all that excitement, and film this documentary.

SPIEGEL: "Head On" is about East-West conflicts among Turks. Doesn't your new film deal with pretty much the same subject matter?

Akin's new film is a documentary about music in Istanbul.
Pictorion Pictures

Akin's new film is a documentary about music in Istanbul.

Akin: You could see it that way. Istanbul is Turkey's true capital, and it presents a fairly accurate cross-section of the social situation within the country. In making the film, I was also interested in exploring the question of whether Turkey is really European enough for the European Union. In my mind, music was an interesting way to answer that question.

SPIEGEL: But "Crossing the Bridge" doesn't provide an answer.

Akin: Because there is no clear answer. While shooting the film, I realized that the situation in Turkey is far too complex to provide easy answers to these kinds of questions. Take the music, for example: they have hip-hop and Romany orchestras, rock bands playing in four-four time, and traditional groups in nine-eight time. It became clear to me that the West doesn't end at the Greek border. And the East doesn't extend from Istanbul to China. These are imaginary boundaries.

SPIEGEL: Who is the audience for your film? Germans? Turks? Turks living in Germany?

Akin: Anyone who wants to know what Turkey really looks like -- beyond the debate surrounding head scarves. And anyone who, like myself, finds these conflicts interesting. The question of whether I consider myself more German or Turkish is similar to the question Turks ask themselves. Is Turkey Western, or isn't it? My answer is that it's both.

SPIEGEL: You've been quoted as saying that you don't see your role as a mediator between the two cultures. But isn't this exactly what you're doing with this film?

Akin: To be honest, by now I don't care what people think of me. There isn't anything I can change about it. And I also have no objection to "Crossing the Bridge" being seen as a political film. Our age is far too apolitical. That's one reason I wouldn't be interested in filming some sort of comedy.

SPIEGEL: Do you think your new film will finally give you a following among Turks living in Germany?

"Head On" is seen as part of a recent renaissance in German film.
Wüste Film

"Head On" is seen as part of a recent renaissance in German film.

Akin: "Head On" was already seen by more Turkish immigrants in Germany than all my previous films put together. There are two reasons for this: First, the film generated a lot of attention in the media, both positive and negative. Second, it was released in movie theaters in Turkey at the same time. When I made movies in the past, many Turks here in Germany never even found out about them. For example, I didn't hear anything about "In July" from Turks in Germany until it came out in movie theaters in Turkey -- two years after it ran in Germany.

SPIEGEL: Why is that?

Akin: The Turks who live here in Germany don't get their information from German media. They read Turkish newspapers and watch Turkish television. A sort of parallel media world has developed in Germany, especially as a result of technological advances like satellite TV and the internet. Paradoxically, progress has actually taken them a step backward.


Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan

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