The movies of Fatih Akin, ‘citizen of the world and child of the present’

Fatih Akin’s cinema work marries the fire of the East with the cold face of the West. Born to Turkish parents in Germany, where she also grew up, the 31-year-old filmmaker is not torn between two worlds, but is a citizen of many worlds from which he draws music, images, passions, behaviors and scenes. His films are intense, powerful and full of rage. The filmmaker himself defies categorization, even blatantly at times: as a musician or DJ, his music mixes bring together hard rock with Turkish taxims, Depeche Mode with the santour. Akin was awarded the Berlin International Film Festival’s Golden Bear last February for «Head-On,» currently playing in Greek movie theaters. In it, two Turkish immigrants in Germany – a 40-something unemployed man and a 20-year-old Turkish woman from a domineering traditionalist family – join their fates in a white wedding aimed at freeing them from the bonds they feel burdened by. Documentary Akin has made another three feature films – «Short Sharp Shock» (1998), «In July» (2000) and «Solino» (2002) – and he is currently preparing his fifth production, a documentary film on Turkey titled «Crossing the Bridge.» The theme of this fifth project is to present a portrait of Istanbul via its music, focusing on 30 artists from different musical and ethnic backgrounds. «I need music the way I need air,» he said in a recent interview while visiting Athens for the avant-premiere of «Head-On» and to attend a short tribute to his work at the Goethe Institute, organized within the context of the Premiere Nights film festival. Most of the main characters in your films are immigrants. Do you consider yourself an immigrant too? Not really. Many others do though. My movies mirror my personality. The stories I like to tell happen in my world. It is not about immigrants, Turkish or otherwise. It is about the cinema of Fatih Akin. How much of a Turk do you feel? It depends. Sometimes every day. Right now I don’t feel like a Turk, or a German, or any other nationality for that matter. I feel like a citizen of the world, of this moment, a child of the present. What is the difference between being a Turk, a German or a citizen of the world? Maybe that you have more freedom. The concept of ethnicity was born with the French Revolution. That was 215 years ago. Just look at how many wars have been fought over ethnicity. Integration What is the relationship between the German citizenry and Turkish migrants? We have 40 years of immigration to Germany. The Turkish minority is the largest in the country. Nothing would function properly without them. There are 2.5 million Turks… Over the course of Germany’s immigration history, mistakes have probably been made by both sides. Half of the Germans treat the Turks as guests. Personally, I do not feel like a guest in Germany. I was born there, went to school, studied there. Have the Turkish immigrants integrated into German society? Some have, others haven’t. The younger generations refuse to learn German. They keep going on about «roots.» They want to be Turks but they know nothing of Turkey. They know nothing of its music, its poets, its cinema, its culture. They go there on holiday for a few weeks, come back, and that’s it. They don’t even speak the language properly. And they think of themselves as Turks. It’s ridiculous. Perhaps the integration process takes more than 40 years. In France, for example, immigrants have held onto their traditions but still think of themselves as French. I think the rest of the French respect them. And if you respect immigrants, then 50 percent of the hard work is done. The more colors a country has, the richer and better it is. If we just look at cinema on a national level, we see that the most powerful – I am not saying the best – comes from countries that have grasped this concept. Like American cinema, or French cinema. I’m not saying that racism does not exist in those countries, but that integration is possible. East-West bridge What is your perception of Turkey? It’s hard to say. I make films so that I can try to understand it. I really like what I see now of Istanbul through my documentary: It’s rich, exciting, fascinating. Turkey is in the middle of an identity crisis. Turkey is neither a European nor an Asian country: It is something in between. It is a dilemma for many people, because they are not sure where they belong. At the same time, though, it is an advantage. My generation is recovering, rediscovering its own culture, its own history. Recovering means respecting, protecting, working hard to keep it alive. It also means the freedom to mix it with other things and that is good. It gives them the self-knowledge to say that they do not want to be a part of Europe, nor of Asia. We are a bridge between the two and that is what we have always been. A road to the East and a road to the West. We must understand that and hold onto it.