Artist on the "Edge:" Interview with Fatih Akin

Turkish-German director Fatih Akin’s most recent films, the frenetic, punkish "Head-On"  (no, you don't rub it directly on your forehead) and the more meditative and consoling "The Edge of Heaven," have at least two things in common: characters go to Turkey, and they don’t come back — usually for unfortunate reasons. So I was worried when the first attempt to get in touch with Akin, who was vacationing in Turkey, was unsuccessful. The publicist gave me a song and dance about Akin’s two year-old child crying and how he'd have  to receive the call the next day at the office of
somebody or something. It sounded a little bit like a rough draft of a Fatih Akin movie. So I was relieved to make the connection the next day.

PK:So you’re in Turkey. Are you at the same beach as the one at the end of “The Edge of Heaven?”

FA: No.  I am on the west coast. never been here before on vacation here. I’ve got another week of vacation

PK: I heard your two-year-old wasn’t happy with you doing the interview yesterday.

FA: He was kind of crazy and wild yesterday. It wasn’t very smart of me to think I could do the interview on the street on my mobile while I was with my family. I couldn’t hear the questions. so I asked the restaurant next to where I’m staying if I could use their phone today.

PK: They say having children changes everything.

FA: It brings out a lot of things that are a part of you but you don’t know they are a part of you. You learn what’s important and what’s not. I’m a family person. I come from a big family. I feel trust in and protected by the family system. I just follow the biology.

PK: Did this contribute to the change in tone from the anarchic “Head On” to the more meditative “Edge of Heaven?”

FA: Yes. I was writing it during the pregnancy and the birth and the first few months. I was very emotional. It was a very frightening time and crazy time as I was writing the screenplay. I was thinking a lot about death while I was experiencing the birth. On the other hand I was also trying to do something different because I had to prove to myself and to critics that I could do something different. I didn’t want to repeat myself. It’s a very curious film. It’s not that funny or crazy. It was inspired by all the stuff I saw in Cannes while I was on the jury in 2005. And the next film I’m working on will be very different from the last two.

PK: That’s “Soul Kitchen?”

FA: Yes. If it isn’t funny I’ll say it’s a melodrama. Comedy is the hardest. I have been working for five years on that damn screenplay. I think it’s the most difficult film I ever worked on.

PK: It’s your Billy Wilder film?

FA: I am very very inspired by him. And Woody Allen is very top level. You can make people cry -- that’s so easy. Worldwide. You can make people cry in Japan or great Britain about the same things. But timing and humor is so much more difficult. On the other hand, though it is more difficult, you don’t see any comedy in Cannes. It’s considered by all the cinephiles and top film critics as very mainstream-y or not arty enough. I think that’s arrogance. I know what I’m talking about because I’ve been in the middle of the writing process of a comedy for five years.

PK: It shoots in October?

FA: I have financing and everything but I’ll tell you, if I don’t feel comfortable with the script I won’t start shooting I don’t care. We’ll see what will happen.

PK: By the way, “Edge of Heaven” -- do you like that translation of the film’s title?Like translation of title?

FA: Yeah. I chose it. I didn’t like so much “On the Other Side” [the literal translation of the film’s German title, “Auf der anderen Seite”] as a translation. 

PK: “The Edge of Heaven” sounds like a Douglas Sirk film that was never made.

FA: I consider that a compliment. I wanted to give the film its own identity for the commercial market. It’s a very beautiful title in German but when you translate it word for word “On the Other Side…”  There was another film “The Lives of Others.” It sounds similar. It lacked a certain poetry. Maybe there is some, me not being and English speaking person, but I asked English speakers and we discovered “The Edge of Heaven.” When the professor is waiting for his father on the beach at the end. That’s the perfect description.

PK: Which is not  the same beach you’re at now.

FA: The beach here is not so wild. It’s calm and protected and safe for children.

PK: The multi-narrative reminds me of Kieslowski.

FA: Many people have compared it to Kieslowski and I have to admit I’ve never seen his films. Except “A Short Film about Killing” and “A Short Film About Love.” Those are by Kieslowski, right? But I haven’t seen the trilogy.

PK: “Babel” is another film it’s been compared to.

FA: That one I’ve seen. But I saw it during the editing process [of “Edge”]. “21 Grams” was a big influence. For “Head-on” also. The way he shot the film.

But I’m not so much influenced by [Alejandro Gonzalez] Inarritu [the director]. I’m a friend of his writer Guillermo Arriaga. We met in Cannes  and he became a friend.

PK: You also mentioned Persian and Asian films as influences.

FA: When you have a piece written by Arriaga and directed by Inarritu he covers everything from every side so he completely controls it and in the editing room he can do whatever he wants. At first I thought I was going to do it like that. But then we thought we have this modern form of narrative structure like with Tarantino, we decided the structure might be modern but the way we would shoot the film actors landscape space, that was inspired by Asian cinema. This makes the film more interesting, I think. On the one hand there’s the classical oldfashionedc of telling the story and you have the moder way of telling the story and you mix them together. I have some ideas and follow them and in the end something different comes out. It develops its own power and rules and you follow that Kubrick wasn’t like that. He never gave up until he got exactly what he wanted. I don’t have that patience.

PK: Plus he made a film only every ten years or so.

FA: I respect that. But I feel comfortable doing something every two or three years.

PK: You engaged in improvisation on this film?

FA: I don’t come to the set and say, what are we going to do today? Since I’m the producer I like to be on time and be under budget. I like to be fast, organized, prepared. The more you prepare the more space you have to try stuf out. That’s been my experience. Before I  come to the set I have a rehearsal with my actors I know what they’re going to do and I have a shot list for my DP. I know the location. Once prepared you can be free. If  I have another idea o n the set or the actor has another idea which is better than we can do that. But if I didn’t know what we were going to do I would be completely lost. You don’t know what will happen on the set. Maybe it will be rainy on that day you need it to be sunny. Instead of not shooting I will be able to change the script and find a reason to put the rain into it.

PK: Is this more political? With the terrorist political group and the fundamentalist vigilantes?

FA: I don’t think it’s a political. It depends on what the definition of a political film is. A filmmaker like Yilmaz Guney, the great Kurdish director who died in ‘84 and made “Yol” is political…

PK: Aren’t you working on a documentary about him?

FA: I’m working on a project about him. I don’t know yet whether it will be a documentary or fiction. It’s a very difficult subject. But I like him as a filmmaker. His passion, both romantic and visual. But he was a political filmmaker. He believed he could change an audience. He was a Maoist. He tried to teach an audience. He was didactic. Michael Moore also is a political filmmaker. These filmmakers have certain ideas and they try to teach the audience. I don’t want to teach myaudience because I don’t know anything about anything. There’s nothing I know I can teach. If there as message I would just say it and not put it in a film. Like Bob Marley,  he’s got the same message in one line that’s in my films  “One love, one life, let’s come together.” This is what I want to tell people: we’re all one, we’re all united, connected to each other. It doesn’t matter where you come from or your religion. It wasn’t the aim of the film in the beginning. It came out in the process. At the end we could say, oh, it was about that.

It deals with political issues, right. But I don’t want to compare it to those masters. Sidney Lumet, I think he’s a great political filmmaker. He made films about political issues…But his films are about humanity. The human being is in the foreground. He accepts and forgives human beings for what they’re doing. But there are political issues in “Dog Day Afternoon,”  “Serpico” or “12 Angry Men.”

PK: How about Costra-Gavras?

FA: I love him and his work and he’s a political filmmaker. He asked me to appear in his film and I couldn’t because of the time. But later I thought it’s for the best because I really don’t want to act anymore. Even if I act I’m not a good actor. I don’t feel comfortable. Directors always say, trust me, trust me. I know  I don’t do them a favor if I appear in his films. Scorsese could come and ask me and I wouldn’t do it.

PK: He’d act in your films probably though.

FA :Scorsese? That would be funny. That would be great. He’s a great actor.

PK: What’s your deal with Hollywood? Weren’t you planning  to do a Western?

FA: It’s one of those 20 plus things I have to do. Last year I made a huge trip to New Mexico with friends and a camera and we collected a lot of material for something we call “The Western.” Certain issues about Turkey today we discovered that we could put them in an arty framing in the US. I really want to come over and do something. But this is a very expensive and huge and difficult thing to write.

 You have the problem of choice. So many interesting things that people offer to you. Or interesting ideas you discover. Books, subjects. So much stuff to do. And what  I’m going to do now is “Soul Kitchen.” There’s an inner voice that says do “Soul Kitchen.” I don’t think I lack the courage to come over. I’ve been negotiating for two years with an American company to come over with a project. If you flirt with the studio, it’s difficult. This studio has a great catalogue and great people and those people have other people behind them and they have stuff to say. It’s difficult to create an infrastructure where you feel yourself protected. And then it’s like it took me ten years in Europe to get where I’m completely free to do what I want and I don’t want to give this up. To do things  the way I want to do them. My films are better than they were before. The first three films were important. They were my education but the pictures weren’t so much for me but for the producers. They had me do things I didn’t want to do. They forced me to compromise. “Head-on” was the first film I produced so I could do what I wanted and it was the most successful film so far.

They were great producers and they discovered me and taught me. But it was living in the parents’ house. They had their own ideology and ideas of right and wrong and when I became an adult I had my opinions and so I had to move out.

PK: What would you do if a Hollywood studio offered you, say, “Iron Man 2?”

FA: I have agents there. Sometimes I get a script that’s already written. But at this point I’m afraid I’m more a filmmaker than a director. I wish I could be a director. I’ve done that in the past in Germany working from a screenplay. That’s difficult working with my own language. But if I get something in Los Angeles or New York I have to go there and understand people and the lifestyle.

PK: Here’s an odd item I read: you were arrested in Germany for wearing an anti-Bush T-shirt with a swastika on it.What happened with that?

FA: The German police wanted to put me in jail. I didn’t know that this was criminal. If I knew it was criminal I wouldn’t wear it. I saw that Hugo Chavez was wearing it and a football player and I was proud wearing the same T-shirt as them. It was interesting - “Der Spiegel” had the story and you should see all the internet users’ comments - very, very ugly comments by Germans. Like, how many Armenians were killed by your grandfather? Stuff like that. On the one hand, it’s good to see what such a symbol brings out in the German mind. There not cool with that at all. They completely freak out. But also like Nazis. Zealous. Really ugly stuff.

PK: But the anti-Bush refrence didn’t bother anyone.

FA: Not at all. Like I tried to tell “Der Spiegel,”  his looking for a reason to attack Iraq was like Hitler’s rationale for an attack against Poland.

PK: Let’s change the subject to Hanna Schygulla. What was it like working with her?

FA: It was like flirting with her. Like dancing with her. I wish I wasolder or she was younger and we could have a love affair or something like that. It was a bit like an unspoken love affair.  I saw some Fassbinder films before I met her, because he made so many. But most of her films I watched afterwards. I met her at a film festival in Zagreb. Then I discovered “Maria Braun” and “Lili Marlene” and all that. “Petra Von Kant.” I fell in love with her. The film was written for her.

PK: It seems in a lot of your films when a character goes to Turkey bad something happens.

FA: I don’t want to create that image. It’s a beautiful country. I think it’s the most beautiful country in the world. I’m a filmmaker, a storyteller. Sometimes I tell dark stories. This is my fantasy. People get angry about my fantasies sometimes. I think America is a great place. But when you see all the films made there with mass murder you don’t think the place is like that.

PK: How goes the Turkish film industry?

FA: . There are a few great filmmakers. Like Nuri Bilge Ceylan, who won the best director award in Cannes this year. And Zeki Demirkibuz.  He’s a great guy. They produce direct, write and edit themselves. Turkey is a unique country with unique issues. It’s a very strange country. The EU, America can’t help us. We are very alone. Not irrational, but emotional. Passionate. So I think you can look for good cinema coming from here. We have a lot of problems and so a lot of stories to tell.





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