Interview with Fatih Akin


Like the food served up at the title bistro in his latest release "Soul Kitchen" (opens August 27), German-Turkish Fatih Akin's work is a fusion of tastes and traditions. As might be expected, in previous films like his much-lauded  "Head-On" (2004) and "Edge of Heaven" (2007) he shows elements of Turkish directors such as Niri Bilge Ceylan and of German directors such as Rainer Werner Fassbinder and Wim Wenders.

But those influences came later. His first love was for the good old meat and potatoes of  Hollywood genre filmmaking. It inspired him as a kid to write the screenplay for his first film "Short Sharp Shock" (1998) and since then he has made movies at a deliberate pace and established himself as one of Germany's leading directors. Or is that Turkey?

And maybe Hollywood will be next in line. A broad, zesty comedy, "Soul Kitchen" might be his most accessible film to date. One can easily imagine an English language remake. Could his own studio debut be far behind? Some these questions get asked and answered when I talked to him recently.

PK: I read that this took five years for you to write the script for "Soul Kitchen" and this may have been the most difficult movie for you to make because it's a comedy.

FA: Yeah that's right. I never expected it would take so long. The draft was so fast in 2003. Doing the editing, it was all within 5 days. And I had the idea to shoot this very fast. With a small crew, on video, with no light. With Adam Bousdoukos, and he had a restaurant, and we we're going to shoot in his restaurant, and we would do it very easy, and very fast. I needed money at that time. I was very broke. And the idea was like to do the film, so we would have some feasts. I never expected it would be such a quest, and that it would be the most difficult and expensive film of my career so far.

PK: So this is in 2003. What film were you working on then?

FA: That was the editing of "Head-On." That was before the Golden Bear [First Prize at the Berlin Film Festival won by "Head-on"]. That was before the whole circus started.

PK: So you were kind of running on empty and you had a fast turn around.

FA: Yeah, I came out of empty because I became one of the producers for "Head On." To control "Head On" in an artistic way, like final cut, to do the film the way I wanted to, I had to be the producer. And to do that I had to put money into it. So I put a huge part of my fee into the budget. I was out of money after it. Then it was actually "Crossing the Bridge" (2005), the music documentary. Which was another film, which was really, you know, it's a documentary. So I wrote the synopsis, which was like 14 pages, in like 2 hours. It was very fast. It was there, I had to exchange the project. I did this music documentary I always wanted to do. In 6 weeks we had half a million Euros to do "Crossing the Bridge," we sold it to television in Germany, and with that budget we did it. And so I could pay my rent, and we had this transition film between "Head On" and the "Edge of Heaven."

PK: And next the four-hour black and white American set period movie.

FA: I don't think I'll make it in  black and white anymore. (laughs)

PK: That's really taking a chance, black and white these days.  Why not 3-D?

FA: I would like to do a music documentary about prince in 3D. This is the only 3D project that would make sense to me, of all of my projects. Because I think the visual deepness and focus of 3D could be interesting to challenge yourself to photograph music. That could be interesting, because music has so many dimensions. That's the only thing where it makes sense to use 3D.

PK: "Fantasia" with Prince instead of the dancing hippos.

FA: It would be enough to see the guy rehearsing and shoot that in 3D.

PK: So he's one of your favorites? He's kind of, he goes in out of popularity, but he seems to persevere.

FA: He was the first artist I really followed.

PK: What was it that first drew you to making movies?

FA: I think, I had a cousin, they used to like near us in the 70s. Once a week we used to go there because they had a bathtub. We just had a shower. And my cousin was 10, and he had a super 8 projector, and he had one wheel of 15 minute films. The first film was "Fists of Fury," a Bruce Lee film. For a kid, at the age of five, it was a big thing to close down the curtain, you know, it's magic. The daylight has to stay out, and you project it to a wall or part of furniture. And to see Bruce Lee whooping people's ass off was a big thing, for 15 minutes. And what was even more interesting was the 15 minutes were over he had to rewind the whole thing, so the whole 15 minutes went backwards. You have to do that. That was my thing. It had such a deep impact on me. I think I knew at that time that I would end up doing films. So anything after that time with film or television, I was really interested.

PK: Did you ever see the rest of the movie?

FA: Yeah but very late. After the DVD I guess.

PK: I'd think if you saw it forward and then went backwards you'd be able to analyze it pretty well.

FA: And we were there every Sunday to watch it. So I really analyzed those things. Later on when I saw on DVD I knew when would be the next kick, the next punch, and so on.

PK: So you decided not to become a kung fu superhero but a filmmaker.

FA: I was practicing martial arts, but I wasn't good enough. So I had to become a filmmaker.

PK: You also started out as an actor. I read that your dream was to become your own Sylvester Stallone, and to write your own "Rocky" script and star in it and direct it.

FA: That was the way I started, back in the 90s. I thought about being a filmmaker then, but I thought maybe later, maybe I have to be in my 40s to start doing films. I thought it was like that. That you needed experience to do so. At that time, it was between high school and university, at that time I find myself working for television shows. For cop shows. It was always the same thing. So it was frustrating. So I wrote the first script. And my idea was like, I do it like Stallone.

PK: And like him you get an Oscar.

FA: I wasn't thinking about an Oscar, I was thinking about to get into the film business. And I found a production who had interest in the script. And then almost two years to find the right director. And meanwhile I had finished high school.

PK: You wrote that in high school?

FA: In the last year of high school. In '93. I could sell an option for it in December '93 or January '94. And that was the big thing. I thought, okay I made it. And meanwhile my mother really resisted. She said, "no I want you to study. I don't care what you study but I want you to study." She really insisted on that. So, I ended up studying film. You could study visual communication in the university for fine arts. And they made a test, and I solved that. I made a little film, it was the first I made really. I made other shorts as a teenager, during the school, when we had projects. But that was my first film of 10 minutes, based upon, it was not long after Kurt Cobain had killed himself, and I wrote my, about the afterworld. It's about the kid who's doing suicide and the bureaucracy of the afterworld. That was the thing I did for 10 minutes. They liked the film. My producer liked the film too, the one who bought my option for my first script. And he was like, "hey, instead of looking for other directors, you should direct the film." In the beginning I thought I could do both, to direct and act, but then I realized I had to make a decision, and I decided to direct. I became I director because of this acting. Now I don't act any more. It doesn't interest me. But it was a good school. It was a good education of how to treat actors, knowing the fear of actors. That's the only reason I would act again, just to know actors better.

Next: secrets of "Soul Kitchen's" aphrodisiac dessert.

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