Fatih Akin, the 44-year-old German director of “In the Fade” (December 29, Magnolia Pictures) seemed both bemused and philosophical the night after his film’s surprise Best Foreign Language win at Sunday night’s Golden Globe Awards. “The story is like a German team won a big sports victory in the local newspapers,” he noted from the Palm Springs International Film Festival, 5,000 miles away from Berlin.
“In the Fade” is the fictionalized story of a German woman (Cannes Best Actress winner Diane Kruger) who demands justice after her immigrant husband and their son are victims of a terror attack. They turn out to have been targets of white nationalists who are arrested and put on trial. Based on real-life events but fictionalized (the actual case that served as a starting point is still not resolved in local courts), it is a compelling thriller as well as a drama about justice and racism.
The day after collecting his big prize in front of the world, Akin might have been expected to stay in Los Angeles fielding calls and basking in the glory. Instead he was back on the festival circuit, making two appearances in Palm Springs. First at a panel featuring eight of the nine shortlisted foreign-language Oscar contenders and then a Q & A a sold-out screening of “In the Fade,” accompanied by Cannes Best Actress winner Diane Kruger.
Showing no signs of exhaustion eight months after his Cannes debut, Akin reflected on his win. “It’s a good place for me to be,” he said. “Happy to be getting out of the L.A. craziness as much as I love the city. It was getting to be a little too much. It’s an adventure that includes frustration, laughs, loss — and physical and psychological exhaustion.” The director, whose films have been prominent on the global festival circuit going back to “In July” in 2001 (followed by “Head On,” “The Edge of Heaven,” and “Crossing the Bridge,” all playing stateside) has won many awards from (including the Cannes screenplay prize for “Edge”), but nothing at this level of attention in America.
He has embraced getting to know his fellow contenders. “The better you know the people, the less competitive you get,” he said. But the experience of winning is “a moment when you’re alone.”
Akin, a German-born citizen of Turkish descent, said that he’d wanted to make a film about racism — “what it felt like as a child to learn that because you have dark hair and brown eyes you are different” — for many years. “In the Fade” shows how police and public suspicion sometimes falls within an ethnic group when murders occur, victimizing them a second time.
Magnolia’s “In the Fade” has been a modest performer in its limited initial dates in New York and Los Angeles since it opened on December 29, qualifying for mainstream Oscar categories and other awards, though that is not needed for Foreign Language contention. It opens this Friday in San Francisco, then after its hoped-for nomination, hitting major markets for initially exclusive dates in top cities.
Akin expects the Globe win to boost its ongoing performance in Germany, where the film has performed decently for an arthouse independent.
Palm Springs has been a traditional showcase for subtitled films, often to selling out shows of little known titles from around the world enthusiastically received by a mostly older audience (the area includes many retirees including snowbirds who winter there). For years they have screened half or more of the initial submissions for the Oscar from around the world. All nine of the remaining contenders have been shown, nearly all with their directors in attendance.
These include South African John Trengrove, whose “The Wound” (Kino Lorber) is the only debut feature on the Oscar shortlist, and, despite the year-long acclaim for the tribal coming-of-age ritual story which includes unexpected gay relationships, the biggest surprise on the list. Trengrove, who has been touring with the film since its Sundance premiere a year ago, is up in the air for his short-term plans. Like Akin, he is awaiting the nominations on January 23 to see where he heads next from Los Angeles.
The attention these awards can bring include possible interest from U.S. studios for more big-scale work. Akin expressed some doubts about that as his next step, citing Pedro Almodovar and Ingmar Bergman as major European directors who did fine without ever succumbing to the lure of Hollywood. His response when asked if he had heard about “The Mountain Between Us,” last year’s plane crash drama with Kate Winslet and Idris Elba directed by Palestinian two-time Foreign Language Oscar nominee Hany Abu-Assad, his response was an enigmatic “Kate Winslet? Hmmm.”