It’s been quite a year for Fatih Akin. The Turkish-German filmmaker’s Armenian genocide film “The Cut” hit cinemas after much ado last year about whether the film would premiere at Cannes or Venice. The historical drama is the third installment in his “Love, Death and the Devil Trilogy,” accompanying previous installments “Head-On” and “The Edge of Heaven.” “The Cut” was met with mixed reviews and underperformed at the box office, but Akin shows no signs of slowing down.
In Morocco for the Marrakech International Film Festival, where he is presenting a master class, Akin was candid and reflective on the challenges he faced with “The Cut” and on the future of his career in an interview with the Playlist. Throughout the festival, jury members, guests and filmmakers have contemplated the recent terror attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, attempting to make sense of such senseless violence, and Akin was no different, with a willingness to be honest about his uncertainty about the role of art and culture in politics in light of tragic events. But the discussion wasn’t too somber —Akin’s forthrightness and candor in discussing his own experiences navigating the world of international film was illuminating.
In films about genocide, there’s often an element of bearing witness or testimony as such. What were some of the motivations for you to make “The Cut”?
There was a certain purpose —and I don’t know if it’s right to work like this— but I wanted to change the world and I wanted to change society. I wanted to spread the information because there are so much unknown about the genocide, especially in Turkey. And not just there, but everywhere in the world. You do film like that in order to create a reflection in the audience, especially a young audience. Once they see that, they ask themselves “that happened?” and “why?” It would be good if a film like that could be a trigger to inform yourself more. That was the purpose.
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There’s been a lot of talk at the festival about whether art can change the world and the role of artists in the current geopolitical climate. Your films are very political but are also very personal. Do you think that’s the best approach for creating political films?
I don’t know if that’s the best approach. I am in a kind of crisis —I don’t know anything anymore. I don’t know if it was the right way to handle things like that or not. I definitely became more pessimistic about everything. I lost this belief that cinema or art can change the world. I used to believe in that, but now I’m a bit shaky. I don’t know if cinema is strong enough for that.
What makes you think that? Is there something specific?
Look around and see what’s going on in the world. What happened in San Bernardino, what happened in Paris, what happens in the Middle East every day. And then look at the amount of films we have. We’ve never had so many films as we do today, and filmmaking has never been as easy as it is today. Everybody can do a film with the iPhone —my kids are doing that. But It doesn’t help. Give me a reason to believe that art can change the world, but I don’t believe that right now. Art can reflect it. Maybe it can [change the world] but I doubt it, to be honest.
There was a lot of discussion about “The Cut” and whether it was going to play Cannes or Venice. Is the discussion of festival politics overblown or worth talking about?
“The Cut” was discounted because of these kind of politics —what is the right festival, what is the right section. Suddenly, my film was in the middle of these kind of politics, and I don’t know how much it has to do with the quality of the film. I took some action in order to protect my film, like pulling it out from Cannes, giving it to Venice, and announcing it. I did what I did to protect the film, but it turned out that I destroyed the faith in the film. These kind of things really can kill the destiny of a film. Here I am, one million dollars in debt because of the film. The film was a big time flop everywhere, and people haven’t seen the film but they speak bad about it. That happened because of the politics. I don’t blame the festivals for that. Me and my crew were not smart enough to handle it right, maybe. I don’t know. But it’s dangerous: if you go onto the festival circuit with a film and it’s delicate, you are in open waters.
It would be best to release the film with no festivals or small festivals like here. Maybe you help the festivals and maybe you help the film. But I don’t know even if this is the best. Then you have the distributor and the world sales team saying “no, no, no, we need this slot, and we need the competition, and it has to [screen] on Saturday.” I don’t care about Saturday —I want the film to be seen.
The festival cut was in English and the release cut had Armenian dialogue. What was the reason behind that change?
I shot the film in English. There were certain reasons why I did that. The distributors, who I worked with before, were like “you have a certain position, you are a certain character” as a filmmaker because of the previous films we did. “You irritated the people by shooting it in English” —that was the argument. “So I think it would be better for your audience to dub the film into Armenian.” I said “okay. If you know the audience better than I do, go for it.” It’s not just that I had control or not, but I thought the whole discussion was ridiculous. Like, which language are we speaking? [gestures between himself and interviewer] We speak the English that we’re speaking. This is the world, and I thought, okay, I’m reflecting the world how it is. It’s a personal film, and it has this personal language, English. But I was known for another [kind of] cinema.
What can you tell me about your new film, “Tschick”?
It’s based on a German novel. It was the book in the last few years —it sold 2 million times and it was translated in 40 countries. When I read the book for the first time five years ago, I definitely wanted to do a film about it, like all the German filmmakers, and somehow it ended up with me. It’s a film about two kids stealing a car and driving around and just talking garbage for 90 minutes. I don’t know if it will interest anybody, and it will definitely not make the world a better place.
Your twitter handle is @Akin35mm. Is that an expression of your commitment to 35mm?
It is. To be honest, I was shooting 35 mm until “The Cut.” Beside my documentaries, I never worked digital. “Tschick” was the first time I worked digital, and you know what? I loved it. What am I wasting my time [on set]? When the actor is in the middle of the focus and everybody is concentrating, and the [camera] is empty and you lose ten minutes by changing it? This is bullshit. I don’t like it anymore. Today, everybody, even people who worked so much with 35mm, [is saying] “we can change it later in digital, we can fix this problem in digital.” There is no reason to shoot on 35. If you want to create a 35 look, then shoot on 35, but I think the eye has changed so much, especially with kids, so everything that looks like it has many layers. 35 looks old-fashioned for kids. I will turn back to 35 sooner or later, or Super 16, but [ever] since I worked on digital for the first time, I loved it.
Atom Egoyan’s wife [Arsinée Khanjian] is in your film, and he also made a film about the Armenian genocide (“Ararat”), so what’s the relationship there? Have you talked to him about the topic?
Atom and me met in Armenia around 2010. “The Cut” was already a project I was working on. Atom was always very helpful for me, a friend I could consult. It was very important for me to have his Armenian intellectual angle on my work. So I asked him about his opinions here and there. And I think I have some of his costumes in my film —it was kind of like a huge secondhand shop. So I have some of his spirit in my film.
Interview has been edited for clarity.