Turkish-German director Akın says his new movie ‘doesn’t apologize’ over Armenian issue
Zeynep Miraç“The Cut,” Turkish-German director Fatih Akın’s new movie based on the 1915 events, made its long-anticipated world premiere at the 71st Venice Film Festival earlier this week. The film has received a mixed response from critics so far, but Akın says it has “fulfilled its purpose.”
The Armenians say the World War I-era mass killings under the rule of the Ottoman Empire amounted to “genocide.” The Turkish state has always denied this, saying that any deaths were the result of civil strife that erupted when Armenians took up arms for independence in eastern Anatolia.
While “The Cut” takes the traumatic 1915 events as its starting point, what follows is a transcontinental journey story following the central character, Nazareth, trying to reunite with his family after the trauma of the massacres. Fatih Akın spoke to Hürriyet about the film, his motivations behind making it, and the initial critical reaction.
Q: One of the actors in the movie, Simon Abkarian, has said “The Cut is the movie that Armenians were waiting for.” So did you make this movie for Armenians?
A: Actually I made the movie mostly for Turks. I’m Turkish and I made this movie for my people. Cinema belongs to the whole world, anyone can take whatever they want from this movie. Simon sees it that way; he liked this movie and believed in his part in it. Maybe Armenians were not expecting a film like this from a Turk. Maybe that’s what we were trying to imply.
Q: Why did you make this movie?
A: Who else could it have been? Don’t get me wrong, I don’t see myself at center stage. [Turkish journalist] Hasan Cemal has a book on the genocide, and I have artist friends doing work on it. There’s a group of Turks who accept this, and the group is getting bigger every day. In terms of making a movie about it, maybe I am the first. But it feels like day by day it’s getting easier to talk about this topic. The taboos and strictness of just 10 years ago seem weaker now.
Q: What was the reason for this softening process in your opinion?
A: Hrant’s death. It feels like it led to a purification on the topic. Thoughts of empathy became more visible in Turkey.
Q: You said Hasan Cemal’s “1915: Armenian Genocide” book encouraged you. In what sense?
A: It gave me courage to use the “genocide” word. Before that I had developed strategies to avoid using that word when I was talking about the happenings. Hasan Cemal broke this self-developed fear. I must also say this: As you know, Doğa Perinçek appealed to the European Court of Human Rights arguing that rejection of the genocide should not be considered a crime, and this objection was accepted. Actually, this was also Hrant Dink’s idea. He said ‘Denying the genocide shouldn’t be prohibited.’ He opposed France’s attitude and I also agree with him.
Q: Everyone says that you’re very brave. When you started the journey of filming this movie, did you have to tell yourself to be brave?
A: I don’t want to make anyone sad. Especially the people around me. I have a family and what they think matters. My mother, my father, my wife… I sat them in front of me and asked: “I want to do this, what do you think?” We exchanged our ideas. If I was completely alone, if I didn’t have my family, I wouldn’t have thought about anything.
Q: After an interview you gave to Turkish-Armenian newspaper Agos, you received a threat from a far-right Turkish magazine. There may also have been other threats. Has this made you fear for your life?
A: There’s only been one threat and no, I’m not worried. I’ve worked on this movie for seven years and I have prepared myself for these threats. Social media should be used properly. Someone writes something, the European media makes a big deal out of it. But the Turkish media didn’t make a big deal out of it. Outside of Turkey, they wrote “Turkey is against the movie” just because of one guy’s comment. Turkey should take this situation seriously, because I don’t believe it is against this movie - neither the administration, nor the government, nor the society.
Q: Another question in people’s minds is: Why you didn’t put the movie out in 2015, the 100th anniversary of the events?
A: I wanted it to be released as soon as possible. That’s why I increased the tempo and finished it before 2015. Some countries, like France, will screen it in 2015, but that’s not a decision that is left up to me.
Q: Did you shoot this movie out of feelings of responsibility, of guilt? Is this your apology movie?
A: I do feel responsibility, yes. I wasn’t born then and neither was my father. But I belong to this society and that’s what I feel responsibility for. As for the apology, a film doesn’t apologize. You go there and you apologize. That’s different…
Q: The first reviews of the movie have been quite mixed. The Guardian and Variety were lukewarm in their praise. What do you think about these reviews?
A: This is a first for me. I have encountered harsh reviews for the first time. It turns out I’ve been a little spoiled by critics in the past. I had to wait until I was 41 to experience this. It’s difficult because they’re criticizing my child. I have to analyse this situation. The initial purpose of the movie was for my mother, my father, and my friends in Turkey to like it. At the same time for Armenian society, Armenia and the Armenian diaspora to like it. This is actually a pretty impossible aim. I started the journey by asking, “Could this movie act as bridge?” Could it unite those in Turkey who accept the genocide and those who don’t? That was my question.
Q: Looking at the initial responses, do you think the movie fulfilled this task?
A: I asked myself, “Will the Armenians find the movie too light?” as it’s not about what happened. My Turkish friends liked the movie too. If you want to bring together two sides standing against each other, you have to pay a price; maybe that price is these reviews.
Q: When you were shooting “The Cut,” was this task more important than the cinematic language?
A: You can fulfil that task with cinema. I didn’t have a concern like “I have to prove my style.” I didn’t get caught up in such an complex. I wanted to grab the public, two groups with opposing opinions. I think the critics were expecting something different from me, whatever that expectation was…
Q: Would you be offended if “The Cut” became one of those movies that the critics severely criticize but the public is very interested in?
A: No. Maybe it really is a movie for society. I hope it is, it would be fitting for the movie.
Q: When will it be screened in Turkey?
A: Our intention is to screen it in the autumn.
Q: Are you facing any difficulties about getting it screened?
A: The cinemas are scared about whether some people will protest? If they sprayed tear gas during the Gezi protests because the public peace was disrupted, then police can come and “protect” the cinemas too.