This year’s Berlin International Film Festival is wrapping up today following Saturday’s announcement of its coveted Golden and Silver Bear awards.
The festival, Europe’s first major gathering of the movie industry annually, hosted many newcomers in its 61st edition and Turkish-German Yasemin Şamdereli, who introduced her debut feature “Almanya -- Willkommen In Deutschland” (Almanya -- Welcome to Germany) was one of them. Even though the movie was featured outside the competition, it still managed to attract a great deal of attention at the festival.
The film offers an alternative look at immigrant Turks’ “adaptation” issues in Germany, arguing it is not as huge a problem as German politicians make it seem. Directed by Yasemin Şamdereli from a script by her sister, Nesrin Şamdereli, the sisters’ cinematic debut stands like an antithesis to Chancellor Angela Merkel’s remarks that attempts to build a multicultural society in Germany have “utterly failed.”
In September 1964, Germany welcomed its one-millionth guest worker. “Almanya” follows the story of guest worker number one-million-and-one, a man named Hüseyin Yılmaz and his family. The Şamdereli sisters say they based the screenplay on their personal experiences.
“Almanya” greatly differs from other films about Turkish immigrants in Germany as it does not focus on worn-out clichés such traditions, honor killings, family oppression and the patriarchal structure of Turkish families. Instead, the Şamdereli sisters describe the “real problems” of Turks in a comical tone whilst sending a message to the German government.
The distribution rights of the film, which opens in Germany on March 10, were purchased by Medyavizyon in Turkey although its theatrical release date is as yet not known.
The Şamdereli sisters speak about their film in an interview one day after the film’s Berlinale gala:
Can you tell us a little about the story behind the film?
Yasemin Şamdereli: We first started thinking about the movie about eight or nine years ago. It was our grandfather’s death 10 years ago that actually served as a starting point. His death made us wonder if we would have been somewhere else today if he had not traveled to Germany [as an immigrant in the 1960s]. Our grandfather would tell us stories of when he first came to Germany. He had some very funny experiences. We wanted to share those experiences with others.
Why did you choose to make a film that’s both entertaining and sarcastic instead of focusing on more popular topics?
Nesrin Şamdereli: Whenever “adaptation” is a topic in Germany, we always hear about the “tragedies.” However, we wanted to share the story of a normal family that doesn’t include violence and clichés. There are many families like that.
What kinds of reactions have you received from Germans?
YŞ: Many Germans found topics in the film that they could relate to. For example one person said: “My father won’t get up and turn off the heat even if he realizes the water is boiling in the teapot. He waits for my mother to do it.”
Can we say that the “adaptation problem” has been resolved and a multicultural society has been built?
YŞ: This is a very complicated problem. Turks are not a homogenous group of people and neither are Germans. We wanted to move past “honor killing” and show that there are very modern Turks as well.
What was it like filming in Turkey? Did you get any support in Turkey?
NŞ: It was great filming in Turkey. We used to go to Turkey on vacation, but it was the first time we went to shoot a film. There was a German and Turkish group on set. These two groups were speaking in English with each other. We were trying to speak Turkish with Turks and German with Germans. We could see the difference in mentality. Phrases and expressions are different in Turkish and German. When speaking Turkish you have to use more respectful terms like, “Can you do this for me sweetheart?” In German, however, you use expressions that sound more like a command. For some people it was hard, but for us it came naturally. We tried to get everything done by using short phrases.
YŞ: What caught my attention was how the Turkish team referred to us as “hocam” [teacher]. People were very kind and helpful. Everyone in the village where we were filming wanted to help out. If anything was missing they would say, “It’s OK, we’ll get it.” It was a wonderful atmosphere.
There are messages in the film for both Turks and Germans. In the past, film always focused more on one side…
YŞ: We wanted to be able to laugh about each other together. We wanted people to know that we are not different from each other. Regardless of where they are from, families share the same joys and problems.
What differences are there between first and third-generation immigrants in their approach and connection to Germany? Is the new generation investing in Germany more than Turkey?
YŞ: This sense of connection changes from generation to generation. Our grandfathers and fathers feel more connected to the place they were born and raised. We were born here. We went to school here. We only know Turkey from by our vacations. I think the definition of homeland will change from generation to generation.
Did you deliberately make this film on the 50th anniversary of the immigration agreement between Turkey and Germany?
NŞ: We started working on it many years ago and started shooting in 2009. But by the time we took care of financing and agreed with a distributor, the film became available this year. We did not have a specific aim to have it prepared for the 50th anniversary of the migration, but it ended up being a great coincidence.
YŞ: It was just kismet.