Director Fatih Akin follows up Head-On and The Edge of Heaven with a comedy about food, family, and gentrification in Hamburg. It’s a delightful dish!
When Soul Kitchen had its U.S. premiere at the 2010 Tribeca Film Festival, film fans were disappointed: Turkish-German filmmaker Fatih Akin was not able to attend due to travel disruptions caused by the erupting Icelandic volcano called Eyjafjallajokull. Those who know Akin from his darker—and critically acclaimed—films Head-On and The Edge of Heaven were certainly curious to know: What caused him to go in a decidedly lighter direction for his latest film?
Soul Kitchen is a heartfelt and buoyant love letter to Akin’s hometown of Hamburg, Germany. Though the harbor city is often regarded as rainy, gloomy, and gritty, Akin scratches the surface to reveal a bohemian community of artists who support one another through tough times; open themselves up to sensual pleasures (food, alcohol, music, and more); and yes, are the bearers of a great deal of soul.
Akin finally made it to New York last week, as Soul Kitchen was about to make its way into theaters (it opens this Friday at IFC Center). At last were able to catch up and get the answers to all those questions we wanted to ask during TFF 2010.
Tribeca: Soul Kitchen is a departure for you, in that it’s lighter than your usual fare, and funnier. What made you want to tell this story?
Fatih Akin: This was an old script of mine; I wrote it in the editing process of Head-On. I was broke after making Head-On, and I had the naïve idea to shoot something very fast—I desperately needed a project. Adam Bousdoukos—the lead actor in the film—had a restaurant, and his girlfriend had left him, and [I had the idea to] do a film about him and his restaurant, which was just around the corner from where I lived. So I wrote a first draft very fast—I wrote it in five days.
Andreas Thiel, my producing partner, liked the first draft. We got pre-financing for the film in February of 2004. And then we went to Berlin with Head-On, and we won the Golden Bear—we didn’t expect that. And suddenly everything was upside down—my life, my world, the film thing. It overwhelmed me, and I didn’t trust the script of Soul Kitchen anymore—I worried it wasn’t good enough, so I put it away.
I felt the pressure to confirm the success of Head-On, so I did other films—The Edge of Heaven—and Andreas was always like, “Let’s do Soul Kitchen! It’s funny! We could have some fun, and make some money!” And I was like, “No, I have to do the stuff for the ‘career in cinema.’”
And then in the last week of making The Edge of Heaven, Andreas died; he had a brain stroke. We had founded the production company together, and he was my mentor. Filmmaking was his life, and everything I know today, he taught me. When he died, I was sad for a long time. I could not go on with the 3rd film of the [darker] trilogy; I was emotionally exhausted. Suddenly, I decided to do Soul Kitchen: to light my own life up, and because he always wanted me to do that. I’m so happy I did the film. Not just for him, but for me. That was the last lesson he taught me: to not be a slave to your success.
Tribeca: So tell me more about Adam’s story.
Fatih Akin: Adam was the actor in my first film in 1997. He was a waiter at the time in a restaurant, and with the fee he got from making the film, and with some money from his parents and friends, he bought the restaurant, and he had it for about 10 years. I was hanging around there, every day for 10 years.
Tribeca: Do you see similarities between running a restaurant and making movies? With all the moving parts and the pressure coming in from all sides? You’re trying to give people something, but you don’t know if they will want it…
Fatih Akin: Soul Kitchen is my film about filmmaking. That’s what it really is: the customers are the audiences, the films are the dishes—you work really hard for a film, and then it gets eaten up in 90 minutes [laughs]—you have critics who give you stars… or don’t give you stars. To own a restaurant is like being a producer, being a chef is like being a director… It’s the mood of the worlds, too that is similar: filmmaking is a lot about celebrating—there’s always a reason to get drunk. [laughs]
Tribeca: Can you talk a bit about the German films from the ’50s from which you drew influence? The “Heimat” films?
Fatih Akin: After the 2nd World War, Germany in 1945 was done; they called it “Hour Zero.” It was completely bombed; people had lost the war, and they were surrounded by ruins. In the 50s, with the support of the Americans (who occupied Germany), Germans started to produce films that were not about the war, films that dealt with the countryside, the forests, the mountains—family dramas with very beautiful landscape surroundings. They tried to find a way to love the country again, on a visual level.
These were very important films, in that they were huge successes. There were very few films about WWII in the ’50s; they had just came out of the war, and they were not ready to reflect. (The generation after this—Wenders, Fassbinder, Herzog—they were the ones who did the films about post-War Germany.) And when you see the films of the 50s, they are very kind of Technicolor—the greens are greener. These films worked.
Tribeca: Were they government-funded?
Fatih Akin: The Americans helped to finance the films, to build the studios in Munich, so they could produce again. These were not very worthy films—they were not masterpieces. All the masters left before the war: Wilder, Fritz Lang, Preminger—they all had to escape. But those directors there felt a collective need to love their country again. Heimat means “home.”
Tribeca: So is Soul Kitchen about the warm feeling of Heimat?
Fatih Akin: I don’t know if there is a collective need for Soul Kitchen, but I really wanted to do a film about my hometown. The city was always good to me, and I wanted to do a film there. With other films, I was looking for exotic places, and I felt that Hamburg was not a sexy place to shoot. But then I realized—I could drive to the set on a bicycle, I could sleep in my own bed, which was great! To work out of your own home can be like working in your castle… What I learned elsewhere, I used in Hamburg—not to look at it touristically, but to appreciate it in a new way.
Want to continue reading? Find the entire interview on TribecaFilm.com.