Three Questions About Turkish-German Cinema
Question 1: Who are we talking about here?
Who are these so-called "Turkish-German" filmmakers? They are women and men who came with their parents to Germany when they were children or teenagers, or who were born in Germany. Some of them have German citizenship, others do not. The majority of them grew up bilingually, but it would be hard to say who considers which language to be his or her native tongue. And how they define themselves is up to them. Their films are as diverse as their biographies.
Question 2: What is a German film?
Where does the boundary lie between German and Turkish-German cinema? Does one even exist? How do we categorize a film like "Gegen die Wand" ("Head On"), which was produced by a German company and made under the direction of a Hamburg-born, ethnically Turkish director, and whose forerunners can be found in American genre film? Compounding matters further is the fact that the film was set partly in Hamburg, partly in Istanbul, with a German, Turkish, and "Turkish-German" crew, and was shot in both Turkish and German. Is it a German, a Turkish, or a Turkish-German film? Is Thomas Arslan's "Geschwister - Kardeşler," which is about three very different Berlin teenagers (played by Serpil Turhan, Tamer Yigit, and Savas Yurderi), "more Turkish" than, say, Mennan Yapo's thriller "Lautlos", which has Joachim Król playing the lead? Is "Lautlos" more "Turkish" than Wolfgang Becker's "Good Bye, Lenin!", which deals with East and West Germans? Both films were produced by the Berlin-based X Filme Creative Pool; which raises the question: to what extent do the production conditions of a film by a Turkish director living in Germany, or by a German one of Turkish origin, differ from those of a ("merely") German film maker? How German or how Turkish is "Yara"? The film is a German-Turkish-Swiss co-production directed by Yilmaz Arslan, who was born in Turkey and has lived in Germany since 1978. "Yara" has played in German and in Turkey. The female lead, Yelda Rynaud, is a French citizen who was born in Austria. The cameraman, Jürgen Jürges, is from Hannover. Editing and sound were covered by two Brazilians, André Bendocchi Alves and João da Costa Pinto. And the music was composed by the Lebanese-born sound artist Rabih Abou-Khalil. Does this say anything about immigrants? About Turks? About Germans? About European film production in the twenty-first century?
Question 3: The meaning of "Turkish-German"
How ought we to talk about these films? To what extent does the phrase "Turkish-German" actually solidify an opposition and further affirm assumptions and stereotypes? We have a dilemma here: Nowadays, when globalization and border crossers of all kinds have become the norm, these films present us with the challenge of describing cultural phenomena without recourse to established, albeit questionable, categories such as nationality and ethnicity. Simply to ignore differences that are perceived (in whatever form) by the public, however, would mean turning a blind eye to an important aspect of the reception of these films. During the 2004 Berlinale, for example, Fatih Akin still had to repudiate people labeling "Gegen die Wand" as a "guest-worker film". For lack of a more precise term for this net of markedly different films, we will call it here, in quotes, "Turkish-German cinema".