The idea behind Germany 09 is intriguing. In 1978, the core members of the New German Cinema joined forces to respond to the shocking events related to RAF terrorism and the social atmosphere of the time in the gripping omnibus film Germany in Autumn (Deutschland im Herbst). Thirty years later, a number of the country’s current leading filmmakers have set out on a new collaborative venture to take the pulse of the nation and put across their perception of Germany today. Working in a free-spirited manner similar to their predecessors’ regarding the format and content of the films, the participating directors, gathered together by filmmaker and co-initiator Tom Tykwer, find themselves confronted with a different challenge: without a controversial issue like the Baader-Meinhof terror of the 70s to comment on, they must present their views of a country that, at least on the surface, appears to be in fairly healthy shape compared to many of its European counterparts. Consequently, the result is patchy, yet engaging in its own right. The blend of satire, documentary, fictional dramatic vignettes and essayistic episodes is just as boldly diverse in terms of the themes explored, and the 13 shorts range from straightforward political statements such as Fatih Akin’s Being Murat Kurnaz to Christoph Hochhäusler’s lingering, surreal sci-fi parable Séance and, most remarkably, Romuald Karmakar’s weird but strangely charming documentary Ramses, about a disillusioned Iranian sex bar owner in Berlin who takes a trip down memory lane.
Germany 09 is screening as part of the Festival of German Films at the Curzon Soho on December 2. Electric Sheep’s Pamela Jahn took part in a round table with Tom Tykwer and Fatih Akin at the Berlinale in February where the film had its world premiere.
Question: What was your intention in creating a filmic retrospective of the ‘state of the nation’ at this particular time?
Tom Tykwer: I think the point is that you look from the inside. If you go abroad, people will say things like, ‘what’s your problem? Germany is doing fine, why do you complain?’ and by comparison this is probably true. But if you live here, you realise that there is something happening in the country, that it feels like we are in transition, and of course these are things that are bothering us. If we take ourselves seriously as artists with some sort of political perspective, it’s natural that we relate to the place where we grew up and now live in. Germany is the place that feeds our stories, so I was trying to get a group of people together who wanted to analyse this in more detail. And it was also very important to me to do this in the form of short films because of the kind of spotlight effect it has, and because I believe it also reflects on where our ideas for major projects derive from.
Q: Tom, your short film is about a sales manager who spends most of his week flying around the world on business. Is the film connected to the way you see yourself in Germany?
TT: I think there is some of my personal experience in it, but most of all I realised that now that everybody uses cheap flights, and you can get on a plane and fly anywhere anytime you want, you really have to put some substantial effort into experiencing difference and also into experiencing ‘home’. And to me this is scary, and it’s that feeling that I wanted to explore a bit more in the film.
Q: The perspective of the film as a whole seems much more global, rather than specifically concerned with a German subject…
TT: I don’t think you can generalise it like this. To me Ulrike Meinhof, for example, is particularly German; the Murat Kurnaz subject is extremely German; or take Dany Levy’s film, made by a Jew who lives in Berlin and who has all these experiences and the paranoia that are particularly Jewish in Germany. So if you investigate the whole film in all its details, I think it is very ‘German’. But, at the same time – and my film might be the most representative of this – it is a Germany in this so-called new world, which has become a place that is much more uniform than it was 30 years ago.
Q: Fatih, why did you choose the case of Murat Kurnaz as your contribution to the project?
Fatih Akin: After Tom called me and told me about the project, I didn’t have an idea right away. It took me quite a while because I was in the middle of shooting Soul Kitchen and I completely dismissed the scale of the project, to be honest – there was even a point where I wanted to get out of it because I was too busy. Eventually I discovered the biography of Murat Kurnaz, and a production company that had just bought the rights to the story asked me if I would direct it, although I didn’t accept the offer at first. But when I read the book, I got so angry and disillusioned, especially about the fact that the German government decided at that time to leave him in GuantÃ¡namo, I just felt I had to react to that in some way. Germany has this very clean and correct image, but if you look a bit deeper and scratch the surface, you see these things. It was also very personal for me, because Kurnaz has the same background as me, he is German-Turkish, he was born in Bremen and I was born in Hamburg, and I simply felt that what happened to him could have happened to me too. There was this deep identification with the subject.
Q: Is there a collective argument or atmosphere that underlies all episodes?
TT: I see it more as a gesture, a gesture that is related to the main subject. It’s not hysterical, it’s not in panic, but it’s doubtful and it’s cautious, and it’s very perceptive of what’s going on. There is a certain attentiveness about everyone involved with our country, and I think that is the general attitude that underlies the individual films.
Q: What kind of impact has an omnibus film like this for you as filmmakers?
TT: I think the power of a project like this is that, if people who are actually in the middle of doing other things, shooting or working on their major projects, if all these directors make an effort and collaborate, the result can be quite amazing. Fatih, for example, did something that is very unusual for him, very structured, and very disciplined, with an abstract, yet fascinating idea behind it. Sometimes the circumstances make the style, and in this case it had this very lucky outcome. And I love the energy that the film has.
Q: Fatih, you mentioned how busy you were when Tom asked you to participate in Germany 09. Why didn’t you say ‘no’, why did you want to be part of it?
FA: One of the reasons why I agreed to take part in this project was that I always complain about the lack of dialogue between German filmmakers. And I say that although I am the one who usually runs away from all that, but it was a great experience. At the beginning, when we had the first meetings with the other directors, I had a terrible feeling, I suddenly thought it was like school. But even if, in the end, we actually didn’t talk so much with each other while shooting our films, within the making process on the whole there was a sort of dialogue I was involved in like everybody else in the group, no matter how busy we were. And it was beautiful to see that there is a dialogue, that it is possible. I got really inspired by this.