German-Turkish filmmaker Cem Kaya’s dense and informative documentary Love, Deutschmarks and Death [+] premiered in the Panorama section of this year’s Berlinale. We talked to the director about how he worked with archive footage and the importance of Turkish pop culture for millions of Turkish immigrants in Germany.
Cineuropa: How important is music to you, personally?
Cem Kaya: This is my second film about Turkish music, so music is definitely always there. Turkish music has always played a big role among migrants and guest workers – it’s always being played.
How long did your research for the film take?
I started the first specific piece of research in 2018. But my films before that basically already constitute part of this research. In 2010, for example, I made a film about arabesque music, and at that time, I already met artists who were touring in Germany. I filmed them back then and was able to use the footage as well. It was fortunate that I did it then, since there were more music restaurants around at that time than there are now, and it was easier to get the footage.
You are experienced in working with archival footage.
I’ve been working with archival footage since my graduate film. Do Not Listen is a collage of two films, composed of The Exorcist and the Turkish remake of the movie. In Arabesk, I compared music to film and accordingly used many clips from the latter. Today, these films can be found on YouTube, but when I did my research, it was more difficult because I still had to rely on the physical material that wasn’t easy to obtain.
For this movie, cassettes were an important source material.
Before music cassettes, there were video cassettes, which were very important for the distribution of Turkish music. Musicians appeared in the films, where they were heard and later became famous on their own merits. The cassette was the easiest and cheapest way to spread the music. A very important aspect of it was that you could listen to a cassette in your car – the car is crucial for migrants. Mobility was important. The trip to Turkey took two to three days, and that’s when you listened to music. A Turkish record company developed the heat-resistant cassette so that it wouldn’t melt in the sun. And finally, the cassette also had room for more songs than a record.
Did the colourful aesthetics of the covers influence you?
Although the music is sad or melancholic, and the songs speak of homesickness, they don’t necessarily make you cry. That’s why it’s fitting that the covers are colourful. First and foremost, they are advertisements. They also contain some codes aimed at specific target groups. The aesthetics of the covers have parallels with the trashy imagery in Turkish films that I used to watch as a teen. Both have influenced me because they were strikingly different from the style you would see on German television.
Where do you see your personal imprint in the film?
Through the point of view that I adopt, and through the commentary-like function of the text panels that I use, the film simply can’t be neutral. But the important thing was that I didn’t want to put myself in front of the camera, because it’s not about me; it’s about a collective experience that we all have together, which millions of Turks have had, and which is burned into everyone’s minds.
What has remained of this Turkish nightlife? What does it look like today?
There are still some music restaurants around, but they are no longer of the same style. After the reunification of Germany, there was a perceived devaluation of the currency, and people had less money to spend. A family of four used to go to the music restaurant two or three times a week and could afford it. In addition to that, satellite television came along, which broadcasts many music shows. You don’t have to watch them live any more. For these reasons, the tradition of music restaurants is slowly ebbing away. But that is the case in Germany as well as in Turkey.
Have the songs changed between now and then?
Today, protest happens through hip-hop. Someone like Haftbefehl, who talks about money and women, is also critical. In terms of the content, it’s the same as it was back then. All generations of artists comment on their life in Germany. Protest does not always have to be perfectly formulated, but a kind of continuity is certainly visible.
Are Turkish musicians still unheard by Germans today, as they were back then?
I think they’re still mostly unheard by Germans. But there is also an all-German pop culture, with pop and hip-hop, which includes musicians of Turkish-Kurdish descent, who also often sing in German. But has a single German journalist been to one of the sold-out Tarkan concerts in Germany, where several thousand fans were present? This is a huge event, yet no one is interested in it.