The mean streets of Berlin portrayed in Familiye | Film | DW | 15.05.2018
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The mean streets of Berlin portrayed in Familiye

Described as Berlin's answer to Scorsese's Mean Streets and Kassovitz's La Haine, the gangster drama Familiye features raw power. DW met up with the filmmakers and star co-producer Moritz Bleibtreu in Spandau.

It's a warm Friday afternoon in May in a grey corner of Berlin's district of Spandau around Lynar street, an area often referred to in the media as a Problemkiez — or "problem neighborhood."

Friday prayers are over and middle aged Turkish men stream out of the local Yeni Camii mosque fumbling with cigarettes and lighters, while others, a generation younger, loiter about the casinos and betting shops which line the street.

This is the setting for Familiye, a new crime drama by Kubilay Sarikaya (44) and Sedat Kirtan (37), two local Turkish Spandau boys and film autodidacts who have a achieved a minor sensation — they have made a film from scratch without the help of outside funding from the  German film establishment.

Read more: German-Turkish film festival defies the odds

Film still - Familiye (Koryphäen Film)

Familiye centers on the story of three brothers; one of them has Down syndrome

A 'German Mean Streets'

It is a film "from the street for the street," in the words of co-producer Moritz Bleibtreu.  It opened in German cinemas May 3 and tells about life in Spandau Neustadt, a place known to few outside its confines.

Familiye, which is based on real events and was shown at the film festival Oldenburg last September, where it won a prize, tells of Danyal, played by Sarikaya, the eldest of three brothers, who has just been released from prison and is trying to keep his family intact, his brother Miko (Arnel Taci), a gambling addict unable to hold down a job and heavily in debt and the third brother, Muhammed, called Momo, played by Kirtan's brother, who has down syndrome and who the authorities want to place in a home.

Familiye has been dubbed by The Hollywood Reporter a "German Mean Streets," in reference to Martin Scorsese's 1973 movie about young Italian-American hoodlums in New York's Little Italy. Except this is about the Turkish subculture in Spandau, described as a "Parallelgesellschaft" — or "parallel society"— rife with poverty, gambling, drug trafficking and violence.

Read more: At 75, Martin Scorsese is still cinema's master storyteller

The 92-minute-long film was shot in gritty black-and-white with a budget of €500,000 ($600,000). Until now, the independent filmmakers had just made rap videos and a short film called Verzokkt, about the gambling addiction which plagues many poor immigrant quarters in Berlin and other German cities.

A star promoter: Moritz Bleibtreu

For Moritz Bleibtreu, one of Germany's most prolific actors,it was nothing short of amazing that such a movie could defy the rules of filmmaking and see the light of day completely without the help of German film establishment.

Bleibtreu found out about Familiye through Kurdish rapper Giwar Hajabi, known as Xatar, who signed the soundtrack for the 2018 film Nur Gott Kann Mich Richten, starring Bleibtreu. The controversial rapper also makes a cameo appearance in Familiye as a baker.

Sarikaya's and Kirtan's film had recently been completed but the makers had reached a dead end; they didn't know where to go to next to get the film distributed.

"And then I had a look at it, and at first I couldn't believe that anyone could be capable of accomplishing something like this without making use of the usual institutions, grants from institutions and so forth," says Bleibtreu.

'Raw power' means 'pure joy'

"The film has many beginner's mistakes," he goes on, "but it draws its strength from this; it gives it a raw power."

Bleibtreu decided to use his influence to help make the film see the light of day.  Rather than insisting the film be re-edited, he decided to show the film as it was, with all its warts and blemishes. He called a few friends and colleagues, arranged for a distributor."And — one can hardly believe it — it worked," says Bleibtreu. "This is not about money — for me it's pure joy," he adds.

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Familiye Premiere in Berlin (picture alliance/Eventpress/Golejewski)

Actor Emek Kavukcuoglu, with directors Kubilay Sarikaya and Sedat Kirtan along with Moritz Bleibtreu at the premiere of the movie

A family neighborhood

Moritz Bleibtreu, Sarikaya and Kirtan field journalists' questions over tea and lahmacun, a Turkish pizza — at the Café Kardeşler, a Turkish café in Spandau which translates as "Café Brothers" — the kind of sparsely decorated place that first appears daunting to outsiders. Here, and in other neighborhood locales, bakeries and spätis, Kubilay Sarikaya and Sedat Kirtan wrote the screenplay for Familiye.

The three have just come back from a stroll through the kiez with a photographer, checking out the neighborhood where the film was shot, where the two directors Sarikaya and Kirtan live, and which they refer to as their "studio." 

Bleibtreu balks at the stigmatizing term "Problemkiez" used by a WDR journalist to refer to the Lynar-kiez, saying it is not unlike the neighborhood where he grew up in working class St. Georg in Hamburg. He then rushes to the defense of Spandau Neustadt.

"We were walking around the neighborhood here," says Bleibtreu, "and, okay, these are not people that belong to the upper echelons of society, but I see here families, happy people. I see old people, young people. I see people who are just going about their lives."

Many of the actors in Familiye also come from the milieu, constituting a large family, as it were, in a neighborhood remarkable for both the close cohesion of its inhabitants and lives complicated by gambling addiction, drugs and poverty.

Read more: Attacks on Turkish communities in Germany reportedly on the rise

Filmstill - Familiye (Koryphäen Film)

Rapper Xatar (right) appears in the movie, while director Kubilay Sarikaya (right) also stars in his own work

Mirroring reality

After meeting with the press, Kubilay and Sedat move to their black Mercedes sedan, where we continue with our interview behind tinted windows.

"We wanted to make an authentic film and a critical film," says Kubilay. "The film mirrors the reality I would say, 70 percent of the time.  We could have made a documentary film and then it would be one-to-one. But that wouldn't have gone over well in the kiez, and we didn't want to do it out of respect to the people and to their stories. But it reflects the reality in a really stark way."

Now that the film is in full swing, Kubilay and Sedat have given up their old jobs; Kubilay used to work as a street worker and employee in a handicapped facility, and Sedat as a security guard.

They are already planning their next movie. "We already have a few things in mind," says Kubilay.

Asked whether after their success they would consider leaving the grey confines of Spandau, Kubilay says with relish:

"I love Spandau! I wouldn't exchange this district for any other!"

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