Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Crafty Work: Part Three
(for part two, please click here)

Here's the conclusion of my conversation with Bülent Akinci,
the Berlin-based maker of Running on Empty, a fine film more people should have the opportunity to see...but probably won't. We had a pleasant chat, though interviews aren't really his forte. Note that he starts to interview me towards the end. He seemed much more relaxed in that role.


So, what attracted you to [actor] Jens
Harzer? I think he's great, by the way.

He's more famous in the theater world, and in movies where he wasn't the main character— the supporting actor—like Requiem.

I haven't seen that, but I've heard about it. Did it
come out before your film or around the same time?

The same time last year, and now it's at some of the same festivals. I didn't know he had made Requiem, and the director of Requiem didn't know he had worked with me, and he had the main role.

What do you like about what he offers as an actor?

I had the opportunity to look at many stars for this role—many stars wanted it—that I didn't want. I saw him through casting,
and he was so brilliant. He interpreted this role very well, so
then I told him about my many insurance [selling] experiences.

You sold insurance?

[Harzer's character is an insurance salesman.]

For a short time, I was a life insurance man.

I didn't know that.

He did really good work, but he doesn't like movies so much.

He prefers theater?

Yeah, movies are exhausting—too many hours waiting—but he told me when he works
again in movies, he would
like to work just with me.

It's a very physical role. Maybe that tired him out.
And he dances. I love the scene in the
[florist] truck.
You did a great job casting the other actors, as well, because each one of them has a moment that's very demanding. I thought the scene in the truck was amazing, because it starts out one way—with him dancing in the back—but then when they're talking
in the cab
[Wagner and a client], it's really kind of chilling.

Many people say that.

In that scene, do you see Wagner as an Angel of Death?


I like the way you can see that he's either giving this man the chance to do what he wants , which could be seen as a good thing, or he's really horrible for encouraging him to leave his wife and children without a husband and father. I'm glad you didn't put scary music in that scene. And they're both really good. I meant to praise the other actor, too. It's almost like a short film. And the scene
in the car with the French-Algerian character.

This film has a lot of one-plot scenes, like episodes. From
one lonely person to the next lonely person. He understands,
he gets it, basically, bit by bit. His lies become more brutal.

I read a review in Variety—they really liked it—
and the writer points out that he doesn't have a
cell phone. Is that to make it more timeless, or
to make it seem like something that could be set
in the past? I like the use of the telephone booth.

Basically, he's separating himself from everything that's modern, so he doesn't need a cell phone. His life is a lie, so the telephone booth is like a home for him. When he goes there, it's artificial—
not direct—contact. It's more enclosed, kind of like his heart.
They [phone booths] are pretty much disappearing in Germany, just like here. I had to take it [the booth] with me everywhere.

[I'm not sure I heard this part correctly;
the McCaw Hall acoustics were a little dodgy.]

It seems like a motif, because
the diner has these windows, then there are the car windows—we see the world through his windshield—and then we see
him in the booth. There's a lot
of glass around people, and all these homes away from homes. So,
I've read a bit about The Flying Dutchman, because
I wasn't that familiar with its history. Were you inspired by a particular version, like the Richard Wagner opera, since his name is Wagner? Or just the general story?

The general story.

I have to ask: Have you seen any of
the Pirates of the Caribbean movies?

One—the first one.

I can't remember if it's in the first, but
there's a Flying Dutchman in the second.

Also, in SpongeBob. [laughs] You know, SpongeBob?

Yeah, but I didn't know...

The Dutchman is like a monster.

That's perfect. So, how can other people see the film?
Do you have any more screenings in the United States?

The first screening was in Dallas. The next is at the Tiburon Film Festival. This film has played on almost every continent, about
20 festivals. Last year, the Sundance Film Festival almost took
it. It was very, very close, and they thought Americans would
take a lot of interest in it. It was really surprising when it wasn't taken, but once Dallas did, it started getting more interest.

Is it on DVD in Germany?

No, maybe next time.

Are you working on another film,
or thinking about another one?

I have many ideas. In three weeks, I'll have the chance to get money for my new project.

If you could, would you include any of your short films with the DVD?

No. They are very crazy
films, a bit like Buñuel
or Eraserhead. Do you
like Eraserhead?

Yes actually, I do. I like it quite a bit. And it's aged
well. I mean, it was a sensation when it came out.
This year marks the 30th anniversary, so there have been a lot of screenings in the States, and people have been writing about it. I interviewed David Lynch a few months ago, and I think he's still very proud of the film, even though it took years and was difficult to make, because he had no money. It holds up really well.

Have you seen INLAND EMPIRE?

Yes, I've seen it twice, and it's amazing that 30 years have passed, yet it has some of the same ideas as Eraserhead.

Like the dreams?

[I'm not sure I heard this correctly.]

Kind of. Even though it's shot on video... It's
interesting for a filmmaker at this stage of his
career in that's it's one of his most experimental
films, whereas many of his peers have gotten more
commercial over the years. Except instead of being
short like Eraserhead, it's three hours of strange stuff.

It plays in Germany in four weeks.

There's a whole Polish section, and I just read that
he's starting a sort of museum of his work in Poland.
So, he wasn't just interested in working with Polish actors and shooting in Lodz, but Poland has become really important to him. I don't know where that
came from. So, you may get the chance to see him,
if he's spending more time in Europe. I would think
he would want to be in Germany when the film opens.
He traveled all around the United States with it.

Some critics don't like it, and others say it's one of the best films they've seen in the last [few] years. There's nothing in between.

It's really good. I liked Mulholland Drive better,
though. I had more of an emotional connection
to it. So, what are some of your other favorite films
or filmmakers, even those that didn't directly
influence you? What's really made an impression?

Well, there's Terrence Malick.

I've been thinking about him a lot lately, because
as much as people like his films, it's becoming more apparent how important they are. Even while watching Herzog's Rescue Dawn, his fictional version of Little Dieter Needs to Fly, there are all these images—close-ups of wildlife—that are reminiscent of Malick. You would think, by this point, directors like Herzog would have their own style and their own view of the world, but even people of his generation seem have been influenced by him. I'm starting to see Malick in everybody's films. Filmmakers are paying more attention to nature, the way he does. That's something I really associate with him—man in nature, and that constant battle.

Mostly nature and girls.

That works for The New World, because you have this young native woman, who is despoiled by these people coming from England and Scotland, and they're also building all these things—they're destroying the land.

And they make her wear shoes.

Do you have a favorite Malick film?

Badlands is really good. And The Thin Red Line. And that
other one with Richard Gere [Days of Heaven]. I've seen
every film. [laughs] He's only made four. He's sometimes compared to Stanley Kubrick, but he's warmer and more poetic.


We wrapped things up at this point as his Q&A was on the horizon, but continued to chat for another ten minutes. With my recorder off—and a cigarette in his hand—Bülent Akinci relaxed even more, and talked about working with Peter Greenaway and Wim Mertens.

Endnote: Der Lebensversicherer, AKA Running on Empty, isn't scheduled to open in the US. Nor is it available on DVD. If I could rectify that situation, I would. Here's hoping Akinci's next feature meets with a wider audience. Images from, Karlovy Vary Film Festival, Berlinale, and Wikipedia.

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