“Rhinegold,” a biopic about young Iranian-Kurdish immigrant Giwar Hajabi, also known as Xatar, who rose from violent drug dealer and ex-convict to rap star and producer Germany’s most successful music album, became the biggest box office hit ever for director Fatih Akin.
The film, screened at the Thessaloniki Film Festival, chronicles Hajabi’s turbulent life, beginning with his musician parents’ panicked flight from Tehran during the 1979 revolution. Fleeing to the country’s Kurdistan province, they join the Kurdish rebellion . It was there, during a violent assault by the Iranian army, that Hajabi’s mother, hidden in a cave full of bats, gave birth to her son.
Hoping for a better life in Europe, her parents travel west to Iraq, where, suspected of being spies, they are imprisoned. Released months later, they found asylum first in Paris, then in Bonn.
Akin knew about Hajabi’s music and story, but it wasn’t until the two connected on Instagram and started messaging each other that the director became more interested in the artist. He picked up Hajabi’s 2015 autobiography “Alles oder Nix” (“All or Nothing”), reading it while on vacation.
“It’s the perfect vacation book,” notes Akin. “I liked it and bought the rights. I didn’t know if I was going to do it or if I was going to produce it and someone else would shoot it,” he recalled.
When a project he was working on collapsed due to the COVID-19 crisis, Akin decided to film Xatar’s story.
“I was like, okay, this is about gangsters, this is about hip-hop music. difficult thing I’ve ever done, and secondly, it had the best opening – it’s the biggest hit I’ve had so far. That’s what John Lennon said: “Life is that’s what happens when you’re busy doing other projects.”
Hajabi’s larger-than-life story posed some significant challenges.
“It was very clear from the start that this isn’t just another rapper biography, because his life is so much more complex, and to understand the phenomenon and spectacle of his life, you really have to start with his parents. , who his parents were. They were Kurdish musicians in Iran in 1979 and because they are Kurdish and because they are intellectuals, they became the enemies of the Khomeini regime.
Hajabi’s earliest childhood memories, Akin notes, were of the Iraqi prison he and his parents ended up in after fleeing Iran.
“To make it more than just a rapper biography, I had to put it all into the movie.” The more layers he put into the film, the more unique and crazy the film became, says Akin. “I had a feeling, okay, this could be interesting from a cinematic perspective because you cross genres. You start out as a war movie and it turns into refugee drama and then into social drama, coming of age, gangster movie and ending in musical movie. You had the opportunity to drive through all of these genres. I was like, the more I have in the movie, the better the movie could get, but also more complicated and more expensive. It made everything difficult. I think I had over 100 locations; I had over 120 actors.
With a limited budget of around 10.5 million euros ($10.46 million), Akin was forced to shoot economically – 10 script pages a day.
Akin also suffered a personal tragedy mid-production when his father passed away. “I was grieving, but I still had to do the movie. I was doing it halfway on autopilot. The movie is dedicated to his father.
In addition to the difficulties, the filmmaker also had to navigate COVID. “It was a difficult task.”
The film’s ultimate success, however, proved Akin’s instincts were correct. Audiences flocked to see the film, which opened Oct. 27 at No. 1 and grossed 2.6 million in its first week.
‘Rhinegold’, which stars Emilio Sakraya as Hajabi, has nonetheless drawn criticism for allegedly glorifying an unrepentant mobster – something Akin rejects.
“Crime is older than cinema. I don’t really think this kind of movie glorifies crime. It was not the purpose of the film. It all depends on where you place the camera.
“It’s like hip-hop itself. Crime exists, whether we like it or not. Crime is still something, especially in popular culture and history, that interests people around the world. There is something fascinating about the dark because we are all human beings and we want to know more about ourselves. And these are our stories.
“When I make such a film, I want to understand the world that I describe. It’s my goal. I don’t judge him, but I don’t glorify him either. I do entertainment. Sure, it’s entertaining – that’s my business. I think I’m more of an artist than an artist. This is my first objective, to entertain my audience.
“It’s too easy to criticize him in this context. If you criticize her, you criticize society. And this is something to criticize. I am only the messenger. Don’t kill the messenger.
Akin notes that in Germany, in particular, where state cultural funding is essential, filmmakers often grapple with moral and ethical demands that might thwart certain subjects.
Akin currently has two projects in the works, including “Amrum,” a feature film written by his multi-hyphenated collaborator and former film school instructor Hark Bohm. Bohm asked Akin to direct his latest screenplay, a semi-autobiographical story about a boy struggling to survive with his family on the German North Sea island of Amrum during the last week of World War II.
He is also set to direct his first television series, “My Mother Marlene,” about the life of German film star Marlene Dietrich, with Diane Kruger in the title role. The series, Akin notes, will explore Dietrich’s time in Hollywood in the 1930s and 1940s and his return to a completely destroyed Germany after the war. “My center of interest, because it’s closer to me, is the story of the immigrant, the woman in exile.”
Akin signed a first deal with WarnerMedia earlier this year, the first such deal he has ever signed.
While noting that he was “tremendously lucky” with the success of “Rhinegold”, Akin says that “the media world has become very difficult”.
It’s always good to have a strong distributor and studio behind you as a co-producer to help you succeed and secure the necessary funding, he adds. “You don’t have to run to so many different sources. You have a primary source in a way that helps you fund things. Before signing, I had done three films with Warner and I was very happy with the collaborations on ‘In the Fade’, ‘The Golden Glove’ and now ‘Rhinegold’. I think it was a very fruitful working process and partnership. It was a win-win situation.
“It’s hard to survive as a boutique business,” he adds, noting his Hamburg-based Bombero International shingle. “All these little boutique businesses are being eaten up by bigger partners. I want to keep the independence that I have and it’s really helpful to have a partner like Warner on my side.
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