Interview to Yasemin Samderelli

Sergi Doladé

Manager of the Asociación Internacional de Productores Independientes del Mediterráneo (APIMED)

Yasemin Samderelli (Dortmund, Germany, 1973) is a German scriptwriter and filmmaker of Turkish origin. Her film Almanya: Welcome to Germany has been a great success both in her own country and abroad. The film focuses on the changes that take place in the life of a Turkish couple that emigrate to Germany in search of work and, some years later, along with their children and grandchildren, return to their native village for a holiday. The film is a moving reflection on immigration: the new experience facing migrants, the difficulties they have to overcome (different customs, language) and the effort they make to achieve a better life. Moreover, the film explores the things migrants have to give up, and the memories left behind when taking a new direction.

Sergi Doladé: Place of birth vs. country of residency is drawn out in your latest film Almanya – Welcome to Germany (2011), which has been shown in many international film festivals and even distributed in other countries after its success in Germany. How did the German audience react to it at first? And how does the international audience respond to the film?

Yasemin Samderelli: The Germans proved once again that there sense of humor is better then their reputation. A lot of them really enjoyed seeing their own culture through the eyes of this Turkisk family. They loved the jibberish. The turkish community was really happy about the fact, that we portrayed a normal turkish family and not again showed extreme violence and disharmony. Some old turkish men and women said that for them it was very emotional since they saw so much of their own stories and emotions on the screnes.

S.D: You co-wrote the script together with your sister Nesrin. How was the creation/work process and how did you balance both visions on the story?

Y.S: Nesrin and I have worked together for almost 20 years now. Sounds crazy but is the truth. When I left for film school I was 19 and Nesrin 14. She was always a very talented writer and even in this early stage she would help with my scripts. We just continued over all these years to work and write together. So we are a good team.

S.D: The father figure is very present in the film, although the mother is also important. Was this intentioned from the beginning or did both characters evolved during the script-writing for a particular reason?

Y.S: I think that the characters were always very strong. Even in the first draft of the script. What we definitely wanted to show is that the image of the intollerant, violent father is not the only

truth there is out there. We wanted to show a more realistic father/ grandfather figure. A man who is not always really happy with how things change in his family but that doesn´t mean that violence is the only way to react. I know a lot of people like the figure of Hüseyin. On the other hand we wanted to show that just because a woman weares a hadscarf doesn´t mean that she has nothing to say in the realtionsship. That is another cliche. A head scarf doesn´t neccessarily mean that this woman is a victim.

S.D: Is there any ideological or political motivation behind this enchanting comedy?  

Y.S: Yes, making a good movie was our goal and that will be the same for our future. We are filmmakers, storytellers and naturally doing it the best we can is the goal of all filmmakers.

S.D: The political content is not very dominating in the film although there is a certain balance between recent History and present times – What is the benefit of doing a comedy film in this particular way?  

Y.S: Let´s put it this way. Let´s say you start a sentence like this: Today I want give a lecture about the problem XY which is cosing a lot of misery… Or you start like: Let me tell you an amazing story. This story is so wonderful, so heartwarming that you forget everything around you, even your own problems… What works better?

S.D: How did you come up with the film aesthetics, it seems the film has this naïve or kitch tone. How come?

Y.S: Yes, the movie has a very subjective, almost fairy tale beauty in some parts. Others are quiete realistic. Here again the story and the characters lead to a certain aesthetics. We wanted to show the subjective reality of the figures. When for example my grandfather used to tell me as a little girl that he one day kidnapped my grandmother I of course imaged this whole thing in my own head. In my head my grandfather was a good looking prince and my grandmother was of course the pretiest girl in the village. We researched a lot and  I looked through a lot of super 8 footage which my grandfather had shot in the seventies and then we knew how we wanted things to look.

S.D: Life and death are confronted in the film, as family and culture. Are those subjects dramatically imprescindible for you?

Y.S: Well, that´s hard to say. They are part of life so they can be part of stories but not neccessarily. I´m sure that there a lot of great stories to be told that don´t deal with these themes and still make great movies.

S.D: The film portrays a magical village in Turkey. Was this how you imagined your family’s country when you were little? Is this the image that they had or is it an image that you created?

Y.S: We were looking for a certain, universally beautiful place. We wanted to show that if you think back into your childhood it seems to be always beautiful memories, beautiful landscapes. So again, it´s more connected to the story and the subjectivity of the story telling. Once we found this little village we did not do much. We just removed a few antennas but the rest is just how it looks in reality. But then again you have to know where to put the camera, which ojective to use, etc.

S.D: Being a Gastarbeiter[1] in the 60’s was not the same as being a Gastarbeiter at present. What are the main differences and similarities?

Y.S: The big difference is that in those days people knew that Germany needed Gastarbeiter to get back on their feet. After the war the economy was growing fast so people knew that. Plus in those days Germany needed workers. Men, who were willing to work on building sites, in mines, etc. Today the unemployment is much higher and the industry doesn´t need any more “workers” now they need highly qualified people but a lot of people don´t understand that the Gastarbeiter of today might have a total different background. They are engineers, IT experts, etc. So on one hand we have a high unemployment on the other hand we need the new Gastarbeiter. That leads to a lot of frustration since a lot of people think that the goverment should make sure that the people who live in Germany should get work but the industry is clearly looking for the qualified people. So basicly there is less need for people who don´t have a high qualification but those are the ones who are unemployed. That is a dilemma the goverment need to face and find solutions.

S.D: You were born in Dortmund in a Turkish family. What is your relationship with Turkey today?

Y.S: Unfortunately I hardly see my family in Turkey anymore. I wish I would see them more often and know more about Turkey. But people also forget that it needs a lot of time to be really up to date in two cultures. I hardly manage to be up to date with politics and culture in Germany. I love my roots and they are a strong part of my identity but I have to also say honestly that the center of my life is Germany.

S.D: Germany has a national integration plan since 2005 and it defines itself as a country that does welcome immigrants. What is your opinion regarding the intercultural policies in Germany?

Y.S: Well, that is of course easy to say but the reality is different. A turkish person in Germany still can´t have both passports. As long as the German goverment still forces immigrants to choose between their two cultures they haven´t understood much. It´s like asking a child to chose between mother or  father. That isn´t right. Every human being should have the right to have both passports and both identities.

S.D: In Germany, there are great creators of Turkish origin, such as Fati Akin and Emine Sevgi Ozdawa. How do you see this process of intercultural creativity?

Y.S: I think that is a good and a healthy process. It just shows that now people with turkish migration background are moving on. Becoming more part in all the sections of a society.

S.D: In your opinion, do you think creativity can play an important role in the integration process?

Y.S: I think that creativity is playing an important role in every part and process of life. But it´s not more important then other areas. For example does a turkish lawyer do more or less for a society then a famous footballer like Mesut Özil. One is just more in the media and that of course has an impact on the society. Celebrities are in the media and of course thereby influence a certain image but that´s why one has to be careful not to forget that there a so many other people who do everyday a good job by being a doctor, kebab seller, dj or whatever. We need to recognize more the small heroes.

S.D: Home is often a thing of heart and mind. Just as reality is subjective, so is home. Where is your home?

Y.S: I think that your questions pretty much gave away the answer. For me my home is where my family, my friends are and that is Germany.

S.D: What is the role of a filmmaker these days?

Y.S: First of all it´s making good movies. I know that sounds a bit banal but making a good movie takes a lot, because it means that you should know what there has been before and repeating what others have done before isn´t going to make neccessarily a good movie. It´s more likely the other way round. You need to reflect about life and ask yourself why should an audience make the effort to get out of the house, pay quite a bit of money to sit in a dark  room full with other people. You have to know that in this dark cinema the audience have to feel a connection between them and the people on the screen. In the best of times they fall in love with the characters on screen and their adventures.


[1] This word means “guest worker” and refers to migrant workers who had moved to West Germany in the 1960s and 70s, seeking work as a part of a formal guest worker programme.