Florian Hoffmann • Director of Whispers of War
“Images of war exert a power on people, whether they have a connection to it or not”
by Teresa Vena
- The drama film, the feature debut by the German director, looks at the effects of war on the Kurdish diaspora
The first feature by German director Florian Hoffmann, Whispers of War [+see also:
interview: Florian Hoffmann
film profile], celebrated its international premiere at this year's Thessaloniki International Film Festival. We talked to the director about his personal link to the story and the impact that war can have on society.
Cineuropa: Why was it important for you to tell this story?
Florian Hoffmann: I grew up in Berlin-Kreuzberg when it was still a predominantly Turkish-Kurdish neighbourhood. I am therefore very familiar with the milieu I describe in the film. I experienced the scenes in the classroom, for example, very similarly during my own childhood. My friends were Kurds and Turks, and I spent a lot of time with Kurdish families. When the situation escalated in Cizre in 2015, I directly observed how the events played out on all levels. I saw how the media dealt with it and also what the war did to the people in the diaspora. Moreover, when I saw the first livestream from Cizre, I was shocked by it and felt helpless. The film is a way to deal with that.
How and for how long did you do your research for the film?
With a German passport, I was able to travel to Cizre. At first, Turkey had imposed a curfew on the town, but together with journalists and human rights organisations, I finally managed to travel there, with the aim to secure as much evidence as possible. I collected videos that people shot on their phones and conducted interviews.
What was your own experience with the media? What role do you attribute to them?
With this material from Cizre, I did not intend to make a film initially. It was rather meant to bring clarity to the real situation. That's why I went to the media with it. But it quickly became clear that they wouldn't show the pictures. Because of Turkey's media blockade, no videos came out, and people were therefore sceptical because the Turkish government was telling a completely different story. The relationship between Germany and Turkey is a sensitive one, and they wanted to be careful with that. I became aware, also through my intensive and direct exchanges with various media, that they are often in a dilemma. What do images have to look like? It is not necessarily the media that seek out particularly brutal pictures. But most real images from wars are boring. Viewers are used to pictures like those created by Hollywood, so it is difficult to get their attention. The consequence of this is that there are video activists who expose themselves to great dangers in order to create the most striking images possible, in the hope of winning the competition with other news outlets. Livestreams play an important role in this.
How did you develop the character of Khalil? How did you cast for the role?
Hadi Khanjanpour, who plays the lead role, is not Kurdish, but Iranian. He himself fled from Iran to Germany and is very much assimilated in Germany. There is a lot of Hadi's biography in the character of Khalil, as he has a similar life experience. Hadi, too, had almost completely abandoned his original culture. But when the revolution came to Iran, something snapped in him that brought him close to his country again. This shows that the story we tell with the film has something universal to it. And that's what the movie is about for me.
You have a lot of experience in documentary film, and Whispers of War mixes documentary and fiction. How did you develop the concept?
The purely documentary form was prevented by the explosive nature of the subject, because it would have been too dangerous for people to have them exposed as the authors of the material. I came back from Cizre with an abundance of videos and had to have everything checked in order to exclude the possibility of endangering the people who were shown in them. It was clear that I could not make a film about what was happening on the ground. That is why it is a movie about how such wars affect the diaspora, how they change relationships. I myself experienced how, in the case of Cizre, people in Berlin became radicalised, although they had only seen the war through images. Images of war exert a power on people, whether they have a connection to it or not. This is where the difference between the main character and his girlfriend becomes apparent. With all her sympathy for him, she will always perceive the war only from an outside perspective, just as I do.
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