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BERLINALE 2022 Encounters

Kurdwin Ayub • Director of Sonne

“I know how Yesmin and girls from a migratory background feel; that’s why I wanted to make this film for them”


- BERLINALE 2022: In her first feature, the Kurdish-Austrian director deals with questions of identity, religion and complex social norms

Kurdwin Ayub • Director of Sonne
(© Elsa Okazaki)

Kurdish-Austrian director Kurdwin Ayub presented her feature debut, Sonne [+see also:
film review
interview: Kurdwin Ayub
film profile
, at this year's Berlinale, in the Encounters section. She won the GWFF Best First Feature Award, which comes with prize money of €50,000 (see the news). We talked to the director about the inspiration for the story, her personal connection to it and how she came up with the visual look of the film.

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Cineuropa: Why did you want to tell this story?
Kurdwin Ayub: A few years ago, I saw a girl band on YouTube that sang songs in English, while wearing hijabs. I thought it was fascinating and wanted to make a documentary about them. But they didn't reply to me, maybe because they saw my homepage and got scared, thinking that I might be too provocative. This is why I decided to focus on my own project based on this idea.

How did you develop the concept of the film?
It was clear that there would be these three girls and that the father would become their tour manager, so to speak. Another important character was the brother, who is more the “bad” one. I knew I wanted to have this twist at the end because I was interested in the altering of the roles. It's the other two girls who take over Yesmin's role, even though Yesmin herself doesn't define her identity clearly. At the end, the others think they know better than Yesmin herself what she should be like.

Did you add any autobiographical aspects to the story?
I always play with the ambiguity of the identity of the character in front of the camera. How much of me is in there? My parents play the roles of the parents in the film. Even though they don't play themselves, simply by being there, they inevitably add aspects of me to the film. And of course, the thoughts and feelings of the protagonist are autobiographical. The plot is not, even though I also had a best friend with whom I made videos – but we didn't go viral! I know how Yesmin and girls from a migratory background feel; that’s why I wanted to make this film for them.

How did you find the three actresses?
I was part of several script-development programmes, such as Ekran+ and Script Lab, for example. During these research phases, a few years ago I also had the chance to shoot some scenes. I got to know several girls through that, but also through other projects I did. And finally, the cast came together.

Visually, you have been inspired by the aesthetics of social media.
It was clear from the beginning that I would use the look of a YouTube video – I like it very much. It also has a link to my artwork. I like this poor quality of the composition: it recalls horror-film aesthetics, I think. I enjoy the concept of direct cinema. Actually, I collected many videos – also videos of the girls that we shot years ago or which they filmed with their own mobile phones. During the shoot, I also gave them a mobile phone and asked them to film with it.

Why did you choose the title Sonne, which means “Sun” in English?
There is a poetic aspect and a more simple side to that. First, the sun shines on every one of us, regardless of who we are. And then, there is a sun on the Kurdish flag.

Could you describe your experience of producing the film with Ulrich Seidl?
The film was produced by Veronika Franz and Ulrich Seidl. They supported me tremendously, especially when it came to working with non-professional actors, since they both know full well what it’s like. I felt like I was in very good hands.

What were the biggest challenges you had to cope with while making the film?
The biggest challenge was that we had to interrupt the shoot owing to the coronavirus. Actually, in the end it was a blessing, since we had to start anew and were able to correct the errors we had made before. We had fewer shooting days, but it was also nice to work with a much smaller team.

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