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Florian Hoffmann • Réalisateur de Whispers of War

“Aussi spécifique que l’histoire du film puisse être, elle a aussi une composante universelle”


- Ce film dramatique allemand se penche sur les effets qu’a eus et continue d’avoir le conflit en cours sur la diaspora turque kurde

Florian Hoffmann  • Réalisateur de Whispers of War

Cet article est disponible en anglais.

The first feature by German-Swiss director Florian Hoffmann, Whispers of War [+lire aussi :
interview : Florian Hoffmann
fiche film
, celebrated its international premiere at this year's Thessaloniki International Film Festival, and ended up winning the Audience Award there. We spoke to the director about his personal link to the film’s story, and discussed the impact that war and images of war can have on our society.

Cineuropa: Why was it important for you to tell this story?
Florian Hoffmann:
The film scenes that take place in the classroom are scenes that I personally experienced whilst growing up in Berlin-Kreuzberg back when it was still a predominantly Turkish-Kurdish neighbourhood. The milieu in which the film is set is a familiar one to me, having spent a lot of time with Kurdish and Turkish friends and their families.

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When the situation escalated in Cizre in 2015, I directly came to feel how the events played out at all levels within the diaspora. Overnight, my Turkish and Kurdish friends were driven apart by differing perceptions of the imposed curfew. Due to the fact that there was no direct information coming out of Cizre, since all forms of communication had been blocked by the military, bits of fake news started circulating.

How and for how long did you conduct research for the film?
I eventually decided to travel to Cizre myself, alongside a group of journalists and human rights activists. At one point, the curfew was lifted, and we were able to enter the city. Multiple citizens had filmed what had happened with their mobile phones. They entrusted us with their video footage and thereby with the evidence of the cruel attacks that had been inflicted on civilians. Upon returning to Berlin, I was surprised to learn that there was little to no interest in the footage or in what had happened in Cizre. My second leg of research therefore focused on figuring out why some wars are reported on and others seem not to carry enough news value. I spoke to a variety of news agencies driven by the question of what war images need nowadays in order to garner our attention.

What was your experience like with the media? What role do they play?
It’s too simple to solely blame the media outlets. Nowadays, our idea of war is mainly shaped by particularly brutal war images in part also propagated by Hollywood movies. A certain level of brutality is “needed” so that a war image will receive media coverage. In the battle for attention, this, amongst other things, led to the absurd phenomenon of individuals Facebook-livestreaming from combat zones in order to get their images seen. I remember watching the first Facebook livestream from Aleppo, Syria, and marvelling at the “like” and “dislike” emojis floating across the screen, while the person filming exposed him or herself to increasingly greater danger just to capture the most striking moments.

How did you develop the character of Khalil? How did you cast the role?
Hadi Khanjanpour
, who plays the lead, is in fact not Kurdish, but Iranian. We auditioned a number of Kurdish actors (and cast some in supporting roles) but decided on Hadi for the lead, since he shares a similar story to the character of Khalil. Hadi fled from Iran to Germany as a young boy and had few ties to his original culture – until the images of the Iranian Green revolution reached Germany. Something within him resurfaced and influenced his life from then on. I think this choice of casting exemplifies that however specific our film’s story might be, it also has a universal component to it.

What was important to you while casting the other roles?
As mentioned before, we cast some of the supporting roles with Kurdish and Turkish actors. It was no easy feat, since for many of the actors, a commitment to this film meant possibly endangering themselves or their freedom to safely travel back to Turkey, meaning they would potentially miss out on further professional engagements. For security purposes, we, for the same reason, also couldn’t mention or thank many of our Kurdish and Turkish crew members and supporters by name in our credits.

Your origins lie in documentary filmmaking. Whispers of War mixes documentary and the fictional form. How did you develop the concept?
Originally, I wanted to channel all of the footage I had into a documentary film, but I came to realise that it would have critically endangered many people. I finally decided to weave the abundance of videos I had into a partially fictionalised story. The core of the film remains the authentic videos that the citizens of Cizre entrusted us with, without putting anyone at risk. The fictional nature of it gave me the chance to not just depict the images as they are, but also to examine the nuanced effects that images of war can have on the personal lives of the people they reach. In our film, I was able to display how in the case of Khalil these war images lead to partial radicalisation, while for his girlfriend Leyla, they lead to a distancing effect. With all her sympathy for him, Leyla can only understand war from an outsider’s perspective, similar to the way I felt many times in the interactions with my close friends, who have had similar experiences to those of Khalil.

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