Here Lies The Future of German Cinema

Yony Leyser dissects cultural identity and representation with Faraz Shariat, director of ‘Futur Drei’

Alice Connolly O'Brien Main image by Christoph Voy

A queer cultural studies graduate and son to first-generation Germans, Faraz Shariat is not your cookie-cutter director. But what the mainstream industry may consider ‘other’ about Faraz doesn’t just give him a seldomly celebrated perspective, it bolsters his craft into something special.  

Faraz’ film, Futur Drei, follows Parvis, a frivolous, eccentric protagonist who is caught shoplifting luxury goods and sentenced to community service at a refugee center. There he meets Banafshe and Amon, Iranian siblings who’ve risked their lives for a German beginning. The viewer follows the trio through a vibrant summer of love and chaos, becoming privy to a whispering realisation they have about their identities. 

This grassroots debut is semi-autobiographical. And while Faraz’ precise dive into the themes of migration and identity is an amply profound focus, it’s not what hums the longest after viewing. Instead, it’s his static lens and queer approach that lingers. Because just like its director, this film refuses to be defined by its storyline. 

Fellow director and queer trailblazer, Yony Leyser meets Faraz Shariat. They discuss his film, Futur Drei, racial representation in their industry, and what it really means to be German.

Faraz Shariat by Christoph Voy
Yony Leyser by Christoph Voy

Yony: Double Teddy wins, a First Steps Award, and even recognition in LA at the Outfest Film Festival. To say Futur Drei has been received well is an understatement. Many congratulations are in order. Tell me, what inspired your debut?

Faraz: Thank you so much. Well, the idea to work on the feature started in 2015. Back then I was really into fashion and the party lifestyle, so much so that I had imported this detagger from China so I could steal Giovanni clothes and stuff. But then I got caught and this live fast mindset I had was thrown into the social sector doing community service when the refugee crisis was at its peak. I think that when I went there, I met people who reminded me of myself. I mean, they looked like me, or at least they did from a German hegemonic perspective; second or first generations growing up in this hybrid society. But because of this crisis, we had different privileges. And I just found that crux so interesting. It triggered me to look into my own family history and their migration experience. And that was the starting point I think.

Yony: It’s funny because I actually remember meeting you in 2016. You had such a clear, determined vision for this feature, even then. But making a film in Germany without having gone to German film school is no small feat. You created this feature as part of a collective too, which is pretty uncommon in the film industry. How did you make it all work?

Faraz: I work in a collective with people I met studying cultural studies at university. Up until this film, we didn’t have a clue about film production. Our course was quite theoretical, so I guess film became the medium we chose to examine society through, but via a postcolonial and anti-sexist lens.

We do fight a lot. But I think this way of creating is more human. To share the experience of working on a script or a film with others is important, as it gets rid of this ‘genius director’ narrative. Because I hate that, I really do. It feeds into a hierarchy and makes things stressful. Obviously, as the director I enjoy the attention, but it causes suffering too. People are always speaking to me and not speaking to my collaborators. I mean, we write all our scripts together and work on every concept together, and the industry isn’t set up for that. On top of hierarchy issues, we then suffer because of industry standards. It’s just very hard to navigate the attention and financial resources. 

But overall, creating a film like this with such a guerilla approach was a good thing. Figuring out how to hack the funding system of such a complex industry kind of went hand in hand with establishing a more creative process for scriptwriting. It made us analyse German film from an interesting perspective. Our film already opposed the status quo by simply existing; there is such a huge lack of representation for POC.

Yony: And you infamously confronted the industry when you won your First Steps Award about this lack of diversity, right? Tell me about that night in 2019.

Faraz: That was such an important moment for all of us because we never expected to win. Then, all of a sudden, we were there on a stage receiving the most important prize for up-and-coming filmmakers in Germany, surrounded by people that call themselves the film industry. So it was so important for us to flag where we were coming from. It was just really empowering to be able to use that stage and the voice we were given by it to address the problems we were having within that exact same scene. So when we won I asked the room the same question we were asking ourselves; why are we still not part of the national narrative after decades of immigration? And why in spaces like this are there 95% white people and so little POC?

Yony: And how was it received?

Faraz: Pretty differently. Some people approached me afterward saying stuff like, “well I think there are less than 95% white people here.”

Yony: That’s a very German answer!

Faraz: Right. And then there were other POC who came and said that it was so cool to hear. I think it was received pretty well overall. I mean, diversity in film is a commercial theme these days. As a queer person who’s experienced racism, queerphobia, and anti-semitism, it feels like people are interested in incorporating these themes into the market because it’s suddenly sellable. 

Yony: And I think it was good that you were the person to do it, too. In a way, you have different access to it than a lot of the POC people working in the German film industry because you speak German as a mother tongue. So you’re a German director. How important is that title to you?

Faraz: I feel like my relationship with identifying as German is very ambivalent. In a way, I feel it’s important to stand there and say, “this is a German film. It’s made specifically for a German audience.” But then on the other side, I’m not so sure. For example, people always ask about how the film is going to be received in Iran, but to me, that just shows a key misunderstanding. The problems and conflicts that the film tackles are German matters. By labeling it as Iranian, it’s like we’re trying to blame another country for the film’s themes instead of facing them as German ones. And in that sense, it’s super important to say it’s a German film and that I’m a German director. But then, if this system is constantly telling me that I’m not German, then why would I choose to associate myself with that? It’s complicated.

Yony: And speaking of labels, how do you feel about the label ‘queer’? 

Faraz: It’s funny because I feel like, during the Panorama and the Teddy awards, there was a huge spotlight on the theme of queer discourse. But when it comes to our film, it’s important to me that this film isn’t thought of as queer just because of the gay narrative, rather because of our queer creative strategy. There’s queerness in the way we tackle the themes of migration and racism. I mean, we actively invited first and second generations to join the creative process and included people living in refugee shelters as extras. Understanding how they wanted to be represented in the film was really important to us. We also let go of linear storytelling for some sequences of the film. We dove into more abstract montages instead, which show multiple character potentials. And that’s a pretty queer way to approach script writing.

 

Yony: So, how exactly do you define ‘queer’?

Faraz: I always thought that the rise of the term ‘queer’ was somehow connected to the AIDS catastrophe. That it came from people striving for a different identity because ‘gay’ suffered so much stigma. But I think that when you’re looking for something to describe a means of opposing the norm, ‘queer’ makes much more sense than ‘gay’, ‘lesbian’, or ‘trans’. For me, the identification of ‘gay’ is so much inside of the corporate system now that it’s lost its progressive power. But ‘queer’ still gives you the strength to create more abstract forms of living and expression.

Yony: So you feel there is still radical potentiality to queerness? 

Faraz: More than there is with gayness, yeah. But the power of queerness isn’t that it’s a playground for new political ideas, rather in its intersectional possibilities. We’re so often forced to define ourselves in society. I think queerness speaks to this kind of opacity. It says we should stop expecting people to show who they are, and instead just accept them unapologetically. Like with the film, we didn’t explicitly discuss sexuality because we focused on racism, migration, and postcolonial studies through a queer lens instead.

Yony: I noticed your parents were in the film. How did you find working with your family? 

Faraz: I’ve worked with my parents before. They’re just really fun. I mean, of course I thought they were a really good cast for the film, but there are practical and emotional reasons for their casting too. Their presence was so heartwarming. They somehow acted as the parents of the whole production. To me, it’s important politically to physically show that my parents supported this project and collaborated with me on it, it being a very out, proud, queer film. That sends a certain message to the film’s audience. 

Yony: Have you seen ‘Berlin Alexanderplatz’? I hear a lot of people are drawing similarities between it and your film because of their post-migrant protagonists. What do you think?

Faraz: Yes, I have seen it. I mean it’s vibe is super epic. It’s unique in comparison to normal German cinema. But as a POC, when it comes to having a non-white character as the center of stories, I always try to assess whether this representation is helping us or not. Is it making us feel empowered? Or is it just recycling stereotypes and conflicts that revolve around our bodies?

I think that in ‘Berlin Alexanderplatz’, there is so much trauma reproduced around that main guy, and I’m not necessarily against violence if it makes sense to me, but I felt like this was done more so to make it current. To me, that’s a bit exploitative. I felt that it was more for white people than for non-white people. And I just wonder if that’s the story we need right now, you know?

Yony: Yeah, I understand. And finally, onto the Coronavirus! It is the biggest pandemic in a hundred years. Are you worried about the festivals? About nobody seeing your film?

Faraz: Not so much, because we have had our world premiere already. But if we had done it a month later, it would have been canceled. That’s so hard to imagine. It would’ve broken my heart if the premiere had been postponed. 

Yony: And what do you have coming up next?

Faraz: Right now I’m working on my first big planned script. It’s a political film that takes place in Germany, but in the near future, where the world is likely headed. I’m also working on ‘DRUCK’. It’s this German remake of a Norwegian show. And I’m producing some films from scripts, which is amazing because we got funded for all of it. 

Yony: Yeah. Well, that’s not surprising, the reviews for your film have said: “here lies the future of German cinema.”  

Futur Drei is showing now in cinemas across Berlin.