Born in Berlin to Turkish parents, İlker Çatak moved to Istanbul in his schooldays, which is where he met Johannes Duncker, a classmate with whom he shared an early love of cinema. "He asked me if I would act in his short films," Çatak says. "Johannes wanted to be a director, so he was applying for film schools."
Çatak, meanwhile, returned to Berlin to attend university. "But I was very unhappy with my studies," he recalls. "I went to a job office in Germany, where they consult you on what you could do and where you should go, and I said, 'I'm studying economy, and I don't feel good about it. It bores me.' They were like, 'Well, what do you like doing?' I said, 'Well, I like to go to the movies.' And they said, "Well, why don't you make movies then?' And that was that. The next day, I had a job interview at a production company, and I was hired."
His parents were less convinced. "I went to them and I said, 'Guys, I'm a dropout now.' And they said, 'Are you out of your frigging mind?!' Like, 'We worked hard our whole life to get you into university, and now you're dropping out? What are you going to do?' And I was like, 'Well, I'm blocking streets and I'm keeping the tea warm.' It was the big fight, but I had to protect the idea that I want to become a filmmaker."
In 2015, Çatak's graduation film, Sadakat, won the Student Academy Award for Best Foreign Film. At the 96th Oscars, his latest film, The Teachers' Lounge, which he wrote with Duncker, is nominated for Best International Feature Film.
"Now, my parents are the proudest people in Germany! My dad changed his Instagram profile photo to a statue of the Oscar," the filmmaker says with a laugh. "But I told them, 'Just so that we're clear, if I had listened to your advice, none of this would've happened!'"
Below, Çatak shares with A.frame five of the films that made him fall in love with filmmaking and continue to inspire him to this day.
Written and Directed by: Paul Thomas Anderson
The first filmmaker that really influenced me and made me aware of watching and making films in a different way was Paul Thomas Anderson. Because I remember being in a movie theater in Istanbul when I was around 15, seeing Tom Cruise on the poster of Magnolia, and I thought, 'Oh cool, another Tom Cruise action movie.' So, I went in there and I was sitting in the theater and I was like, 'What the f**k is this?' I don't get it! But it made me realize there was different storytelling and different narratives, and I started thinking about the film. We had to write an essay in our English class, and I actually wrote an essay about Magnolia and about why it had an impact on me.
Directed by: Stanley Kubrick | Written by: Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke
I remember sitting in class with Johannes and we were talking about films, and our German teacher heard us and said, 'Do you know a guy called Stanley Kubrick?' And we said, 'Stanley Kubrick? No, we don't know.' He was like, 'Well, you have to see 2001.' 2001 was another film that I watched, and again, I didn't get it. But I think there is a power in not getting something, because it makes you think more about what you have just seen.
And then when we talked to this teacher about 2001, I suddenly realized that you can actually read a film in different ways, just like literature. You can have different interpretations. So, that film was very defining in my teenage years.
Written and Directed by: Nuri Bilge Ceylan
Distant is a Turkish film about two cousins: One is a peasant, who is looking for a job in Istanbul, and the other one is this intellectual photographer who has a great contempt towards the peasant. But in the end, the peasant maintains his pride and teaches the other one a lesson. It's just a great, great film, and I wrote my thesis on it when I was in university.
Written and Directed by: Fatih Akin
As a German-Turkish kid who was setting out to make films, I watched Head-On thinking, 'Oh! This guy made it.' He made a film, and it won the Golden Bear in Berlin. It won several German film awards. It was very successful over in Europe. It had a release in the U.S. And so that was a film where I thought, 'Man, people like me, with the same background as me, they can make great films!'
Written and Directed by: Maren Ade
In 2016, I was sitting in the Cannes theater, the big Palais, and I was watching Toni Erdmann. People were on their feet in the theater, because it was so funny! And I thought, 'Finally, a German film that makes me laugh!' And Sandra Hüller, she's the best of her generation. I would love to work with her one day. She knows that — I told her — so we might get together at some point.
But then I spoke to the production designer on that film and she said, 'I had no budget at all. Maren wanted to have many, many shooting days. She didn't care about production design, she didn't care about the looks of this film, all she cared about was the time she has with her actors.' That actually inspired The Teachers' Lounge, a film that takes place in one location, so that I would just have time with my actors.