Film debut in Frankfurt: Being gay for the German authorities

Toubab, the feature film debut of the Hessian director Florian Dietrich, accompanies two Frankfurt gangsters in the fight against the regulations of the German right to stay. The film will be shown in the cinema from September 23rd. From Kiki’s brother.

After two years in prison, the Frankfurt petty criminal Babtou finally breathes the sweet air of freedom again. But as soon as he is outside, he again attracts the attention of the security authorities. This time it should not go back to the prison, but to Senegal, his father’s home country. Babtou was born in Germany. In order to secure his residence status, he spontaneously marries his best friend Dennis. Now the two have to convince the immigration authorities that their love is real. “Toubab” is the name of the comedy that tells the story of Babtou and Dennis. The feature film debut of the Hessian director Florian Dietrich (35) will be released in cinemas on September 23.

“I already knew at school that I wanted to make films,” says the Wiesbaden native. “Back then I had a bit of a crush on the theater.” After graduating from school, he was too young to study at the German Film and Television Academy Berlin (DFFB). An application is only possible from the age of 21. Instead, he first studied media dramaturgy in Mainz and gained experience through several assistant directors and internships until he moved to Berlin in 2007 to study at the DFFB.

The idea for “Toubab” arose while studying, but it quickly became clear that the film could not be financed with the university’s funds, says Dietrich. Overall, the production took seven years from the first idea to the cinema release. The search for sponsors, the casting of suitable actors and, last but not least, the corona pandemic would have dragged on the process.

Dietrich got the first impulse for the story from meeting young offenders in the Wiesbaden correctional facility. Arne Dechow, who was involved in the writing of the script, led a theater and film project with young people there. Dietrich supported him in making a short film, for example, and met young people who had committed criminal offenses with a story similar to Babtou. “It wasn’t even clear to me before: that a person who was born in Germany and has spent 20 years of his life here could still be deported – to a supposed home country.”

In “Toubab” two young men fight against the unjust system of the right of residence and are portrayed as obvious victims of the arbitrariness of German bureaucracy. But the film doesn’t paint everything black and white. At the beginning of the story, Babtou describes his neighbor as a dykeeper, while in prison he insulted other inmates with homophobia. “We all grow up in a system that inevitably allows us to be discriminated, even if we ourselves are affected by social exclusion,” says Dietrich.

He also wanted to use the film to deal with his own masculinity. “It was just important to me to dissect this image of masculinity that the two protagonists carry around with them and to let them grow with their experiences.”

As a supposedly gay couple, the two suddenly become victims of homophobic attacks themselves. They range from verbal hostility to an incident in which Dennis is beaten until he is hospitalized. Through their lesbian neighbor, who takes them to a party, they also get to know the beautiful sides of queer subculture. In order to convince the immigration authorities that it is not a fictitious marriage, the two have to come across as authentically gay as possible. Fortunately, they have known each other for over 20 years and know every little detail of each other. Because of a possible house call, they move in together and decorate their apartment with rainbow flags, posters of naked men and glowing dildos. Since he was not affected by structural discrimination himself, it was important to him to get into conversation with the queer and racist actors and actresses, reports the filmmaker. “The German film industry is not diverse enough, and as a director I have the opportunity to influence it during casting.”

Locations in Frankfurt and Darmstadt were used as a backdrop. Recordings of the giants in the banking district or shady scenes at night on the edge of the main train station make this clear again and again. Much of the action was filmed in the multicultural prefabricated housing estate in Kranichstein, Darmstadt.

When asked why the film is set in Frankfurt of all places, the director replies: “I didn’t want to make a Berlin film. The motifs there have somehow been bogged down by large TV productions. ”Frankfurt is also architecturally interesting and functions as a big city in its own cosmos.

Although the action takes place mainly in Frankfurt, the Senegalese culture also has a great impact on the story. The film title already suggests it. “Toubab” is used in Central and Central Africa to refer to a white European man. If the word is twisted, as is customary in the French youth language Verlan, the result is “Babtou”. This phonetic similarity is also an indication that the protagonist is not perceived by society as belonging either here in Germany or in the home country of his parents.

“Originally the main character was supposed to be called Batou, and Ibrahima Sanogo, who plays Babtou’s father, only pointed out the similarity to me during the casting.” That made the title of the film immediately clear to Dietrich. “With comedies in particular, distributors often want a particularly catchy title, but I found it good because it also poses a little riddle to the whole thing.” The film is loud, funny and over-the-top, but the seriousness of the subject should not be lost .

Director Florian Dietrich.

© max Preiss

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