Sara Fazilat is an actress, writer and producer who was born in Tehran, Iran and grew up in Germany. At this past Berlinale, which took place on the ground and fully in person in February 2022, Fazilat was part of the Face to Face with German Films campaign which highlights young talents to watch, within the German cinema industry.
Most recently, Fazilat co-wrote, produced and stars in Nico, the story of a young woman who, in the midst of enjoying a summer in Berlin with her best friend Rosa, falls victim to a racist attack which pulls her out of her carefree everyday life. Traumatized by the crime, she decides never to be a victim again and begins to train with a karate world champion. The film screens next in London in March, before opening in German cinemas later in April.
I asked the multi-talented Fazilat whether she's had any Nico moments but also what it means to be a part of the Face to Face campaign to her.
How does your heritage affect the way you choose your roles?
At the beginning, it was more about the roles that were coming my way, a lot of them have also been stereotypes which of course needs to be talked about as they do exist. I think it’s important to shift the focus, because in Germany we are so diverse. In my case it’s not always Aisha’s or names with a certain background but it can also be Monica or whatever. My own name is Sara, it’s really international and this is also the German society so it’s important that we show these kinds of characters. This is how I try to make a mix of which roles I decide to go for and what I want to do. And it’s always important for me, of course, what the aim of the director is and the narrative of the story. And this is how I choose the parts.
And in Nico, what attracted you to the role?
I produced Nico and also wrote it. For me and my co-writers we wanted to show someone who is not a victim. Of course Nico is getting into this racist attack but we wanted the audience to get out of the film with this empowerment feeling and also to use this stereotype thing to work somehow against it. We wrote scenes where the white man in the background, he’s cleaning and in the forefront we have a woman with the headscarf who is acting. This is also viewing things you’re not used to. Or we have a drug seller in the park who is a middle-aged woman, and middle aged women typically disappear in the film industry. It’s not just the character of Nico that attracted me but the whole story.
A bit of background on Nico and what inspired the project?
When I started film school, and also went into production, it was exactly for this reason. I wanted to have an impact in the storytelling and to show other voices that aren’t really represented in the film industry. This is how the whole idea came up and I wanted it to be more matter of fact, instead of cliches and stereotypes. Even the names we used, they don’t really have a background and you can’t even tell if they are male or female. We also use three languages, which is real life as I talk in these three languages myself and these are the things that are really important for us. It’s our existing surroundings.
How did you prepare for the transformation? And how did you train, for how long and for how many hours a day?
The martial arts fact was very important for us. Also females in this sport and regarding body shapes, we’re not talking about it, just doing it. I’ve never done Karate before and started it for the film, three times a week, two hours each time. I also did the exams and by now I have a brown belt in karate. I also followed a caretaker, because Nico is a caretaker, and I drove with her through Berlin, to family’s apartments and I watched how she took care of people. While I was writing I was also thinking of what I wanted to add to the character of Nico.
Has there ever been a Nico moment for you in life? What was it?
I think there are a lot of Nico moments, it’s also what we get from the audience. There are these challenging moments when you don’t know how to stand up for yourself and it’s always a journey. There have been a lot of those moments and they have empowered me and that’s how we end the film — with this picture that says the world is not changing, we still have to fight.
What is most German about you, and most Persian?
Actually this is a funny story, I grew up in Germany and was three when I came over. And when I meet people from Iran who didn’t grow up here… We had a dinner, I was invited by a friend who is maybe here ten years, to start at six p.m.. And I arrived on time, I rang the bell and no one opened the door. I called him and said, "where are you?" And he answered he was grocery shopping for the dinner. And I said, "you told us to come at six!" This is an example of Iranian “savoir vivre” but I’m really on time.
What does it mean to you personally to be a part of this Face to Face with German Films campaign?
It means visibility.
And where can people see Nico next?
It will be in London in March and in April in German cinemas.