Film Review: Crossing the Bridge: The Sound of Istanbul

Two things brought me to Crossing the Bridge: The Sound of Istanbul. Or, rather, I should say two people: Fatih Akin and Alexander Hacke. The first is a German filmmaker of Turkish ancestry who’s made some really fantastic films, such as Gegen die Wand (marketed to English-language markets as Head-On) and Auf der anderen Seite (The Edge of Heaven), both of which reflect German and Turkish culture. The latter is best known as the bass player for Einstürzende Neubauten, one of my favorite bands. Cross the Bridge: The Sound of Istanbul is a documentary on the music scene in and around Istanbul, Turkey, including Kurdish music, Romany music, traditional Turkish music, rock and rap.

While I’m not particularly knowledgeable on world music, with the involvement of Akin and Hacke in the film, I was definitely interested. And I can honestly say that I wasn’t disappointed. The film shows Hacke as he visits musicians around Istanbul with the goal of recording their music. But there are further interviews with these musicians that drive the documentary.

At the beginning of the film, Hacke’s seen dancing/jumping around/recording rock bands like Replikas and Duman (whose frontman apparently spent time in Seattle during the height of the grunge scene and could easily earn the title of the Turkish Eddie Vedder if his performance in the film is any indication) while later he’s seen performing with Turkey’s legendary pop singer Sezen Aksu and on a boat with Baba Zula. One of my favorite performances from the film was by another legendary Turkish musician/actor, Orhan Gencebay.

As different as we think we are, we’re more similar than we realize. The film explains that music in minority languages, aka Kurdish, were outlawed in Turkey in the 1980s. Early in the film, a female singer explains there’s always both some happiness and some sadness in Turkish music; later, a Kurdish musician, explains that Kurdish music always has some sadness in it.

And politics, the people interviewed in the film say, play a large part of Turkish music. The rappers interviewed express that their music is never superficial and, as some breakdancers agree, they don’t look to English-language music for how to do things. Instead they expect that one day English-language musicians will be looking to them. Another musician, this one a rock musician that looks slightly older than the rapper,  explains that he and his friends were raised “like Western teenagers” and it wasn’t until they were older that they began to explore, understand and embrace Turkish music.

In terms of both the story and the performances, the film is rich in both and it’s hard to mention everything in a few hundred words.

While a lot of music oriented-films and music documentaries are just performances or music videos loosely strung together, Crossing the Bridge really tells a story and it’s a story that is truly universal.


In a previous life, Corinne ran a music website. After going strong for a decade, the site went on a hiatus. Consider her the antiTastemaker.