Fatih Akin's documentary Crossing The Bridge: The Sound Of Istanbul primarily means to cover the Turkish music scene, with its wide range of experimental rock, exotic jazz, incendiary hip-hop, and romantic dance-pop—all performed with a proudly regional twist. And as ethnomusicology, Crossing The Bridge serves well. Akin's subjects offer lively defenses of their respective genres, whether they're fighting to keep traditional Romanian folk music alive, or, like rapper Ceza, vocalizing in a rhyme style so rapid-fire and percussive that it resembles religious ululations. Crossing The Bridge shows enough sense of history to seek out Erkin Koray, a veteran Turkish rock star who in his day was like Jimi Hendrix, Carlos Santana, and Brian Wilson rolled into one, and enough sense of theory to spend time considering the "Turkishness" of various time signatures.
At the same time, Crossing The Bridge is a movie about Istanbul, and its place at the center of a country that isn't wholly European, Asian, or Middle Eastern. It's a land with ancient cultural schisms, which the young people are working to heal through pop, while their elders wield the weapon of EU compliance. The movie opens with a quote from Confucius: "In order to understand a culture, you have to listen to the music they make." But at least from Akin's perspective, Turkish culture is fragmented, with graffiti in one Istanbul neighborhood reading "no hip-hop, yes Muslim," while elsewhere, hipster rockers congregate in places that used to be slums, and buskers get baked and philosophical in the park at sunset, just like in any other major city.
Akin often drops his camera into the Istanbul streets, in part to catch the excitement of kids enjoying the city's musical buffet, and in part to showcase the cinematic energy he's previously brought to fiction features like the cult hit Head-On. Crossing The Bridge was shot with an eye toward the kinetic, and cut with an impatience that shortchanges some of the artists, but keeps the rhythm lively. In operating as an auteur instead of a thoroughgoing journalist, Akin eschews such audience-friendly niceties as onscreen captions to identify the interviewees and musicians. But he has a better device: Alexander Hacke, bassist for Einstürzende Neubauten, and the man whose fascination with Istanbul guides the action. Hacke is in almost every shot, taking in the performances and sometimes singing and dancing along, inviting the audience to share in the joy of discovery.