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Ilker Çatak On His Uncomfortable Teenage Experience That Sparked ‘The Teachers’ Lounge’ – Contenders International

Ilker Çatak On His Uncomfortable Teenage Experience That Sparked ‘The Teachers’ Lounge’ – Contenders International

Ilker Çatak’s The Teachers’ Lounge world premiered to acclaim in the Berlin Film Festival’s Panorama section in February, then swept the board three month later at the German Film Awards, scooping best film, director, screenplay, editing and actress for Leonie Benesch.

The actress plays a rookie teacher whose career and sanity unravels after she becomes embroiled in a heavy-handed investigation into a series of petty thefts at her school.

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Çatak, who was born in Berlin to Turkish parents, says the premise for the film was sparked by a school experience he shared with co-writer and lifelong friend Johannes Duncker.

“Three teachers came into the class and frisked us,” Çatak said discussing the film at Deadline’s Contenders Film: International. “We thought it’s a good kick-off for a story where prejudice and assumptions poison a community.”

A crucial decision in the writing process was to confine the action to the school.

RELATED: Deadline’s Contenders International – Full Coverage

“The moment everything came together, and we started thinking about school as a miniature for society,” he says.

“We had to protect this decision a lot… Some of the financiers were like, ‘Shouldn’t we see her in her private life’… but we were always like no, it’s not about whether she is a cat person or a dog person … it’s about how a person takes decisions under pressure.”

Benesch’s taut performance is at the heart of the film. Çatak says he has admired the actress ever since seeing her in Michael Haneke’s 2009 thriller The White Ribbon.

“I thought she was extraordinary. Ever since I kept track of what she’s doing,” he said. “Whenever I saw her, she was always brilliant, even if the films weren’t that good. … I thought why isn’t this woman a star?”

Çatak reveals he had her in mind for the role while writing the screenplay.

“Her image was there from the very beginning. We kind of tailored this to her. For some weird reason, I thought that the actor needed to be able to blush. I knew she can pull this off and that she has that vulnerability and insecurity.”

For the casting of the pupils, Çatak auditioned around 200 youngsters, putting them into small groups and improvised scenes.

“I would talk to them very openly and tell them, you’re not kids, I’m not your boss, we’re colleagues and I want you to understand I expect a certain work ethic from you. I want you to go sleep early. I want you to know what’s happening in the scene the next day. Also, we’re a family and we take care of each other.”

Check out the panel video above.

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