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Culture

German Cinema Glitterati Found Film Academy

Germany’s “Lola” may be the Teutonic version of Hollywood’s “Oscar,” but until now there has been no industry-wide organization behind the film award. The newly launched German Film Academy is aiming to change that.

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Members of the German Film Academy in Berlin

Reading like a ‘Who's Who’ of the German film scene, founding members of the Academy gathered in Berlin on Tuesday to outline what's proven to be a somewhat controversial project.

Set up to promote new German and European cinema and champion Germany's cinematic heritage, the founding of the Academy was described by actress Katharina Thalbach as a "historic moment in German film."

So far, some 100 movers and shakers are on board. There's actors Klaus-Maria Brandauer, Til Schweiger and Daniel Brühl, directors Volker Schlöndorff, Wim Wenders, Doris Dörrie and Detlev Buck, who will be acting as treasurer. The organizers expect the Academy's ranks to swell to at least 1,000 over the next few years.

However, though it's been heartily welcomed by German State Secretary for Media and Culture Christina Weiss, some 400 representatives from the film industry have protested against the possibility of prize money being awarded by a film academy based on the American model of the Oscars.

Warnings of "privatization"

The main sticking point has been the Berlin-based Academy's intention to take the helm of the "Lolas," the German Film Prize, by 2005 -- a responsibility which so far has lain in the hands of the Weiss’ government culture office.

Although the new group says that in every other area, it intends to operate independent of state interests and taxpayers' money and instead raise funds through sponsorship and membership fees, it will continue to rely on the government for its €3 million ($3.4 million) “Lola” prize money.

Its detractors suggest there are ulterior motives behind the project, and fear influential producers may use the Academy to steer the funds towards their own projects. A day before the Academy's first press conference, Claudia Roth of the Greens said the institute should beware becoming "an instrument of powerful producers and directors."

Christina Weiss has been at pains to reject concerns that the German Film Prize is being "privatized" by a select group of insiders. In Berlin on Tuesday, she pointed out that "The film prize is and remains a financially generous award and a form of state support for the arts."

Long overdue

Others have voiced concerns that in future, the "Lolas" will go to primarily mainstream films. After all, it's easier for a jury to agree on quality than thousands of members, who may have to simply find the lowest common denominator.

The Academy's first presidents are actress Senta Berger and producer Günter Rohrbach, while the eleven-strong committee includes actress Katharina Thalbach, cinematographer Michael Ballhaus, directors Tom Tykwer and Andreas Dresen and producers Ulrich Felsberg und Stefan Arndt.

Berlin's mayor, Klaus Wowereit, described the new Academy as "a consolidation of Berlin's status as a film and media center." Similar academies already exist in France, Britain and Italy. Michael Ballhaus said that in Germany, the move was "long overdue." The rest is up to the members -- and everyone's agreed, the Academy's success will depend on getting the mix just right.

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