Germany's best actors and directors have plenty to thank viewers for in their speeches at Friday night’s German Film Prize ceremony. Though fewer people are going to the movies, local films are doing better than ever.
This year's Hollywood blockbusters have been putting Germans to sleep
It started off as a tough year for Germany's film industry -- attendance has dropped 18 percent and film revenues have fallen 17 percent to 332 million euros ($396 million) in the first half of 2005, according to a Nielsen EDI survey. But it's not German movies that are to blame, as interest in local productions has increased.
"Amazingly, German films are experiencing a growth of 11 percent compared to the drop seen in the rest of the industry," said Andreas Kramer of the Association of German Cinemas.
German films, like "Sophie Scholl," were among the few bright spots on Germany's movie screens
Last year Germany had 121 new productions, putting more premiers than ever on local screens, which was second only to the United States' 179 releases in Germany. After two years of falling attendance rates, 152.5 million people bought movie tickets, a five percent improvement over 2003, and revenues also went up five percent to nearly 893 million euros, according to the German Federal Film board.
But the data is slightly misleading as 2003 was a terrible year for German cinemas. When compared to banner year 2001, attendance was down 12 percent and revenues dropped by 67 million euros.
That didn't keep Germany's Culture Minister Christina Weiss from proclaiming that "German films are looking better than ever before" and calling Friday's awards a celebration of new German cinema, which had a record 24 percent of the German film market.
Hollywood blockbusters disappoint
Hollywood blockbusters didn't bring out the expected crowds
As the quality of German movies improves and this year's Hollywood blockbusters, like "Star Wars III: Revenge of the Sixth," fail to bring relief to theater owners, some may want to begin questioning what they put on their screens.
"I do not think Hollywood's productions match the German public's taste," Kramer added. "That can be seen by looking at the blockbusters that are not bringing in the expected attendance numbers."
Movies that deal with recent German history, such as "The Downfall" and "Sophie Scholl," both films that deal with Germany's Nazi past, are doing particularly well, according to Jürgen Keiper of the German Film Institute in Frankfurt.
"Downfall" and other films dealing with Germany's past are especially popular at the moment
"There's an interest in films that deal with German historical reality in a more experimental, modern way," he said. "These types of films existed before, but they were more academic and analytical."
Changing tastes and viewers
These are also the films viewers can only get from German movie makers, as few films from the United States or other European countries are set in Germany, Keiper said.
Germans' taste in films may also be dictated by demographic changes. As the population ages, its viewing habits seem to be becoming more sophisticated. German productions, like this year's hit "Barfuss," do a much better job at appealing to an aging German movie public.
"When you're 40 years old you don't want to see the same Arnold Schwarzenegger movie you did when you were 12 or 14," Kramer said. "The public is no longer in the 12 to 29 age category that multiplexes appeal to."
Keeping cinemas a unique experience
Cinemas need to become comfortable meeting spots if they want to survive
The interest in German movies, however, isn't enough to make up for the rest of the branch's falling profits, and Germany's 1,845 theaters need to re-evaluate their marketing strategies as it gets easier to download movies from the Internet and the time between a film's theater launch and DVD release shortens.
"Film rental companies and producers have tapped a second source of income in DVDs, clearly to the detriment of the cinema business," Hans-Joachim Flebbe of the Cinemaxx theater chain told the German trade magazine Filmecho/Filmwoche.
For cinemas to survive as more than part of a studio marketing strategy, they will have to continue changing from dark rooms with gum-covered aisles to places people want to spend more than 90 minutes at a time.
"Cinemas need to offer more than 'just' screens and become meeting spots for people that offer a unique experience," he explained. "There is no home cinema or other place that can duplicate being in a movie theater."