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Germany's oldest film school becomes a university

Germany's oldest film school has a new status: university. Director Susanne Stürmer tells DW why the broad, interdisciplinary approach may draw the next generation of cinematic talent from all over the world.

After 60 years of teaching film, the Hochschule für Film und Fernsehen "Konrad Wolf" in Potsdam will officially be recognized as a university on July 8, 2014. In total, over 5,000 young people have studied all aspects of the film business here, from producing and directing to acting and writing screenplays. Director Andreas Dresen and screenplay writer Thomas Brussig are successful alumni of the program.

Susanne Stürmer, director of the freshly christened

Film University

, tells DW about her plans to expand the school's program.

DW: As the Hochschule für Film und Fernsehen (College of film and television), you have always combined artistic with technical work. What will change with the new title of Film University?

Susanne Stürmer: There's not really a clear definition of how Germany's three different types of educational institutions are different: Uni (university), Fachhochschule (technical college), and Kunsthochschule (art college). But there are specific criteria for a university. It is characterized by its wide range of topic areas, interdisciplinary work and research.

Susanne Stürmer, director of the Film University in Potsdam, Copyright: HFF

Stürmer has directed the film school in Postdam for the past year

As the oldest film institute in Germany, we have been teaching film for the past 60 years at the broadest level, spanning all parts of the trade. We offer 11 master's and bachelor's programs. We've also been teaching media studies for the past 20 years. These are already many elements that have university character.

What will the research area look like at Germany's first film university?

With digitalization, many new fields of research have opened up. We're concerning ourselves with the whole gamut of technical changes, like questions of interactivity or transmedial storytelling using a variety of medial platforms.

In addition, there's the area of artistic research where we strive to strengthen the connection between art and the classic fields of scholarship, like natural sciences, for example. But it's also about reflecting on the creation of art. We have, for example, a doctoral program on montage processes in film. Our doctoral candidates analyze what effects various forms of montage have on gender representation in film.

Even prior to its university status, the film college was very international. Will the new title play a role in the institute's partnerships with foreign universities now that it's a university, too?

I think it gives us a stronger premise for international exchange. The separation we have in Germany between various types of education institutions is not known abroad. But the "university" title is an established term abroad.

Hochschule für Film und Fernsehen Konrad Wolf in Potsdam-Babelsberg, now known as Film University, Copyright: HFF

At six decades old, it's Germany's oldest film school

Also, with our broader approach, we have more potential to acquire research funding and establish new partnerships. I think that our radius of activity will expand internationally. We are already in touch with many interesting partner schools - in Israel, Iran and the US, just to name a few.

Over 10 percent of your students come from abroad. Do you expect this number to increase?

Our capacity is limited, and that won't change at all with the university status. We have a very low teacher-to-student ratio and need good and expensive technical equipment for our courses of study.

At the moment we have 550 students and spend around 20,000 euros ($27,000) per student. So our potential to open up additional spaces is limited. But with this step of becoming Germany's first film university, we have certainly won a great deal of international visibility. So I expect that we will receive more applications.

What does the Film University's new status mean for other film schools in Germany? Are they under more pressure now?

No, I don't see it like that. For me, there's no competition, it's rather important that each institution maintains its own profile. In addition to many other aspects, we are the only German film school that implements the bachelor's and master's system. The switch to the internationally recognized system is an important reason why we have better chances of attracting international students and fostering international partnerships.

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