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Culture

Hollywood Helps Revive Berlin's Former Movie Glory

Star-studded movie productions with Hollywood A-list actors and a bit of financial support from the German government are returning a film studio near Berlin to its long-lost glitz.

A scene from Metropolis

"Metropolis" was filmed in Babelsberg in 1927

Almost two decades after a popular uprising swept away the communist East German state, Berlin's film movie business is enjoying something of a renaissance.

Quentin Tarantino making a victory sign

Quentin Tarantino's been spotted around Berlin

US director Quentin Tarantino jetted into the German capital this month to begin laying the ground for the shooting of a new film set between the two world wars. With two of Hollywood's top actors - Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio - slated for leading roles, Tarantino's Inglorious Bastards is likely to add to the star power that Berlin has been basking in recently.

Only a few years ago, the sprawling Babelsberg film studios on the outskirts of Berlin were facing an uncertain future. But now, about 80 years after it rocketed to global movie fame with such cinema classics as "The Blue Angel," "The Cabinet of Dr Caligari" and "Metropolis," Babelsberg is in the midst of a revival following a surge in the number of big-budget Hollywood productions being mounted at the historic studios.

Last year 12 major movies were made at Babelsberg and about 8 are expected to be produced this year. In 2006, only one film was made at Babelsberg studios. But generous state financial support and a sudden new-found interest in German stories are helping Berlin and Babelsberg to reclaim a place on the world film stage.

"I assume that we will be as successful this year", said Babelsberg chief Carl Woebcken with the studios swinging back into the black in 2007 to report a profit of 6 million euros ($9.3 million) after posting a 2.7-million-euros loss in 2006.

Star-studded set

Former James Bond Pierce Brosnan is due in Berlin early next year for the production of a thriller by Roman Polanski. Britain's Kate Winslet has also been in Berlin shooting the adaptation of the best-selling novel "The Reader" by German law professor-turned-novelist Bernhard Schlink.

Helen Mirren with her Oscar

Oscar-winning actress Helen Mirren filmed just east of Berlin

Winslet stepped into the film after pregnancy forced the Australian-born Nicole Kidman to pull out of the movie. In the meantime, Oscar-winning actress Helen Mirren has been playing the role of classic Russian writer Leo Tolstoy's wife in a movie shot to the east of Berlin.

The Bourne Ultimatum, part of Matt Damon's trilogy about rogue agent Jason Bourne, was also partly shot in Babelsberg, which is both the world's oldest big movie studio complex and now the most modern in Europe.

Susan Sarandon, John Goodman and Emilie Hirsh also recently wrapped up at Babelsberg the 130-million-dollar production of the Wachowski brothers' action movie "Speed Racer."

"Babelsberg is a marvellous place for filmmaking," said Speed Racer producer Joel Silver. "So much so, that we are now already looking around intensively for new opportunities for further films to produce here."

Bryan Singer's Valkyrie starring Tom Cruise as Count Claus von Stauffenberg, who led a 1944 plot to assassinate Hitler was also produced at Babelsberg with the studios forced last year to rent additional space despite a doubling of studio capacity in recent years.

Checkered history

CA pre-World War II rival to Hollywood, Babelsberg's re-emergence on the global filmmaking map represents the latest twist in the studios' checkered history.

Joseph Goebbels

Joseph Goebbels abused Babelberg for Nazi propaganda

Apart from helping to launch the movie careers of Marlene Dietrich and Greta Garbo, Babelsberg also played a role in the darker side of Germany's tumultuous past with Josef Goebbels turning Babelsberg into a factory for Nazi propaganda.

Indeed, Hitler's rise to power during the 1930's triggered a mass exodus from Germany's pre-war movie business to the US film industry, with Babelsberg churning out more than 1000 films during the Third Reich.

This included some of the Nazis' most virulent and notorious propaganda films such as the anti-Semitic "Jud Suess."

State support

Tom Cruise dressed as Count Stauffenberg

Cruise received German subsidies for his film

But also helping to bolster the more recent change in fortunes for both Babelsberg and the German film industry has been a new set of financial benefits drawn up by Berlin for movie-making, including a hefty 60 million euros ($90 million) a year for film production.

As part of that, the German Federal Film Fund paid subsidies totaling 4.8 million euros for "Valkyrie." Speed Racer, Warner Brothers' blockbuster adaptation of the cult 1960s Japanese cartoon series, had a total budget of about 40 million euros, including 9.2 million euros from the German film authorities.

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