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Protect Movie Theaters, German Film Director Schloendorff Says

Director Volker Schloendorff has spent the last 30 years in the vanguard of German film-making. DW's Jochen Kuerten caught up with him to find out what he thinks of today's film industry.

Volker Schloendorff

Volker Schlöndorff feels there's more to life than the sofa and the pub

Deutsche Welle: Your latest movie "Ulzhan" was recently screened at the Festival of German Film in Ludwigshafen, which tends to focus on work by newcomers. Were you pleased to be invited as an elder statesmen of German cinema?

Volker Schloendorff: You bet! When I was there I noticed that there's a renewed interest in the concept of the auteur movie. That was what we were all about, and this is a festival that specifically sets out to put German cinema on this path. I think that's wonderful. All the good directors working at the moment, including Tom Tykwer and Christian Petzol, are auteur filmmakers.

You began making films in the 1960s and today you're one of the most experienced directors in the country. How has life changed for directors? What's it like starting out as a director these days?

When I was making my first movie "Young Torless" in 1966, television hadn't even arrived. The market for movies was vast, and audiences were hungry. So when we showed up with our "New German Cinema," it was pounced upon. Back then, millions of people would watch a movie that would be seen by barely 10,000 today. So we got off to an excellent start. But then came a long dry patch, and basically we were rescued by television. These days there's been an explosion in film making which makes life very, very hard. Up to 10 times as many movies are produced, especially in Germany, and it's all made easier by digital technology and the many film funds out there. But it's not easy to find audiences. The theaters screen so much -- twelve movies are launched every week. It's very competitive.

But there are far fewer cinemas these days. This is an issue close to your heart, isn't it?

An empty cinema theater

Small cinemas are struggling to survive

Yes, I'm like a missionary, constantly on the road. Recently I was at a conference for local cinemas because I do believe strongly that cinema should have a place in the community -- especially in the small and medium-sized towns which are increasingly over-run with bars and supermarkets. A cinema is a place where people can meet, communicate and share an experience. There's more to life than the sofa and the pub.

Let's look back at your career. You once said in an interview that winning an Oscar for „The Tin Drum“ opened many doors for you, and that you would never have survived so long in the film industry without it. Did you mean that success is necessary to keep working?

Scene from The Tin Drum

"The Tin drum" won the 1979 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film

Yes, you need either a name or financial success. Acclaim alone gets you nowhere. You need to have a few movies which have made the theaters, distributors and producers a lot of money so that they remain convinced that with you, they're onto a winner. I think that's the way it works. And if you have an oeuvre and your work has either won Oscars or attracted large audiences such as "Death of a Salesman“ and "Homo Faber,“ then it's easier to get through a dry patch and still get offers and have your calls returned.

What advice would you give young filmmakers today? Is it worth heading to the US to make movies?

It's very worthwhile, because it's such an intense experience. Some things need to be learnt first-hand. You have to have been there, to have made two or three films and felt the cold winds of the free market in country which has no subsidies at all. Then you realize how mollycoddled we are here. That can motivate you to make films that are provocative, striking and different. Making a good movie isn't enough. It might get you through in Germany but if you want to make the leap into the wide world, then you need the US experience.

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