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Culture

There's Hope for German Film Yet

Although Germany has chocked up international successes with movies like "Nowhere in Africa" and "Lola Runs," local films still count for a small part of box office returns. Will a new law change the tide?

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The ultra-successful "Good Bye, Lenin!" was subsidized by the German Film Board.

Caroline Link's "Nowhere in Africa" garnered an Oscar for best foreign language film last week in Hollywood, while German films like Tom Twyker's "Lola Runs" or Andreas Dresen's "Grill Point" have drawn audiences into movie theaters worldwide.

But such success stories are few and far between when it comes to German film. German movies only made up 12 percent of national box office revenues last year, even less than the previous year.

Culture Minister Christina Weiss thinks she may have found a solution. Weiss on Wednesday proposed amendments to the law on film subsidies that would raise state funding by €26 million to €95 million ($102 million). The changes provide for more funds for producing films, developing scripts and supporting new talent.

Parliament goes to the movies

In search of parliamentary approval, Weiss invited Germany's 603 elected representatives to the movies. After listening to her in the Bundestag, around a third of the parliamentarians made their way to the cinema to join the ranks of the 4.3 million viewers who have already seen "Good Bye, Lenin!," a tragicomedy about the last days of Communist East Germany that was financed by the Federal Film Board that portions out the state funds.

Weiss and the film's distributor hoped that seeing the results of German film subsidies would encourage the parliamentarians to approve the amendments. They will vote on the new law after the summer recess.

German Film Board subsidies are typically given to veteran film producers and are tied to a producer's success at the box office. If the cinema-goers watch a filmmaker's movies, his chances of getting subsidies for his next film from the board are good.

But it isn't the only source of funds. Each German state has a film board and distributes funds as it sees fit. Producers complain that the federal system doesn't work.

"From the director's perspective the waiting time is hell," Anette Ernst told DW-RADIO. "I spent the last year before 'Kiss and Run' (her first feature film) just waiting for a decision on funding. We delayed shooting twice because we didn't have the money together yet."

Learning from France

Weiss has taken cues from the French system of subsidizing films. French filmmakers send their applications to one address that distributes nearly all French subsidies: the National Center for Cinematography (CNC) in Paris. The CNC funds production as well as preparation and development.

But French film subsidies go much further. The French put large sums of money into festivals, promotion, training new talent and investing in movie theaters. In addition, 11 percent of every movie ticket sold goes to the CNC. So, in the end, Hollywood films, for example, help fund the French film industry.

The French concepts aren't foreign to Germany, and most of them are employed here, too. The main difference, according to former German Culture Minister Nida-Rümelin, is the part that television broadcasters play in supporting the national film industry. In France they contribute one-third of the money that subsidizes film there.

German TV hasn't entirely neglected supporting filmmaking, but the regional broadcasters within the federal public television system have opted to put funds into projects that are submitted to state film boards, where they are frequently part of the decision-making.

Weiss, though, has made a move toward centralizing German film subsidies. The logic is simple: National television broadcasters are showing more and more German films and locking in an ever increasing audience. Since television benefits from film, broadcasters should contribute to films being made, so the logic.

Weiss has pursued the issue with German television broadcasters with success so far. Public broadcasters have agreed to top up the film board's pot with €5.6 million, while the private broadcasters say they will provide payment in kind.

More money, fewer films?

A group of German production companies has criticized the new plans though. The Federal Film Board may end up with more money to hand out, they say, but it won't necessarily have many projects to subsidize.

At the moment, a director can count on getting funding after his or her film hits the 100,000 viewer mark. If that number is raised to 200,000 or even to two million, as has been intimated, subsidies will end up as the reward for the haves rather than the have nots.

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