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A Bumper Year for German Film

DW staff (jam)December 25, 2004

After years of decline, German film appears to have made a comeback in 2004. Good scripts, quality performances, and a German public once again interested in home-grown movies has the film industry celebrating.

German film is popular again, and not just due to scenes like thisImage: AP

To film buffs, they are household names -- Fassbinder, Wenders, Lang, Herzog, Wilder. They represent the apex of German filmmaking, a high point that for years now, many felt was a thing of the past. Critics and audiences alike had steeled themselves against what was widely perceived as the long, painful decline of German film. Movies were made, of course, but few went to see them. Ignored at home, the international film community didn't pay them much attention either.

But that seems to have changed and the German film industry is all smiles these days as it looks back on a very successful 2004. It was "one of the best years of the last decade," Johannes Klingsporn, general manager of the German Association of Film Distributors, told newsmagazine Der Spiegel.

Filmbühne am Steinplatz, Kino in Berlin
Hmm...which movie should I go see?Image: dpa

While 2003 saw the industry chalking up losses, in the first nine months of 2004, 12.7 percent more visitors went to the movies than they did the year before. All in all in 2004, movie theaters took in 10 percent more in box office receipts that they did the previous year.

"As far as the economic situation goes, we seem to have finally made it out of the doldrums of the past few years," Peter Dinges of the German Federal Film Board (FFA) told Der Spiegel. He added that 2004 was the second most successful year for German film since the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Germans watching German film

While many of those tickets were sold for big Hollywood blockbusters like "Spider Man 2" or the latest Harry Potter adventure, German films have been pulling in audiences in numbers that they haven't seen in a decade.

Kinostart: (T)Raumschiff Surprise - Periode 1, Bully Herbig, Rick Kavanian und Christian Tramitz
The "Star Trek" spoof " -- "(T)Raumschiff Surprise - Periode 1"Image: AP

The most successful German film of 2004 was "(T)raumschiff Surprise -- Periode 1" ("Dreamship Surprise -- Period 1"). This lampoon on the American 1960s-era "Star Trek" series featuring a well-known German comedian was seen by 9.2 million. That was only surpassed by the third installment of the Lord of the Rings epic, "The Return of the King."

In the first nine months of 2005, according to FFA, 23.5 million Germans went to see a German production. That corresponds to a market share of 20.7 percent, the best results for German film in one year since the FFA began collecting data in 1995.

While it might seem strange to some that the German film industry is celebrating the fact that Germans are watching German films, the tidal wave of films coming out of Hollywood mean a German filmgoer is much more likely to watch a dubbed American blockbuster than a generally smaller German film.

Even though receipts from Hollywood films still make up the lion's share of German cinemas' sales volume, Germany played a bigger role this year than usual in several blockbusters out of Tinseltown. German directors Wolfgang Petersen and Roland Emmerich were at the helms of "Troy" and "The Day After Tomorrow" respectively.

Varied subjects

While abroad, German film has had the reputation of being serious and often difficult viewing, a new generation of German directors is exploring a wide palette of topics and timbres that have been impressing critics as well as attracting audiences.

17. Europäischer Filmpreis, Fatih Akin gwinnt mit Gegen die Wand
Fatih Akin makes a speech after his film "Head On" won the best film award at the European Film Awards in Barcelona, SpainImage: AP

Besides spirited farces like "(T)raumschiff Surprise -- Periode 1," directors are looking at contemporary issues in German society, such as the Turkish immigrant community in "Head On" (German title: "Gegen die Wand"), which won the 2004 European Film Award (photo). "The Edukators" (German title: "Die fetten Jahre sind vorbei"), an anti-globalization comedy in which young Germans fight against societal inequalities, was accepted for the competition in Cannes after an 11-year German absence.

Even topics such as Nazi history are being tackled in new ways. Probably the most controversial and talked-about film of the year, "The Downfall" (German title: "Der Untergang"), looks at the final days of Hitler's Third Reich. More than 4.2 million people went to see it.

"This new generation of German filmmakers have found their own way of looking at German history as well as everyday life in ways that are both ingenious and entertaining," FFA's Dinges said.