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An industry comeback

January 31, 2010

German film can be grateful to Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck. His Oscar-winning 2006 feature 'The Lives of Others' - about East Germany under the Stasi secret police - marked an industry comeback.

Scene of children walking, from The White Ribbon
'The White Ribbon' is this year's breakthroughImage: picture-alliance/ dpa

Today, the Goethe Institute headquarters in Munich is the transitional home to a surprisingly large collection of film trophies. Awards for Best Actress, Best Film Score and Best Director are stacked up on a desk, having arrived from small film festivals from all over Germany, and around the world.

When a winning director can't travel to a film festival in Asia or the Caribbean to collect their award, then an employee of the local Goethe Institute in that city steps in to pick it up on their behalf.

Promoting German culture

Florian von Donnersmarck, holding his Oscar for best foreign film
'Lives of Others' director von Donnersmarck spearheaded a comebackImage: AP

Christian Lueffe is responsible for the coordination of the Goethe Institut's German film program overseas; they provide current films to about 40 cinemas around the world.

After they pick what movies are shown, the institute has to organize copies of the films and get distribution and clearance rights for showing abroad. Then the film has to be translated for dubbing or subtitles.

Lueffe says people who come to the Goethe Institut's films often view them as a way to learn more about German culture. They're not necessarily just for people who already have a deep understanding of the country. The movies might even become an incentive for people to learn the language and visit Germany.

"Images, music, language - film is an ideal medium because the way it is assembled, you experience all of that at once," said Lueffe. At least half the events hosted by the Munich Goethe-Institute are film screenings, he says.

International presence

Actor Daniel Bruhl holds a picture
The tragicomic 'Good Bye Lenin!' opened doorsImage: AP

The Goethe Institut isn't the only film-promotion group in Munich; there's also an organization that is simply called German Films. It lobbies to get German films into festivals around the world.

German Films has a different mandate than the Goethe Institut, which tries to use films as a way of increasing culture awareness. The group's goal is to distribute German film as widely as possible, and get new movies in festivals and out on the international market.

Response hasn't always been as good it is today. For a while it seemed like German film was dropping low down on the international film-circuit radar.

But now German films are winning more and more accolades.

Scooping up the prizes

"Das weisse Band," or "The White Ribbon," is a black and white film about children in a small German village just prior to World War I. It is the latest example of a German success story; it won the Palme d'Or in Cannes, the European Film award for best film, and the Golden Globe, also for best foreign film.

Moreover, German-speaking actors have prominently appeared in international productions lately, including Austrian-born Christoph Waltz, who recently won a Golden Globe - and is pegged to take home an Oscar - for his role in Quentin Tarantino's "Inglorious Basterds."

Mariette Rissenbeek, from the Festival and PR department of German Films, said she thought the 2003 film "Good Bye, Lenin!" about a man who tries to recreate East Germany after the fall of the wall, acted as an "international door-opener for German films."

"Foreign investors saw that German films do make money at the box office and they can be entertaining," Rissenbeek said.

Author: Renate Heilmeier (cn)
Editor: Jennifer Abramsohn