Success stories such as “Nowhere in Africa” and “Good bye, Lenin!” show there’s growing interest in German movies abroad. By increasing funding, the government hopes to keep it that way. But who should foot the bill?
"Good bye, Lenin!" has done well in foreign markets
With the critical success of Caroline Links “Nowhere in Africa” -- it won this year’s Oscar for best foreign language film -- and the popular appeal of Wolfgang Becker’s “Goodbye Lenin” -- it has broken box office records for a German language film in many countries -- a new generation of German filmmakers is making a name for itself abroad.
The government is seizing the moment. Last Thursday the Bundestag passed a bill, which will significantly increase film funding by 40 percent from €46 million to € 64 million. Much of that money will be put towards marketing German movies in foreign countries. The law will go into effect January 1, 2004.
Everyone agrees that raising the quality and profile of German films is a good thing, but who should pay for it? Not us, says the Association of German Film Theatres (HDF), an umbrella organization representing the country’s cinema owners, who have been called upon to shoulder the additional costs. On Monday, they threatened legal action, and are considering challenging the law on constitutional grounds.
Germany’s cultural minister calls for investment
The success of German film in foreign markets has been hit or miss over the last few decades. The 1970’s and 1980’s saw the emergence of the “New German Cinema,” led by the likes of Volker Schlöndorff, Werner Herzog, Rainer Fassbinder and Wim Wenders. And recently, directors like Caroline Links, Wolfgang Becker, Hans Christian Schmid and Tom Tykwer have signaled the arrival of a new generation of filmmakers looking to carve-out an international reputation. Yet, their domestic and critical success has not always translated into foreign box-office revenue, with the German market share hovering at around 14.5 percent.
That should change, says Germany’s cultural minister Christina Weiss, who heralded the new law as the first step in a great leap forward for the German film industry. “It’s not enough that German films are successful at home, we must pave the way for their success oversees,” said Weiss. “We have a traffic jam of reforms to address in the film industry,” she added, “and this law should serve as the catalyst.”
The increas in funds will be widely distributed, with some going directly to producers, directors and writers to help cover production costs and the rest going to the Export Union of German Films, which will have an expanded mandate and henceforth oversee the marketing of German films abroad.
The Export Union has organized a series of German film festivals since 1995 in cities including London, Paris and New York, and now has plans to expand their activities in Scandanavia and Asia. And given the recent success stories, Mariette Rissenbeck, a spokewoman for the Export Union, told DW-WORLD the future looks promising: “At present, many international distributors are looking closely at German films, discovering that they are marketable again.”
To cover the additional cost, Germany’s television stations have voluntary agreed to pick up €11 million dollars of the tab, doubling their support to €22 million. The rest will be covered by raising the mandatory levies paid by cinema owners from €35 million to €42 million.
Theatre owners threaten legal action
On Monday, the Association of German Film Theatres (HDF) announced that it may challenge the law on constitutional grounds, and take their case to the courts. Andreas Kramer, the head of HDF, told DW-WORLD that the increased levies threaten the existence of smaller and medium-sized cinemas at a time when profits are down €89 million since last year. The cultural ministry estimated that the increased levy would result in a ticket price increase of 3 cents per ticket, but Kramer thinks their math just doesn’t add up and it could be more. “We may have no other choice than to raise the price of tickets to cover the cost, and then more people will stay away from the cinema,” said Kramer.
On Tuesday, a committee of the HDF met to discuss how to proceed. Namely, the organization takes issue with the fact that their contributions are mandatory, while those from the television stations are voluntary and, therefore, negotiable. This, says Kramer, is fundamentally unfair, and the basis of the legal argument they may use to appeal the law in court. The committee recommended proceeding with legal action, and all of the members of the organization will vote on whether or not to proceed with the case at a special meeting in January. In the debate preceding the bill’s approval, the cultural ministry was unable to reach a compromise with the cinema owners.
A spokesperson for the cultural ministry told DW-WORLD that almost everyone is happy about the law, except for the cinema owners. “But in the long run, if Germany produces good films, then more people will go to the movies, and everyone will profit.” A court case could drag on for two to five years.