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A German government decision to prevent Hollywood star Tom Cruise from filming scenes for his upcoming movie about a German aristocrat behind a daring plot to kill Hitler has drawn criticism from a number of quarters.
Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck has slammed the government's stance on Cruise
Germany's Oscar-winning director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, the creative brains behind Stasi film "The Lives of Others," which won the best foreign language picture award in February, slammed the government for wasting "a golden opportunity."
Having Cruise play Count Claus Schenk von Stauffenberg in director Bryan Singer’s film "Valkyrie" would promote Germany's image "more than 10 soccer World Cups," Henckel von Donnersmarck wrote in a full-page article in the daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.
Berlin officials prevented Singer from filming at the so-called Bendlerblock, the site where Stauffenberg was executed after his failed attempt to assassinate the Nazi leader in 1944, claiming that it was because it was a memorial site.
Singer was also prevented from filming at the police station and yard for Precinct 52 in the city's Kreuzberg neighborhood after senior officers complained that this would obstruct the various departments working on the site.
Officials deny Scientology claim
Tom Cruise plays Count von Stauffenberg in the film
While some German politicians have said that Cruise, 44, is unwelcome because of his involvement with the Church of Scientology, officials have said that the decision to prevent filming at the Bendlerblock, now part of the defense ministry, was unconnected with the star's beliefs and was based purely on the disruption it would cause.
But in his article, Henckel von Donnersmarck accused German officials who had publicly raised concerns about Cruise's involvement with Scientology of making the country appear intolerant.
"If Stauffenberg and his consorts were considered un-German traitors to the fatherland, now even the biggest star of the victors' nation is not enough to play our superman Stauffenberg if this star is not in line with contemporary Germany in his personal views," he said.
The July 20 1944 Foundation, a German organization set up to coordinate events and keep the story of von Stauffenberg alive, also spoke out against the government’s decision. Rüdiger von Voss, the foundation's president, said that Cruise should be allowed to play the German hero, regardless of his links to Scientology.
"It is unconstitutional to restrict artistic freedom and this freedom should be protected," von Voss was quoted as saying in the Rheinischen Merkur newspaper.
Cruise links to church concern many
The Bendlerblock is used as a memorial site in Berlin
However, Peter Steinbach, head of the Memorial of the German Opposition, weighed into the argument Wednesday by saying that it was sadly ironic that the film about a national hero that stood up to the Nazis would star a man widely perceived as being a member of a totalitarian organization.
Steinbach also criticized Henckel von Donnersmarck for his article, in particular his description of von Stauffenberg as a "superman" which could be misconstrued as a reference to the Nazis' desire to create a master race. "Henckel von Donnersmarck should think seriously about the concepts he uses and which he so frivolously and irresponsibly puts out there in the world."
The row over Cruise's beliefs took precedent in the location debate when Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung made it clear that filmmakers could not shoot at any military sites as long as Cruise plays von Stauffenberg because of the Hollywood actor's link to Scientology.
However, the German Finance Ministry, which oversees the locations and has the final word on such matters, said the filmmakers were welcome to film in Germany -- just not at the Bendlerblock.
"They will not be permitted to film at the Bendlerblock but this has nothing to do with (Scientology)," said Finance Ministry spokesman Stefan Olbermann. "We welcome the fact that such a film is being made," he added. "We don't think it would be appropriate to film there."
He added that the ministry was still considering the filmmakers' requests to shoot at other sites in Germany, though he said there were no requests to film at military sites.
Scientologists under surveillance in Germany
The Church of Scientology is closely watched in Germany
The US-based Church of Scientology is under observation by the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution and several state security watchdogs, although not by the Berlin authorities following a successful court challenge by the group.
Anti-subversive agencies in Germany fear its activities are "directed against the free democratic order" in the country. The church opened a new center in Berlin in January, sparking fears that it is trying to make inroads into German politics.
Scientologists are regarded with suspicion in many European countries, where authorities contend its leaders seek economic gain and use totalitarian methods to keep supporters in line.