Eastern part of Germany emerges as hotbed of cinematic storytelling
BERLIN — More than a decade after the fall of the Berlin Wall, as Germany united its communist and democratic halves, the eastern part of the nation has emerged as a hotbed of cinematic storytelling.
The dashed hopes of Marxists, the radical transformation of a communist nation into a capitalist one, the new hope of former dissidents, mass unemployment and the obliviousness of teenagers about their country’s recent past have proven ripe material for screen scribes.
“The best German stories right now are set in eastern Germany,” says Hannes Stoehr, director of “Berlin Is in Germany.”
The need to document this era of dramatic transition convinced producers at pubcasters ZDF and ARD regional affiliate ORB in 1998 to form Ostwind, a joint financing arm aimed at supporting filmmakers looking to tackle eastern German, and in some cases, Eastern European subject matter.
“We did not do this for altruistic reasons,” says Hans Janke, head of TV film production at ZDF. “For the support, the financing we put in, we get quality films for ZDF.” All the 12 films planned — five have been completed — will air on ZDF and ORB following theatrical distribution.
Stoehr’s “Berlin Is in Germany” preemed at this year’s Berlin Intl. Film Festival, where it won the Audience Award. Story follows an East German ex-convict who, after spending the first decade of unification locked up in a Berlin prison, finds himself a stranger in the new land.
Pic goes into wide release here Nov. 1.
Pair of docs
Two documentaries have hit theaters already: Michael Chauvistre’s “Mit Ikea nach Moskau” and Rolf Teigler’s “Outlaws.” The former follows a young couple (he’s from western Germany, she’s from the East) who work at Ikea in Berlin but decide to travel to Moscow to train employees of the first Ikea store to open in Russia. Pic will be included in the “New Films From Germany” series at the Museum of Modern Art in New York next month.
“Outlaws” examines an East German juvenile detention center and the teen inmates whose childhoods were formed by the sweeping changes of unification. Pic preemed at the Intl. Leipzig Documentary Film Festival last year.
The two other films in the series have yet to secure distribution: Gordian Maugg’s “Zutaten fuer Traeume,” about a former East German woman following her dream to become a chef; and “Normal People,” Yugoslavian helmer Oleg Novkovic’s look at a group of young people in Belgrade trying to rediscover normality after the war in the Balkans.
The pubcasters are now considering beefing up Ostwind with fellow Berlin pubcaster SFB to continue financing more pics.
“The series illustrates the importance ZDF and ORB places on supporting young talent,” says Janke, adding that it’s the stories of normal, everyday life in Germany’s “new federal states” and Eastern Europe, and not political events, that make the films appealing.
Indeed, three other local projects, not part of the Ostwind series, are also focusing on eastern Germany.
Wolfgang Becker is finishing work on his “Good Bye, Lenin!” for Berlin-based XFilme Creative Pool. The comedy is about a passionate communist who awakens after 12 years in a coma not knowing a thing about the events that have transpired since the fall of the Berlin Wall.
In Peter Timm’s pic for Senator, “Der Zimmerspringbrunnen,” a salesman of indoor fountains finds his quaint east German charm is a hit in fast-paced West Germany.
Meanwhile, in his follow-up to the nostalgic East Berlin romp “Sonnenallee,” director Leander Haussmann is revisiting familiar territory in “NVA.” The comedy, to be produced by Boje Buck Produktion, follows a group of young recruits trying to survive mandatory service in the East German military during the Cold War.