Filmmaker returns to 'Pianist' home, Babelsberg

BERLIN Roman Polanski won’t be working in the U.S. anytime soon, but shooting in Germany is no problem — especially with the help he’s getting from Studio Babelsberg.

After shooting much of his Palme d’Or and Oscar-winning “The Pianist” at Babelsberg in 2001, he’s back for the controversial “The Ghost.”

Polanski says it wasn’t just the easy access to federal and regional subsidy coin that attracted him to the studio, which specializes in international co-productions.

“I had a very good experience on ‘The Pianist.’ It has great crews,” Polanski says. “And the studio itself — the place, the set construction gang — it was all perfect, so I was looking forward to an opportunity to shoot in Babelsberg again.”

The adaptation of Robert Harris’ novel, about a ghostwriter hired to finish the memoirs of a former British prime minister who is awaiting indictment on war crime charges, stars Ewan McGregor, Pierce Brosnan, Kim Cattrall and Olivia Williams.

The film, which recently wrapped shooting at Babelsberg, has picked up some $6.4 million in film grants from federal and regional funds here, and might still see more coin coming from another state subsidy.

Yet producer Robert Benmussa says subsidies were not the main incentive. While financing is readily available, salaries in Germany are usually higher than in other European countries (Polanski shot his last film, “Oliver Twist,” at Barrandov Studios in Prague), and subsidy coin often only helps to compensate that difference.

“It was an artistic choice that made sense,” Benmussa adds.

Set largely on Martha’s Vineyard, the pic shot on the German islands of Sylt in the North Sea and Usedom in the Baltic Sea, with interiors filmed at Babelsberg.

In view of the ongoing debate over torture and enhanced interrogation techniques under the Bush administration, the film is sure to spark a firestorm of controversy.

In Harris’ novel, the British prime minister, played by Brosnan in the film, bears a striking resemblance to Tony Blair, although in the story, he is facing war crime charges after a leaked memo revealed he secretly approved the transfer of U.K. citizens to Guantanamo Bay to face interrogation and possible torture by the CIA during a disastrous Middle East conflict.

Critics see “The Ghost” as an indictment of the war in Iraq and, specifically, of Blair and his unshakeable support of Bush’s policies.

While Polanski notes the book is based on true events, he dismisses any overt link between the film and Blair’s policies or the former prime minister’s close relationship to Bush.

“Inevitably it will be a topic, but that’s not what we’re looking for,” Polanski says.

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