A clear believer in the artist’s responsibility to speak truth to power, Berlin-born Michael Verhoeven’s directing career has constituted an unflinching critique of Germany’s 20th century history and its legacy.
In 1970, his feature “O.K.” was entered in competition at the Berlin Film Festival — and almost caused its demise.
Verhoeven’s B&W film depicted, in starkly uncompromising terms, the rape and murder of a girl by soldiers, and while the setting was ostensibly Eastern Europe, there was little doubt that it was based on a documented 1966 incident in the Vietnam War, perpetrated by U.S. soldiers (and later depicted in Brian DePalma’s 1989 pic “Casualties of War”).
The American jury president, director George Stevens, was outraged, and called for the film’s “reappraisal” by the selection committee.
It was removed from competition, and fellow juror Dusan Makavejev, from then-communist Yugoslavia, expressed outrage, claiming the jury had chosen the “path of censorship.” Hopelessly divided, the jury resigned.
The competition was suspended, the Berlinale halted, and festival director Alfred Bauer and the head of the Berliner Festspiele, Walther Schmiederer, announced their resignations. (Bauer later returned; Schmiederer didn’t.) And amid the chaos and recriminations — which many observers saw as symptomatic of the fest’s intolerance for alternative and avant-garde cinema — the Forum was born.
With admirable chutzpah, West Germany later submitted “O.K.” as their 1970 foreign language Oscar entry. It did not get a nomination.