Studio Babelsberg at 100
The 10-film series offers a look back at the oldest large-scale movie studio in the world — and certainly the one with the most varied history.
Babelsberg was not only the birthplace of German film but also a major force in the development of cinema around the world.
From the Golden ’20s, when the studio enjoyed a major boom as part of the UFA movie factory, to the dark age of the Third Reich, when it became a production site for Nazi propaganda films, and later as DEFA, the premier production company of communist East Germany, Babelsberg has undergone more reinventions than any other movie studio.
“Studio Babelsberg has written film history and, both politically and historically, experienced a turbulent 100 years,” says Berlinale topper Dieter Kosslick.
The Berlinale’s special tribute is honoring all of that tumultuous history, beginning with Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau’s 1924 classic “The Last Laugh,” which starred Emil Jannings (the first actor ever to win an Oscar) as an aging hotel doorman who suffers humiliation after being demoted to the position of washroom attendant.
Jannings also stars in Josef von Sternberg’s “The Blue Angel,” the film that put Marlene Dietrich on the map and which is widely considered to be the first major German sound film.
Josef von Baky’s 1943 comic fantasy “The Adventures of Baron Munchhausen,” made at the behest of Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels, represents an ambitious technical achievement in film production that used the new Agfacolor material.
Wolfgang Staudte’s 1946 “Murderers Are Among Us,” one of the first postwar films to be produced in Germany, starred Ernst Wilhelm Borchert and Hildegard Knef. Set in war-torn Berlin, the story follows a doctor who returns from the war and sets out to kill his former captain, who is guilty of war crimes.
The DEFA era is repped by Kurt Maetzig’s 1965 drama “The Rabbit Is Me,” a film that was quickly banned by the government for encouraging discussion of democratic principles in East Germany.
Also unspooling is Konrad Wolf’s 1971 “Goya,” an East German-Soviet co-production about Spanish painter Francisco de Goya and one of 10 East German films shot in 70mm; and Roland Graef’s 1986 Berlinale screener “The House on the River,” starring Katrin Sass and Corinna Harfouch in a tale about four German women during World War II.
Films from the post-reunification era include Leander Haussmann’s 1999 hit “Sonnenallee,” about a group of kids growing up in East Berlin; Roman Polanski’s “The Pianist,” which won him a directing Oscar, and Stephen Daldry’s 2008 “The Reader,” which won Kate Winslet an Academy Award.
In addition, the fest will present Studio Babelsberg with its Berlinale Camera, a prize awarded as an expression of thanks to film personalities or institutions to which it feels particularly indebted.
Kosslick will award the Berlinale Camera at a special ceremony at the studio’s Marlene Dietrich Halle soundstage on Feb. 12.
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