UFA: The Fall and Rise of the 100-Year-Old Production Powerhouse

Universum-Film AG is founded in December 1917 during World War I as part of an effort to create greater competition against foreign films and as part of the German Empire’s propaganda machine. Following the war, however, the film company focused on popular genres.

During the 1920s, UFA produces silent classics like Fritz Lang’s “Metropolis.” Other major UFA productions in the era include Fritz Lang’s “Dr. Mabuse,” “Die Nibelungen” and “Metropolis,” for which it builds Europe’s largest sound stage at the Neubabelsberg Bioscop studios (today’s Studio Babelsberg), as well as F.W. Murnau’s “Faust” and “The Last Laugh.”

Following a financial crisis, UFA is taken over in 1927 by the Scherl Group. The company begins making talkies in 1930 with Josef von Sternberg’s “The Blue Angel,” starring Marlene Dietrich, which becomes a worldwide success. Lightweight film operettas replace the more emotional films of the silent era.

In 1933, the Nazi Party rises to power and filmmakers Billy Wilder, Fritz Lang and Erich Pommer flee Germany. The Reich Ministry for Propaganda and Public Enlightenment is formed under Joseph Goebbels to oversee state-controlled film production. Leading production companies UFA, Tobis, Terra, Bavaria and Wien-Film are merged into UFA-Film GmbH.

In April 1945 Soviet Red Army units occupy the UFA lot. The Deutsche Filmaktiengesellschaft (DEFA) is founded the following year under authority of the Soviet Military Administration. The rest of the Third Reich film assets remain in the Western occupation zones. UFA and Bavaria are privatized in 1956.

German media group Bertelsmann acquires Universum-Film AG and Ufa-Theater AG in 1964. The film stocks of the old UFA are transferred in 1966 to the newly founded Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau Foundation, which is devoted to the preservation of cinematic heritage.

With the advent of private television in Germany in 1984, Bertelsmann forms the UFA Film- und Fernseh GmbH in Hamburg, concentrating its film and television activities in the holding company.

UFA Film & TV Produktion is formed in 1991 and, under the management of Wolf Bauer, Norbert Sauer and Axel Reickis, soon develops into Germany’s largest production company.

UFA begins its collaboration with Australian media mogul and format developer Reg Grundy in 1991, resulting in the establishment of Grundy UFA TV Produktions GmbH and the hit daily soap “Gute Zeiten, schlechte Zeiten” (Good Times, Bad Times).

With the launch of UFA Cinema in 2008, UFA once again begins producing feature films, including “The Physician.” In 2013 UFA is reorganized into three main units, UFA Fiction, UFA Serial Drama and UFA Show & Factual.

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