BERLIN Barack Obama’s speech last month upon receiving the Noble Peace Prize in Oslo couldn’t have come at a better time for producer Alexander Thies.
In his remarks, Obama pointed out that his own accomplishments were “slight” compared to “the giants of history who have received the prize,” among them Albert Schweitzer.
The comment highlighted the historical importance of the once famed physician, theologian, musician, philosopher and the subject of Thies’ feature film.
“Albert Schweitzer,” starring Jeroen Krabbe and Barbara Hershey, is Thies’ latest pic in a series that has in the past decade become a showcase of Germany’s own profiles in courage.
Directed and co-written by Gavin Miller, the film opened Dec. 24, and if Thies’ previous productions are anything to go by, it’s certain to find loyal auds.
Thies produced 2000’s “Bonhoeffer: Agent of Grace,” about the Lutheran pastor and resistance fighter who was executed for his involvement in a plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler, as well as 2003’s “Luther,” which starred Joseph Fiennes as the 16th-century German monk who led the Reformation.
For Thies, who previously worked in the U.S. banking sector and now runs Berlin-based production and distribution company NFP with his brother Stefan, the cinematic undertakings reflect a personal desire to contribute and remind audiences that Germany has much to offer.
“Germany’s past is full of horrible chapters but also full of wonderful chapters and we have to be more self-confident about that,” says Thies.
Thies has looked for subject matter that’s accessible on both sides of the pond, with common roots in Protestantism being an obvious choice.
“Bonhoeffer” was a hit in the U.S., airing simultaneously on 440 PBS stations across the country, and its success led to “Luther,” which also found loyal U.S. auds thanks to NFP’s partnership with Minneapolis-based Thrivent Financial for Lutherans, a Fortune 500 insurance company that invested some $10 million in the $30 million film.
Author and doctor Schweitzer established a hospital in Lambarene (now in Gabon) in 1913, what was then French Equatorial Africa.
The film is set in 1949, amidst the Red Scare, and focuses on Schweitzer’s growing opposition to nuclear weapons and his efforts to maintain his medical facility while dealing with a CIA-led campaign to discredit him.
Palling around with the likes of Albert Einstein, an outspoken anti-nuclear campaigner and suspected fellow traveler, Schweitzer faced increasing opposition from conservative forces in the U.S. and nearly lost his hospital as a result.
Although Schweitzer went on to win the 1952 Noble Peace Prize for his efforts to abolish nuclear weapons, his fame has faded over the decades, especially in the West — a fact Thies attributes to the communist accusations of the McCarthy era and something he hopes his film will help to change.
Thies is in talks with possible distribution partners in the U.S.
He’s is already working on his next project and while he’s keeping mum on the subject, he does point out that not all of Germany’s heroes were men.