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Charlie Hebdo: Artistic Freedom Must Be Defended, Top German Producers Say

Turkish-German director Fatih Akin's 'The Cut' looks at the Armenian genocide in the Ottoman Empire

The Cut Busan Film Festival

LONDON — Germans have more reason than most to treasure their liberty given their country’s troubled history, and that is reflected in the whole-hearted support for freedom of expression that media and film professionals offer when reflecting on the attack by Muslim extremists on French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo.

On the other hand, the rise in Germany of Pegida, an anti-immigration group that protests against the so-called Islamization of Europe, has made Germans fearful that the relative tolerance and cohesion that exists in their society could be replaced by political and ethnic divisions.

German journalists were as one in their support of their colleagues in France on Thursday. Die Welt urged Germans to stand together in defense of “freedom in the face of the assault by gangs of idiotism,” while the Berlin tabloid B.Z. reproduced Charlie Hebdo covers on its front page with the headline “Long Live Freedom!” in French, the BBC reported.

This defiant mood was reflected in the responses by leading film producers and film funders in Germany approached by Variety.

Martin Moszkowicz, exec board chairman of Munich-based film and TV studio Constantin, commented: “ ‘I believe in absolute freedom of expression. Everyone has a right to offend and be offended.’ I totally stand by this quote of [Bangladeshi author] Taslima Nasrin.”

Moszkowicz added: “Freedom of expression is the pillar of existence for everyone working in the creative industries. Freedom of expression does not exist without the freedom to offend.”

Constantin’s recent movies include the gross-out comedy hit “Suck Me Shakespeer” (“Fack ju Göhte”) from Turkish-German director Bora Dagtekin. Some comedies are not to everyone’s tastes, but that’s OK too, Moszkowicz said.

“Humor and satire are not the same in every part of the world, not even the same from one person to another – which is what makes the human variety,” Moszkowicz said. “Our art would be a very poor one should we try to create our product in a way that it is easily digestible by everyone.”

Medienboard Berlin-Brandenburg, which is based in the German capital, is a major funder of international arthouse movies, including Wes Anderson’s “The Grand Budapest Hotel” and Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s Cannes winner “Winter Sleep.” Kirsten Niehuus, Medienboard’s managing director of film funding, is clear about where her responsibilities lie with regards to freedom of expression.

“As a film funder of a democratic country, we strongly believe that freedom of expression is the fundament and humus of the arts,” she said. “We believe that the freedom of the artist shall be used to broaden the minds and to push the boundaries of tolerance within a society. Therefore art is allowed to explore all ways of expression within the legal framework of a democratic constitution.”

She added: “Art is an important force to broaden minds and to overcome outdated moral or religious standpoints. We believe in social progress initiated by art. We do not support works of ultra-violence or works meant to create hatred or suppression of ethnic or religious groups or against any sex/gender.”

Cologne-based Pandora Filmproduktion is another leading producer of international arthouse movies, such as Turkish-German director Fatih Akin’s “The Cut,” about the Armenian genocide in the Ottoman Empire. One of Pandora’s producers, Raimond Goebel, said: “Our company is grounded on the belief that artistic freedom is the precondition and core of humanity. In order to keep the spirits alive, provocation must be tolerated. We don’t censor projects.”