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FFA at 50: Fund Revitalized German Films After Post-War Slump

Org built on industry solidarity faces fresh challenges as showbiz landscape shifts

Launched in 1968, when the country’s film industry was in steep decline, the German Federal Film Board was instrumental in revitalizing the sector both financially and creatively.

Despite some major box office successes in the 1950s, the local film business was facing a number of critical problems, including difficulties stemming from postwar restrictions imposed on the country’s industries by the Allied victors, a general lack of capital, the growing dominance of Hollywood productions and the soaring popularity of television. Between 1956 and 1962, a slew of production companies and distributors folded as box office admissions plunged from 817 million to 443 million.

The industry’s decline led 26 young German filmmakers in 1962 to sign the Oberhausen Manifesto, calling for a new, more independent kind of film, free from conventions and the control of commercial backers. The declaration was the birth of New German Cinema and paved the way for the Film Promotion Act, which established the levy and the FFA six years later.

“The FFA fundamentally changed the film landscape in Germany,” says filmmaker Wim Wenders. It helped restore “a confident, mature, competitive film culture” following a period in which the country’s film industry had been dilapidated and in disrepute.

“More than 50 years ago, the founding fathers of the Film Promotion Act showed wisdom and foresight when they created a law based on solidarity — anyone who profits from film should also contribute to its preservation and strengthening through a donation,” FFA president Bernd Neumann says.

Over the next five decades, the FFA’s support would prove vital for the works of such high-profile filmmakers as Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Volker Schlöndorff, Wolfgang Petersen, Werner Herzog and Wenders, and a slew of Academy Award winning movies, including “The Tin Drum,” “Nowhere in Africa,” “The Lives of Others,” “The Counterfeiters” and “Amour.”

Today the FFA is facing a number of fresh challenges as the film industry undergoes fundamental changes, says Constantin Film CEO Martin Moszkowicz. Technological developments and the expansion of global players in the German market are changing the viewing habits of audiences and altering the way films are financed and exhibited. The FFA will be involved in these developments and help shape them by remaining a significant platform for the German film industry, Moszkowicz says.

Echoing the sentiment, Neumann notes that keeping cinema relevant and accessible for all ages is a major challenge amidst the bombardment of new media. “Cinema is and remains the premier venue, and film must be protected, strengthened and maintained to ensure it retains a place on the big screen in the future. That will remain the task of the FFA.”

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