The German regional funder HessenFilm und Medien has fired its managing director, Hans Joachim Mendig, following an industry backlash over a meeting he had with a leader of the far-right political party Alternative for Germany (AfD).
Mendig met with Joerg Meuthen, AfD leader and member of the European Parliament, and PR consultant Moritz Hunzinger in a Frankfurt restaurant in July. Meuthen posted a photo of the meeting on Instagram, writing: “Very lively and constructive political exchange of ideas today in Frankfurt” with Hunzinger and Mendig.
It wasn’t until the magazine Journal Frankfurt published an article about the meeting earlier this month that industry outrage and demands for Mendig’s resignation erupted. In addition to the party’s anti-immigrant views, one of AfD’s leaders, Marc Jongen, has been extremely critical of German film funding and has called for the entire system to be “ideologically cleansed” and reevaluated.
Mendig maintained that his meeting with Meuthen was a private matter unrelated to Hessenfilm, which has backed such films as Mia Hansen-Love’s Silver Bear-winning drama “Things to Come” and German TV hit “Bad Banks.”
But the German Film Academy said in a statement that Mendig had failed to explain what kind of exchange he had had with Meuthen and that, as head of taxpayer-funded HessenFilm, Mendig must be familiar with the AfD’s views and its criticism of Germany’s film industry.
Last year, AfD leader Jongen blasted the country’s film funders for financing films like Berlinale winner “Touch Me Not,” which he described as “crypto-porn.” He took the Berlinale jury to task for honoring films that he said “revolve around sex, masturbation, sadomasochism,” center on “an aging lesbian couple,” and criticize Poland’s shift to the right politically Jongen also reportedly called for “ethnic homogeneity” as the “basis of democracy” in a speech in Bremen’s state parliament last year, the Film Academy said.
The academy said the public had “a legitimate interest” in learning about Mendig’s exchange with the leader of a party critical of Germany’s film-funding system. HessenFilm’s stated prime directive was to support “only those projects and productions that value human dignity, respect fundamental rights and promote respect for life,” the academy added. The funder’s mission is also mainly to promote “films of different areas and genres as well as artistically and culturally significant, socially relevant, high-quality film and television productions and other audiovisual projects.”
These guidelines are “difficult to reconcile with the cultural and political demands of the AfD,” the academy wrote, and if Mendig did not offer a substantive explanation of his exchange with the AfD, his dismissal would be justified.
Mendig’s fate appeared sealed Sept. 18 when HessenFilm employees signed a public statement expressing concern about the “political explosiveness” of the meeting that had led to an increasing number of filmmakers to boycott the funder. The staffers distanced themselves from “any party, organization or ethos that seeks to restrict the freedom of art and culture or questions our freedom, equality and democracy” and expressed support for “cultural diversity, openness, tolerance, equality and equal treatment.”
Hesse state art and culture minister Angela Dorn called a meeting of HessenFilm’s supervisory board Tuesday in view of the many filmmakers who had stated they would no longer work with the funder as well as resignations of jury members and possible damage to the image of the state of Hesse and HessenFilm.
Hannes Karnick of Initiative Hessen Film, an organization representing the state’s film sector, said it was less about Mendig and more about saving the state’s reputation. “We are only marginally interested in this personality,” Karnick told Tagesspiegel. “We want to avert damage from Hesse as a location, which already has it hard enough.”