This year’s German Film Award nominees for best picture include hard-hitting social dramas, tales of romance and cultural divides, family relationships and musical icons as well as works by a growing number of filmmakers from diverse ethnic backgrounds. The German Film Academy, forced to revamp its 70th German Film Awards ceremony due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, will honor the country’s most acclaimed films during a special live TV presentation on April 24.
The German Film Awards ceremony, which in the past aired pre-recorded on ZDF, will be broadcast live for the first time on ARD’s Das Erste, due in part to its remade and shortened presentation. Doing away with its traditional gala event, the show will instead include guest filmmakers, musicians and presenters taking part via video feed from their homes.
Six films are vying for the best picture trophy, nicknamed the Lola, among them Burhan Qurbani’s “Berlin Alexanderplatz,” which leads with 11 nominations. A modern re-working of Alfred Döblin’s 1929 novel, the film follows an undocumented African immigrant trying but failing to stay on the straight and narrow as he begins a new life in Berlin.
Nora Fingscheidt’s “System Crasher,” about the plight of a troubled and violent young girl unable to get the help she desperately needs, follows with 10 noms.
In “I Was, I Am, I Will Be,” Ilker Çatak chronicles the marriage of a German woman and a young Turkish Kurd while exploring timely aspects of global disparities. Christian Petzold’s “Undine,” which won Paula Beer the Silver Bear for actress in Berlin, tells a supernatural love story between a mysterious woman and an industrial diver.
“Lara,” by Jan-Ole Gerster (“A Coffee in Berlin”), examines the difficult relationship between a troubled woman (Corinna Harfouch) and her pianist son (Tom Schilling), while Hermine Huntgeburth explores the early years of Germany’s biggest rock star in “Lindenberg! Mach dein Ding.”
“We have two films that deal with immigration, ‘Berlin Alexanderplatz’ and ‘I Was, I Am, I Will Be,’” says German Film Academy president (and renowned thesp) Ulrich Matthes. “There seems to be a desire among the members of the academy to see this issue being dealt with in film. And they are also very strong works.”
Çatak, Fingscheidt and Qurbani are also up for director and screenplay Lolas, along with Nils Mohl and Martin Behnke, who co-wrote “I Was, I Am, I Will Be” and “Berlin Alexanderplatz,” respectively.
“What is striking is that very extreme individuals are at the center of all the films,” Matthes tells Variety. “They are six individuals trying to assert themselves in the microcosms or environment in which they find themselves.
Matthes notes that, like its U.S. counterpart, the German Film Academy has been seeking to increase diversity, something very clearly reflected in this year’s nominees.
“There are very strong female characters in ‘Undine,’ ‘Lara,’ ‘System Crasher’ and ‘I Was, I Am, I Will Be,’” he adds, pointing out that “Berlin Alexanderplatz” also has a unique female supporting character. “We still have too few female directors — this year only two. That’s a gender ratio of 4 to 2. It should become 3 to 3.”
With filmmakers including Qurbani, Çatak and Hüseyin Tabak, director of “Gipsy Queen,” about a young single mother who turns to boxing to support her family, the academy is also celebrating an increasing number of filmmakers of diverse ethnic backgrounds “who are absolutely enriching German cinema,” Matthes says.
“The social reality that we have in big cities has to be expressed much more in film. I can only hope that these positive examples encourage the many young people who are thinking about applying to film schools.”
The best film nominees also dominated in the acting categories, with Jan Bülow (“Lindenberg! Mach dein Ding”), Welket Bungué (“Berlin Alexanderplatz”) and Albrecht Schuch (“System Crasher”) vying for actor, with Schuch also nominated for his supporting role in “Berlin Alexanderplatz.”
Anne Ratte-Polle (“I Was, I Am, I Will Be”) and Helena Zengel (“System Crasher”) are up for actress along with Alina Serban, who toplines “Gipsy Queen.”
The academy will also bestow Lolas on documentary and children’s films as well as 10 other categories, in addition to a lifetime achievement award on veteran filmmaker Edgar Reitz, best known for his epic five-picture historical saga “Heimat.”