The filmmakers of 2012 Happy with or without an Oscar

Scene aus „Michael“ von Markus Schleinzer
Scene from “Michael” by Markus Schleinzer | Photo (detail): © 2011 Nikolaus Geyrhalter Filmproduktion

The new generation of German filmmakers is looking to reach a discerning audience with its critically acclaimed film dramas. In the process, however, these up-and-coming creators want to avoid making any compromises with the so-called mainstream.

They didn’t win an Oscar, but the team was happy – that was the headline in a press release from the Hamburg Media School on February 27, 2012, just hours after the awards night. The short film Raju, from Max Zähle, who won a “Student Oscar” in 2011 in Los Angeles, wasn’t able to claim top spot in the Oscars for best non-animated short film, but the team was still satisfied. Raju was completed by Zähle with cameraman Sin Huh and producer Stefan Gieren as a thesis project for their masters program in film at the Hamburg Media School. Course director Richard Reitinger of course shared in their delight: “The nomination alone proved that the film students at HMS are among the best in the world. Over the last few weeks, Max, Stefan and Sin had the chance to meet some of the most influential filmmakers of our time. Concrete plans and projects were discussed and contracts were concluded. We will definitely be hearing from these guys again in the future.”

Admittedly, such projects, whether they are awarded with an Oscar or merely receive a nomination, are not typical of the next generation of German filmmakers, primarily because these directors are attempting to address some profound subject matter. Raju is a good example. The film is about a German couple that goes to Calcutta in search of an orphan to adopt and is confronted by some painful realizations along the way.

Much drama …

In January, a number of rather serious films also emerged among the winners at the Festival Max Ophüls Prize 2012 in Saarbrücken. Michael, from Austrian Markus Schleinzer, for example, won the feature film category and tells the story of a pedophile and his child victim. The jury’s assessment of the film, released on January 26, 2012: “The perfectly applied art of omission, the conceptual courage of the filmmaker, and the precision of the main character all serve to make this intelligent film a cautious approach to the awful things we will never be able to forget.”

Among other films, Christian Schwochow’s Die Unsichtbare (lit. The Invisible) received honorable mention from the jury. Already a known quantity in the German film scene, Schwochow’s road movie Novemberkind won the people’s choice award at the Ophüls Festival in 2008. Die Unsichtbare is a riveting drama portraying the process of self-discovery of a young actress. Born in 1978 on the island of Rügen, Schwochow is currently busy with a film adaptation of the best-selling novel Der Turm (The Tower).

… and one comedy

It seems ironic that this year’s Ophüls people’s choice award went to a comedy: Felix Stienz’ feature film debut Puppe, Icke & der Dicke (lit. Puppet, Me and the Fat One). This cheeky road movie tells the story of a blind Parisian woman who gets pregnant after a one-night stand with a German man and fantasizes about their future together. As co-producer of the film, ZDF advertised the film as a “bizarre road movie between Berlin and Paris, with striking characters who, despite their disabilities, are able to overcome numerous difficulties with an intact sense of joie de vivre.” Stienz was born in 1982 in Berlin and studied Media and IT in Offenburg. He has won over 30 domestic and international short film prizes in his short career.

First Steps, a competition for up-and-coming directors that took place in August 2011, further confirmed the current bent for drama with its winner in the best fictional film category. The piece by David F. Wnendt, Kriegerin (lit. Warrior), is a relentless social commentary on the world of German neo-Nazis – with a woman in the leading role. Director Wnendt studied at the Konrad Wolf Hochschule für Film und Fernsehen (University for Film and TV) and this was his thesis project. The internationally acclaimed film has been in theaters for evaluation since January 19, 2012.

Does commercial success have to be foreseeable?

At the 62nd Berlinale this year, the section Perspektive Deutsches Kino 2012 (Outlook of German Film 2012) featured a number of thoughtful works from the next generation of German filmmakers. Die Vermissten (lit. The Missing), from Jan Speckenbach, for example, was also a thesis project, this time for the DFFB academy in Berlin. The young director, having made an appearance in 2008 in Cannes with his short film Gestern in Eden (lit. Yesterday in Eden), uses his debut feature film to, according to Berlinale, show some “threatening scenarios” of a missing teenager. His dark drama won a prize and will be released on May 10, 2012.

Still, after this brief and seemingly promising overview of the standout works of up-and-coming German directors, assessments from industry veterans remain rather discouraging. At the first NRW conference for new filmmakers, co-hosted in Cologne on October 21, 2011, by the Film- und Medienstiftung Nordrhein-Westfalen, a state funding agency, there was much talk of “location marketing” and “media networking”. Indeed, TV station representatives showed “an openness to new ideas”, but still claim that there needs to be “potential for commercial success”. Successful comedy author Ralf Husmann (Harald Schmidt Show) was more direct with his observation that some of his former colleagues are driving taxis now. It is certainly revealing that a student work such as Raju is available on iTunes – for free!