By Erik Kirschbaum BERLIN (Reuters) - German cinema was once the ugly duckling at the Berlin Film Festival — only a handful of home-made films were grudgingly allowed in the program.
But the Berlinale has become a showcase for the German industry in the nine years since Dieter Kosslick took over from Moritz de Hadeln, a Swiss national who was loathed by German filmmakers for most of his 22-year reign.
Kosslick, an unabashed fan of German productions, had led the country’s top film subsidy board and has now helped revive German cinema with his shameless cheerleading. It was a risky move for one of the world’s top festivals.
Seven of the 26 films in this year’s main selection were made by German filmmakers or with German money — such as Roman Polanski’s thriller “The Ghost Writer” about an ex British prime minister that was filmed in Berlin and the Babelsberg studio.
Other top films with German directing or financing include “The Robber” about an Austrian marathon runner who robs banks; “Jew Suss - Rise and Fall” about Nazi Joseph Goebbels; “Shahada” about Muslims in Germany and “The Hunter” set in Iran.
“It’s become a tradition of ours to put German films back in the program,” Kosslick told Reuters. “It’s been great. German films have to be promoted. It’s really paid off. It was a bit audacious at first. But it’s no big deal anymore.”
It has certainly been a big deal for German filmmakers, who had complained bitterly about past neglect. German films have won several Berlin Gold and Silver Bear awards since 2002.
“It’s become a home for German films again,” said Doris Doerrie, whose comedy “Die Friseuse” about an overweight hairdresser appeared in a sidebar competition and has drawn rave reviews. It was also sold to foreign territories.
“It’s a great honor to have a film here again,” added Doerrie. There are 80 German films of the 392 in the festival.
Benjamin Heisenberg, the German director of the German- Austrian co-production “The Robber,” said younger filmmakers are going into all genres — and beyond the earlier focus on dark, dreary auteur films.
“German cinema is in great shape,” said Heisenberg. “There’s all kinds of genres now, not just art house. It’s a new era.”
A self-imposed taboo on dramas about the Nazi era has disappeared in the wake of the commercial and critical success of “Downfall,” about Hitler’s final days. Before that frightened German filmmakers made a wide detour around the Nazi past.
“Jud Suss,” a drama about Hitler’s propaganda minister Goebbels, would have been unthinkable a decade ago. This year it is one of the most eagerly awaited German films in the festival.
The confidence from the Berlinale has spread across the country. German filmmakers had a record-breaking year in 2009.
Even though Hollywood films still dominate Germany and many other territories, German films got 27.4 percent of the domestic box office, beating the previous best of 26.6 percent in 2008.
Films made in Germany have also had a strong run at other festivals and with awards. Kate Winslet won an Academy Award for best actress and other honours for “The Reader,” filmed at Babelsberg and across Germany with German financial backing.
Munich-born Austrian director Michael Haneke’s drama “The White Ribbon,” filmed and backed in Germany, won the 2009 Palm d’Or for best film in Cannes and two Oscar nominations.
And Quentin Tarantino’s “Inglourious Basterds” was filmed at Babelsberg with heavy local backing. It won eight Academy Award nominations and had world box office of over $300 million.
The support comes from a German Federal Film Fund (DFFF) launched in 2007. The fund has spent 178 million euros on films, providing up to 20 percent of their budget.
That has led to 1.1 billion euros being invested in 300 films in Germany since 2007. Besides the DFFF, there is another 250 million euros available in other state film board subsidies.
“There was a time when the Berlinale happened without German films,” said German Chancellor Angela Merkel in a podcast on Saturday as the Berlinale opened. “That’s changed now.
“It used to be said that German films were artistic achievements but difficult to sell,” she added. “That was the trademark of German films. But that’s changed completely now.”
(Additional reporting by Matthias Baehr, editing by Paul Casciato)
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