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July 2003


A city of high drama—Munich sets the stage

Munich has served as the backdrop of many a film shoot: On a beautiful, warm, sunny day a “rainstorm” breaks out directly above Wiener Platz, which amazingly does not shed a single drop outside a 20-foot radius. People ride on the hoods of cars that are heading down a busy city street. Stunt bicyclists zoom about with cameras strapped to their heads. Later at night, the banks of the Isar are transformed into a sunny, beach-like scene. All this is evidence that filmmaking is still alive in the Bavarian capital. But it is not necessarily in good health.

The international film industry has fallen on hard times. According to, the US market has raked in a mere 3.68 billion dollars in box office sales in the first half of 2003, down 2.5 percent from the same period in 2002. CNN reports that even the promising Indian film industry, Bollywood, was hit hard last year. More than 90 percent of all Indian films released were flops, costing production companies a total of 80 million dollars. Since 2001, an economic crisis and the collapse of KirchMedia (the largest bankruptcy in Germany’s postwar history), the media giant that controlled nearly a third of Germany’s television market and Europe’s largest library of film and TV rights, have severely affected the German film industry. But Munich won’t, and shouldn’t, throw in the towel just yet! A study on the German film industry, conducted by the Bavarian Center for New Media, reveals that Munich is the country’s media capital and is also the leading location for film and TV production in Germany. Thirty percent of Germany’s film earnings is generated in the Isar city. The fact that Munich is home to outstanding information and communications facilities, wide-ranging media activities, an impressive number of skilled personnel, outstanding universities and institutes of higher education and an excellent quality of life, is not lost on those seeking a creative climate in which to hatch new ideas, products and services. Local film festivals, with their prestigious awards and cash prizes, are also incentives to produce in Bavaria.

Dok.Fest München, an international documentary film festival, celebrated its 18th year in the city this spring. Approximately 100 documentaries are up for annual prizes ranging from € 2,000 to € 10,000. The FilmFernsehFonds Bayern awards € 5,000 to a film from the category “New Films from Bavaria.” An early summer event, the annual Filmfest München (going on until July 5 this year, for the 21st time) covers such themes as Made in Germany, German Feature Film and German TV Movies, featuring new cinematic discoveries from around the world and the works of young, international directors. The Young German Cinema Award, a whopping € 80,000 donated by the HypoVereinsbank, the Bavaria Film and the Bavarian Broadcasting Corporation (Bayerischer Rundfunk), will be divided among the year’s best new director (€ 40,000), best new screenwriter (€ 20,000) and the best new actor (€ 20,000) of any German feature film from Filmfest München’s program. Further awards of € 25,000 will be given for the best TV Movie in the festival’s Made in Germany category and another to the best film from the German section of the VideoArt & Experimental Film category.

Munich-based German Fantasy Film Festival follows up these festivals, this year from July 23 to 30. As this is strictly a festival for the viewer, organizers do not provide accreditation for representatives from the industry, but the event does attract a number of buyers and distributors. Extensive media partnerships and a huge press contingent make for great publicity. Genres here include Adventure, Animated Films, Fantasy, Feature Films Cinema, Horror, Science Fiction, Short Films and Thrillers.

Behind the success of many Bavarian-made movies are several institutions and production facilities. The internationally recognized film school, Hochschule für Fernsehen und Film München (HFF), has matriculated such successes as director Caroline Link, who won an Oscar this year for best Foreign Language Film for Nirgendwo in Afrika and the Munich resident and South African filmmaker Stefanie Sycholt, who has earned accolades for her first feature film and has two more in the works.

The Filmstadt München—Freunde des Münchner Filmzentrums e.V. (MFZ)—a collective of 15 groups, has played a role, for more than 20 years, in supporting the film culture in Munich that would otherwise be neglected. The organization screens noncommercial films it feels the public should have a chance to view—among them documentaries, children’s, women’s and international films. Another organization, The Filmmuseum in the Münchner Stadtmuseum, founded in 1963, screens a different film each day. Serving also as a research site, the museum boasts an extensive collection and conserves and restores German and international film works.

Bavaria Film GmbH is one of the largest media companies in Europe and one of the richest in tradition. “Filmstadt Geiselgasteig” (Geiselgasteig Film City), just south of Munich, has been the headquarters of Bavaria Film for more than 80 years. Founded as a film studio in 1919, it has grown into an internationally cooperating production and service group with more than 20 affiliated companies in all major centers of the German-speaking world. Today, it encompasses all segments of the audiovisual industry, including production, service, acquisitions and licenses as well as diversifications.

And, if all that isn’t enough to bring movies-moguls and buffs to Munich, the city’s plan to build the largest cinema complex in Germany will. Yes, with drive, determination, endurance and, of course, financial backing, the Bavarian film industry will make a comeback. After all, the show must go on.

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