Translation: 4 Thesis Statements on the Renewal of (German) Film Culture

In April of 2018, during the LICHTER Filmfestival in Frankfurt, approximately 100 filmmakers got together: directors, producers, film- and festival makers, patrons, broadcasters, actors and actresses as well as critics. Driven by their faith in cinema, they had discussion and developed a concept how radical changes in funding and financing, training and film education, distribution and cinema culture could contribute to a vitalization of German cinema. This resulted in the Frankfurt Positions on the Future of German Cinema.

Edgar Reitz’4 Thesis Statements on the Renewal of (German) Film Culture” gave the impulse for the Frankfurt-based conference. The text at hand is a short version of the impulse paper which Edgar Reitz presented at the “Future German Cinema” congress.

© Dirk Hoy
© Dirk Hoy

4 Thesis Statements on the Renewal of Film Culture

Edgar Reitz

I would like to take this opportunity to express a great concern for film culture. I say this after having made films in this country for more than 50 years as a writer, director and producer, and after having witnessed at close quarters how the conditions which today stand in the way of the free development of film culture have developed. ... During these years, I have travelled the world with my films and therefore, I know the often completely different production conditions in other countries – and, above all, I know the strange impression a contemporary German film can have on viewers in other countries.

I have formulated 4 hypotheses, which I know to be relevant to every filmmaker in this country.

1. The German Committee Film Has Become Obsolete.

German film is different from the films made elsewhere in the world. ... My theory is: German films are determined by the production methods that are only common in this country and they reflect them. All productions destined for the cinema undergo a series of dramaturgical interventions by the television companies, all are examined by funding committees, all have to pass bureaucratic and/or well-intentioned "approvals" and suitability tests, all are planned, written, discussed and finally sorted out by a criticism associated to the system.

Serving the system inevitably means that the audience becomes heartily indifferent, because it does not decide in any way what can be produced or what would be worthy of support and funding. ... The result is a hermaphrodite that is not convincing either as an economic good or as a cultural asset.

One of the maxims for a new funding system should be the empowerment of the creative forces within the film teams, the authors, the directors, the artistic staff, and their producers, who are effectively responsible for the projects. A new funding system should be based as much as possible on autonomy, on a clear cultural policy and on the awareness that the art of film will continue to be one of the most influential and accessible media in the modern world.

2. TV Has to Back Out of Cinema Films Completely.

The role of the financially powerful television stations in the production of German feature films has become unbearable. Often, they are only interested in collecting the highest possible subsidies, originally intended for cinema films, in the form of overt or covert television subsidies. ... Because the television companies are unwilling to disclose this unsavoury cashing in on the funding systems, each of these projects must be justified by lofty content-related relevance and thematic correctness.

In effect, the editorial offices are the sole decision-makers as to which films are produced in this country and which are not. The public broadcasting corporations, which themselves live on fees, i.e. on a special tax, are the most powerful producers in German cinema. They control the entire selection without having to justify themselves. ... As recently as the 1990s there was [at least] a certain cinephilia in the television companies, combined with the desire to take part in the innovative and artistic potentials of the generations of filmmakers and thus to take on a common cultural task at the forefront of cinema production to help shape the future. Those days are over. ... Therefore, the only possible solution is to enforce a strict separation of cinema and television.

3. We Need the Cinema as a Locus of Film Culture

The cinema is characterized by the visitors' physical presence during the screening of films in the public sphere. In this respect, the cinema differs from any previously known form of mediation and distribution of films and audiovisual programmes,

The cinema as a place of collective cinematic experience is indispensable for the future advancement of cinematic art, because it is only from here that standards for the impact and effects of the medium of film can be developed and disseminated.

The cinema must reinvent itself. It must completely detach itself from the model of the spoken theater and opera houses, must reposition itself within the social life of cities and learn to avail itself of modern technologies. It has to break away from the fixed scheduling and programming offered by distributors and also develop new architectural solutions.

After all, filmmakers must also learn that the moment of birth of their works is not until their films are shown in the cinema. They have to relearn to love this moment in which their work is seen by many pairs of eyes at the same time in the same place. The cinema depends on this passion and the passions of its operators and visitors.

4. We Demand Film Education in All Schools.

In all parts of the world, film history has produced works so unforgettable and illuminating to the depths of the human soul that all other arts have been influenced by it. Knowledge of this cultural history is an essential part of the educational standard of a civilised society.

In view of the fact that the majority of modern people have been taught literature, reading culture and language, but no longer read after leaving school, and instead consume thousands of films, it is irresponsible to discharge people as audio-visual illiterates who do not possess any criteria for distinguishing quality.