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Thursday, 5/23/2019

An Old Friend

100 Years of Bavaria Film

Hans Albers in WATER FOR CANITOGA

When Hans-Jürgen Buchner of the cult band Haindling was asked to compose new music for the silent film classic THE OX WAR (1920), he didn't hesitate. After all, this was one of the first films he had seen as a child. Franz Osten's adaptation of the eponymous novel was also a premiere for another reason: this film about an escalating conflict between Berchtesgaden Abbey and the farmers of Ramsau was the first film made by Bavaria Studios. Osten's brother, Peter Ostermayr, had founded the company the previous year under the name Münchner Lichtspielkunst, or Emelka for short. This silent film with its new musical track is one of three that FILMFEST MÜNCHEN will be showing in honor of this institution.

In the course of these past 100 years, Bavaria Film, as the company has been known since 1933, has undergone numerous changes. One of the most significant was the switch from silent films to talkies, which was a major challenge for the whole industry. The Third Reich, too, placed its own special demands on German filmmaking. Strictly propagandistic films were the exception at the studio site in Geiselgasteig; instead, the authorities in Berlin prescribed light entertainment to distract people from the horrors of war. At the same time, the cameras often looked in the distance. For WATER FOR CANITOGA (1939), for example, an entire cowboy settlement was built, bringing a Wild West vibe to the banks of the Isar. In this adventure film, recently restored by the Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau Foundation, Hans Albers portrays an engineer in early 20th-century Canada who tracks down mysterious saboteurs.

 

THE OX WAR and THE INVINCIBLES (DIRECTOR'S CUT)

 

The next significant change occurred in the 1950s, when television arrived in German households. Cinema began to atrophy, and classic film studios along with it. In Geiselgasteig, a virtue was made of necessity and the studios were reinvented as a site for television productions. Yet in spite of this new orientation, which we have to thank for such cult shows as the science-fiction series RAUMPATROUILLE ORION (1966) and the music show FORMEL EINS (1983–1990), cinema retained its importance. With the war drama DAS BOOT (1981), nominated for six Oscars, the fanciful co-production "The Never-Ending Story" (1984), and the science-fiction spectacle ENEMY MINE (1986), directors such as Wolfgang Petersen won over the world from Munich.

Director Dominik Graf, who back then was just starting to gain experience in film, closely followed international models. This can be seen in his film THE INVINCIBLES (1994), an epic that has been re-released this year in collaboration with Bavaria Film as an extended director's cut. "I've always felt the need to revise this film," Graf revealed to FILMFEST MÜNCHEN. The collaboration with Bavaria Film was congenial, he said, "like meeting an old friend." Just as for the past 100 years, Bavaria Film has been a faithful companion to German cinema — a companion without whom our lives would be less vibrant.