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German Film Industry Still Reeling From Bernd Eichinger's Death (Berlin)

Bernd Eichinger
Sean Gallup/Getty Images

 

The sudden death of Bernd Eichinger in Los Angeles last month has left a hole too big to fill in the German and international production scene.

Like Italian powerhouse Dino De Laurentiis, who died just months before, Eichinger was one of the tiny handful of producers who was as successful in Europe as in Hollywood and who moved easily between commerce and art house cinema. What other filmmaker has credits that include the Hitler drama Downfall, Oscar-winner Nowhere in Africa, literary adaptations The Name of the Rose, Perfume, Smilla's Sense of Snow and Atomized alongside popcorn franchises like Resident Evil and Fantastic Four?

Add to that the dozens of German-language comedies -- Maybe, Maybe Not, Manitou's Shoe, Werner – seen by millions inside Germany. Eichinger launched the international careers of Wolfgang Petersen, Roland Emmerich and Til Schweiger. More than anyone else, he turned Germany's tiny auteur film scene into a film industry. He built Constantin Film into a European mini-major and, with Summit Entertainment, co-founded one of the world's strongest indie production and sales outfits.

"How do we start to fill the gap so suddenly torn open?" Perfume director Tom Tykwer said at Eichinger's memorial service last week. "No one who met him, or saw his films, could be left cold."

But in Germany, Eichinger was a controversial figure. German film critics and the art house elite never fully embraced this man with his sly grin, sunglasses and iconic white sneakers. His attempts to adapt German history for the big screen – with Downfall and The Baader Meinhof Complex – were eviscerated by the German press, even as they were embraced by the public.

It was only last year that the German Film Academy honored Eichinger with a lifetime achievement award. As he took the stage, the crowd rose to its feet. Germany's greatest film producer had finally won over the home crowd. Less than a year later, he was gone.