'Valkyrie' gets OK to shoot on historic site

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COLOGNE, Germany -- After months of debate and controversy, Bryan Singer's "Valkyrie," which stars Tom Cruise as would-be Hitler assassin Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg, has been granted permission to shoot at a key historic site in Berlin.

The German Defense Ministry on Friday overturned an earlier decision not to allow "Valkryie" to shoot at Bendlerblock building, the site where von Stauffenberg and his fellow conspirators plotted the assassination and where they were later executed by the Nazis.

The German government had banned the production from shooting on site, saying that Bendlerblock, now a memorial to von Stauffenberg, was a building of important historic significance whose "dignity" could be damaged by a film shoot.

Defense Ministry spokesman Thomas Raabe said in an interview that the ministry changed its mind as a result of a letter from "Valkyrie" producer-screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie.

"(McQuarrie) explained plans to use the site to cinematically link present-day, democratic Germany with the spot where the men were shot," Raabe said. "To show that it wasn't barbarism that triumphed but that a democratic Germany finally did emerge. I think the film can make a contribution (to understanding the history of World War II)."

Producer United Artists said in a statement: "We are extremely grateful to the German government for allowing us to film at the Bendlerblock. Filming at the Bendlerblock has always been important to us symbolically, creatively and for the sake of historical authenticity. As a result, we have been in constant communication with the government in an effort to dispel any concerns or misperceptions about the nature of 'Valkyrie.' "

Sources near the production said the defense ministry did impose some conditions on the shoot -- including a ban on swastikas and Nazi flags at the Bendlerblock location. Showing the swastika in public is a criminal offense in Germany, and film crews need special permission to use the symbol for outside shoots.

Last year, Dani Levy's comedy spoof "Mein Fuhrer: The Truly Truest Truth About Adolf Hitler," raised eyebrows when it shot Nazi crowd scenes with a sea of swastikas in downtown Berlin.

The "Valkyrie" shoot has been the source of a different sort of controversy in Germany, controversy linked to Cruise's high-profile association with the Church of Scientology. Many in Germany view Scientology not as a legitimate religion but as a dangerous and democratically suspect cult.

Several prominent German politicians have criticized the decision to cast Cruise in the film. Von Stauffenberg's son, Graf Berthold von Stauffenberg, publicly attacked the project, saying a Scientologist such as Cruise "should keep his hands off my father."

But Germany's film community has come out in support of Cruise. Oscar-winning director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck ("The Lives of Others") wrote a long defense of the project in an article for national daily the Suddeutsche Zeitung.

Having a world star of Cruise's caliber playing the hero of the German resistance movement, Donnersmarck wrote, will do more to improve Germany's image internationally "than hosting 10 soccer World Cups."
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