You're a star in Germany when you land a Golden Camera

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Forget the Golden Bears. Sure, the Berlin International Film Festival's top prize looks nice in your trophy case, but if you really want to make a splash on the local media scene, you've got to win a Golden Camera.

Don't worry if you haven't heard of them. The prizes, which German publishing giant Axel Springer hands out every year on the eve of the Berlinale, are a bit like Teutonic film star Til Schweiger: huge in Germany, virtually unknown everywhere else.

But for sheer media coverage, the Cameras are hard to beat. The Feb. 6 gala is broadcast live on public channel ZDF to ratings that would make the Berlinale broadcast blush. The host is Thomas Gottschalk, the country's biggest TV personality, and the audience is a who's who of German television and film.

Every single German film, TV and gossip reporter is either in the crowd or wants to be.

When it comes to Hollywood names, the Cameras might still sit below the BAFTAs or Golden Globes, but A-listers like Nicolas Cage, Pierce Brosan, Cate Blanchett, Steven Spielberg and George Clooney have all graced the stage at Axel Springer headquarters in Berlin.

This year, Robert De Niro and Aussie pop star Kylie Minogue will do the honors.

"We realize the Golden Cameras don't have the brand-name recognition of the Oscars, the Golden Globes or even the BAFTAs, but when Hollywood stars come here, they see how big and how important this event is in Germany," says Jochen Beckmann, publisher of Horzu, Germany's leading TV listings magazine, which hosts the Golden Cameras.

The Cameras' international image problem has a lot to do with the simple fact that German TV stars, the big focus of the prize gala, are nobodies on the global scene.

Extra points if you've heard of any of this year's best actress nominees: Ulrike Krumbiegel, Katharina Wackernagel and Jessica Schwarz. Or Ulrike Folkerts, Maria Furtwangler and Hannelore Hoger, the three nominated in the "Best Television Detective" category.

While some might recognize best actor nominee Ulrich Tukur for his role in the 2007 Oscar-winning "The Lives of Others," if he wins a Camera, it will be for his extensive German TV work.

"It's a problem, of course, because these are German TV stars, and German TV doesn't tend to sell abroad," says Golden Camera organizer Marcus Adrian. "But, with a few exceptions, (TV stars) are much bigger than local film stars."

In this, their 43rd year, the Golden Cameras have tried to improve their exportability by reducing the often bewildering number of categories and, for the first time, adding an independent jury of media experts who, along with the Horzu staff, picks the prize winners.

Also for the first time this year, the winners will be announced live onstage, instead of being leaked earlier in the day, a move designed to add Academy Award-style tension to the evening.

Despite being branded as "Germany's Oscars," the Golden Cameras, Adrian admits, have a long way to go before they earn real international kudos. "But the Golden Globes also started small," he adds.

For Beckmann, the Golden Cameras are Germany's best-kept secret. And, he insists, a potential PR secret weapon for agents and their stars.

"This is the biggest awards show of its kind in Germany," he says. "Given that Germany is the second- or third-largest film and television market in the world, the Golden Cameras can have a significant effect on a star's image. German fans are very loyal, and when someone wins a Golden Camera, the German audience remembers their name."
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