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Alongside the Oscar celebrations for All Quiet on the Western Front in Germany — Edward Berger’s groundbreaking World War I epic won four Academy Awards at the 2023 Oscars on Sunday night, including for best international feature, best score, best production design and best cinematography, a new record for German movie — there was some very Teutonic soul searching.
“A huge success for German cinema,” raved German Chancellor, or prime minister, Olaf Scholz in a message to Berger and his team. German Culture Minister Claudia Roth, who had traveled to Los Angeles for the Oscars, called Berger’s adaptation of Erich Maria Remarque’s anti-war classic “the right film at the right time,” as it shows “a war in Europe, in all its cruelty and brutality,” just as another such war, the war in Ukraine “is currently raging again in the heart of Europe.”
All Quiet‘s success was a clear Hollywood tribute to the movie’s technical excellence, as well as to Berger’s very distinct anti-war message.
But within the German industry, the fact that All Quiet was a Netflix film — fully financed outside Germany’s state subsidy system — was the cause of some handwringing. That the most successful German film ever at the Academy Awards was bankrolled by a U.S. streamer suggests something is broken in Berlin.
Roth has called for a fundamental overhaul of Germany’s €600 million ($640 million) a year film funding system, citing All Quiet on the Western Front as an example of how filmmaking has transformed and why Germany’s very bureaucratic funding system needs to adjust. The culture minister used her opening night speech at this year’s Berlin Film Festival to make the point that streaming services have dramatically changed the “environment for creating, making and experiencing movies” and that the German funding system, which relies on financing and distribution from television broadcasters and theatrical distributors, is out of pace with the times. She’s pointed to the sharp drop in box office during the pandemic, a decline that has yet to fully correct, to make the point that too many German films are being funded that are being seen by far too few people in cinemas.
One of Roth’s proposals is to have Netflix and other major streaming companies contribute more to funding German movies. She would also like to see a decoupling of funding for commercial movies or ones aiming for a wide audience, and documentaries, shorts, first-time works and artistic films which, she says, “don’t have to be aligned with the logic of the market.” Roth would also like to see federal and state funding bodies work together more closely.
The Oscar success of All Quiet on the Western Front will only add momentum to these reform efforts. Not quite as exciting as an awards after-party, but its impact is likely more enduring.
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