Berlinollywood? New Polanski Thriller Backed by German Government

The Berlin International Film Festival -- or “Berlinale” -- came to a close on Sunday with the "Golden Bear" for best film going to the Turkish film Bal [Honey] and the “Silver Bear” for best director going to none other than Roman Polanski for his new political thriller The Ghost Writer.

Writing in the German newspaper Die Welt, the film critic Hanns-Georg Rodek commented on the lack of “bears” for German films. But Rodek found some consolation in the fact that, as he put it, “there is more German [involvement] in some of the prizewinners than might appear at first glance.” Well, Rodek can say that again -- and, to be more precise, he might add: more German money. The fact might not be so noteworthy if we were talking about private investment. But the money in question is in fact German public financing -- otherwise known as government subsidies.

Among other entrants, Rodek had Polanski’s The Ghost Writer in mind. As he mentions, the film was largely shot at the fabled Babelsberg studios, outside Berlin, and at other German locations. What he does not mention is the more than €3.5 million in financing that the German Film Fund (DFFF) contributed to the making of the film. The exact figure is €3,540,944 (see DFFF spreadsheet here). The DFFF is directly attached to the German government’s Department of Culture and Media.

The Ghost Writer also received another €500,000 in financing from the Film Board (FFA), Germany’s other federal source of public support for cinema. The FFA is funded by a “fee” leveled on the ticket sales of German cinemas.

And that is not all. The Ghost Writer also received yet another €500,000 in public support from the joint “Media-Board” of the German states of Berlin and Brandenburg (source: Studio Babelsberg). Plus €200,000 from the Film Fund of Hamburg and Schleswig-Holstein. Plus another €200,000 from the modest Film Fund of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, the poorest of Germany’s sixteen states. That makes for nearly €5 million in German public support in all -- or nearly $7 million at current exchange rates. Plus, in January of this year the Media-Board Berlin-Brandenburg kicked in another €80,000 in subsidies to aid in the distribution of the film. (See Media-Board spreadsheet here.)

Incidentally, The Ghost Writer also received public subsidies from the European Union, via the latter’s “Media” film fund. (See here; the exact level of support is not given.)

The German financial support makes The Ghost Writer just the latest in an increasingly long line of English-language cinema blockbusters that have received substantial funding from the German federal government and other German public agencies. I have written about two earlier examples, the historically revisionist WWII thriller Valkyrie and Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds, on Pajamas Media here and here. As discussed in my review of Inglorious Basterds, while the latter has been commonly described as a “Jewish revenge fantasy,” it might be more accurately called a “German fantasy of Jewish vengefulness.”

The “erotic” Holocaust drama The Reader, starring Kate Winslet as a former concentration camp guard … and love object, can be added to the list. The Reader, which is based on a novel by the German author Bernhard Schlink, received nearly €3.7 million in financing from the German Film Fund (DFFF spreadsheet here) plus millions more in public subsidies from the Film Board, the Media-Board Berlin-Brandenburg, the Middle German Media Fund, and the North-Rhine Westphalia Film Foundation. Based on published data, the total German public funding for the production of The Reader tops out at nearly €6.3 million -- or over $8.5 million at current exchange rates. The distribution of the film was also subsidized by German public agencies.