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Entertainment behind the scenes

Berlinale boss misses another great German film

February 12, 2009

FILM-BERLIN/Berlin Film Festival director Dieter Kosslick raised more than a few eyebrows in 2006 for turning down “The Lives of Others”, a chilling drama about the East German Stasi security police that went on to went the Oscar for best foreign language film as well as seven German film prize awards.

“People asked me if I had fallen asleep during the screening of ‘The Lives of Others’,” Kosslick told the Foreign Press Club in Berlin last year. “I didn’t. It just turned out the way it turned out.”

Kosslick’s unusual selection process for the 20 or so films in the festival’s showcase “competition” section was questioned again at the 2008 Berlinale when he rejected ” The Wave” (a German-made drama about a high school teacher’s unusual experiment shows how modern-day Germans can be seduced to take part in a Nazi-like movement), which went on to win two European Film Awards in December and was one of the country’s most successful films at the box office last year. “The Wave” also was nominated for a world cinema Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival.

Some film critics in Hollywood and Germany were asking: How could two such well-made German films on explosive political issues that the Berlinale has always been known for not be included in the competition? And which German film destined for greater glory would get snubbed this year?

Kosslick came through once again. He turned down another German film that has success written all over it — “John Rabe”, a riveting drama based on a true but little-known story of how a German businessman saved the lives of 200,000 Chinese from Japanese troops at Nanjing in 1937. While rejecting “John Rabe” for his competition, Kosslick included a number of other German films that stirred little excitement and could well end up going straight to DVD.

“I would like to have seen ‘John Rabe’ in the competition,” the film’s director, Florian Gallenberger, told a news conference after the film’s world premiere in a small sidebar section of the Berlin festival. The next night “John Rabe” got a standing ovation from a full-house of 1,500 at the Friedrichstadt palace, according to local newspaper reports. After Kosslick turned it down for the competition, “John Rabe” won two Bavaria film prize awards in January.

German actor Ulrich Tukur plays the title role in “John Rabe”. Perhaps it is only a coincidence that Tukur also had a major role in “The Lives of Others” as well — he was the sinister senior Stasi officer who only gradually figured out that his case officier was going soft. Tukur laughed at the news conference when asked why he thought another of his films got snubbed.

“I don’t give a damn,” Tukor said at first, before laughing and adding: “I like Dieter Kosslick very much. We’re both from Swabia . Maybe it’s a Swabian thing. We’ll probably get into the competition next year (with his next film) and it will probably be a terrible film.”

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