UFA Film Nights 2017
For four nights in August, Bertelsmann and UFA transformed Museum Island into Berlin's most atmospheric open air cinema.
In an age of mass communications, saying a lot without saying a word is truly an art. Perhaps this is precisely why silent movies still hold such appeal for their audiences to this day. They tell their story through the power of pictures and the emotions provoked by the accompanying music. Silent film is a medium that simultaneously provides entertainment and deceleration. And it is an art form that breathes new life into a long-bygone epoch, showing the viewer that these works represent the earliest precursors of today’s bombastic blockbusters.
The journey back to the roots of modern cinema has clearly lost none of its fascination, witness the response to the 7th UFA Film Nights in Berlin. On four evenings, more than 800 cultural and film friends gathered on Museum Island in the heart of the German capital each night to witness the film festival presented by Bertelsmann and the UFA. The event, which has long become established as a highlight of Berlin's cultural agenda in summer, was given additional significance by the fact that this year marks the centenary of UFA, Germany’s leading film production company.
A world premiere as an opening act
In the open air, in front of the atmospherically lit backdrop of the Kolonnadenhof, the audience was treated to a masterpiece by the director Georg Wilhelm Pabst: 1927’s “Die Liebe der Jeanne Ney" (The Love of Jeanne Ney), based on the novel by Ilja Ehrenburg, presents the odyssey of a young woman in the turmoil following Russia’s October Revolution of 1917. For the first time, viewers were able to view the movie – a combination of melodrama and political thriller – in the digitized, reconstructed version. The WDR Funkhausorchester Köln under the direction of Frank Strobel was on site to provide live musical accompaniment for the world premiere, which ran for over 90 minutes. After the last scene flickered across the oversized open-air screen, the sounds of the instruments were replaced by the thunderous applause of the audience. A successful opening act.
Before the start of the screening, Bertelsmann and the UFA had welcomed approximately 350 guests to its traditional reception at Bertelsmann Unter den Linden 1. The hosts greeted numerous well-known actors, cultural protagonists, and personages from politics and society. Bertelsmann Chairman & CEO Thomas Rabe said: “This is the seventh time the UFA Film Nights are being held in Berlin. The fact that they have developed into an international format as well shows how fascinating and inspiring silent movies still are for people all over the world, even a century later. By hosting the UFA Film Nights, we seek to keep this art form alive while also helping to preserve the legacy of German cinema.”
Director Wim Wenders, one of the evening’s distinguished guests, likewise made no secret of his affinity for silent cinema: “Today's cinema was born from it. To see how all of this was learned and who the people were who invented it is very exciting. I myself have actually worked with some of the protagonists who were there during that time.”
Actress Maria Furtwängler, who served as the film’s presenter on this first evening, gave an enthusiastic introduction to “Die Liebe der Jeanne Ney,” saying: "It is a great honor and joy for me to present the opening event of the UFA Film Nights. The makers of silent films had to rely entirely on the power of the pictures, and I believe that accounts for much of the fascination that we derive from the works today. We discover in it a language of pictures that we perhaps even yearn for in today’s fast-paced, ephemeral times.”
Besides Furtwängler, a number of other actors were in attendance, among them Oliver Wnuk, Inka Friedrich and Lisa Martinek. Two guests had a very special connection to silent movies: Nicola Lubitsch, the only child of the famous German-American film pioneer Ernst Lubitsch, and Christoph Kunheim, the son of actress Brigitte Helm, who starred as Maria in “Metropolis.” For Nicola Lubitsch, it was a very special evening, as she told listeners: “This year marks the 70th anniversary of my father’s death. It is important that the movies from that era are being preserved, thanks in part to events like this. I love what Bertelsmann and UFA have managed to establish here.”
The UFA Film Nights continued with the screening of “Der letzte Mann” (The Last Laugh). This 1924 work by director Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau depicts the social rise and decline in the life of an aging porter who is played by Emil Jannings, possibly the most brilliant actor of the time. The Deutsche Oper Berlin’s UFA Brass, directed by Manfred Honetschläger, will provide the musical accompaniment. The film was be introduced by the actor Tom Schilling.
DJ legend provides soundtrack to legendary film
The third night was, for many, the highlight of this year’s Film Nights. It was sold out long in advance and saw not only movie buffs, but also many fans of electronic music in attendance. They came not only to watch arguably the most famous silent movie in history, but also (and for some: mainly) to hear DJ legend Jeff Mills play the soundtrack to “Metropolis”, one of the old Ufa’s most influential – and costly – productions ever.
Directed by Fritz Lang, this story about the conflict between an industrial elite and a repressed working class set in a distant future is regarded as the “mother of all sci-fi movies.” Produced in 1925 and 1926, Lang’s work wows viewers with monumental imagery and astounding special effects. In 2001, "Metropolis" became the first film ever to be included in UNESCO’s Memory of the World register. Thanks to the 2011 discovery of about 30 minutes of film material previously thought to be lost, “Metropolis” has finally been completely restored. Actress Katharina Wackernagel gave an introduction to the movie.
Unlike in previous years, this year the Film Nights didn’t end after three evenings, but went into overtime. The organizers have taken UFA’s anniversary as an occasion to present a contemporary movie from the production company for the first time. And so, this year’s UFA Film Nights ended with an open-air screening of “Der Medicus” (The Physician). Philipp Stölzl's 2013 film adaptation of Noah Gordon's international bestseller was accompanied by live music for the first time. The ambiance and dialog remained on the soundtrack, while the music was played by the Neues Kammerorchester Potsdam. Actor Franz Dinda, who appears in the movie himself, introduced “Der Medicus.”