Speak On It

100th Birthday of Babelsberg Film Studio

So when we think of the big movie studios we think MGM, Warner, Pinewood, and Shepperton but in February 2012 one studio on Europe celebrated its 100th year of filmmaking.

I would like to say Happy 100th Birthday to Babelsberg studios!

Babelsberg studios are the major production studios in Berlin, Germany. It first opened its doors in February 12th 1912, producing a silent film called ‘Der Totentanz’ (The Dance of the Dead)

Equally the first studio to open in Hollywood was Nestor studio in 1912 and by 1920’s Hollywood was the centre of all American filmmaking. Babelsberg history almost followed side by side with the rise of Hollywood.

Babelsberg became the main major producing studio in Germany and has an amazing survival story and the start of many true film styles. One movement was Expressionism and following closely with one of the world’s most important Sci film.

The truly iconic Sci-film ‘Metropolis’ by Von Fitz Lang made in 1927 at Babelsberg.

A quarter of Lang’s original version was cut by Paramount for the US release, and by Ufa in Germany, much against the director’s wishes.

This footage was believed lost but several dusty old reels were discovered in a small museum in Buenos Aires, Argentina in 2008.  The complete Directors cut can now been seen and had its premiere at ‘The Berlin International Film Festival’ in February 2010. This was part of the build up to Babelsberg centenary celebrations.

Dystopia  – the opposite of Utopia, the ultimate heaven, and the total euphoria.  Dystopia – the ultimate hell, the worst feeling in the world.

1930 Germany’s first major motion sound film ‘The Blue Bird’ was made at Babelsberg.  This rocketed the then nearly unknown actress Marlene Dietrich to stardom.

The stage was specially built for the film and is still in use today and named after Germany’s most celebrated actress.

‘Marlene Dietrich Halle’ in Babelsberg counts among Europe’s largest sound stages. The total floor space of the sound stage is 60,000sqft and its 46ft. ceiling. This is one way her legend lives on today.

In dark times from 1933 – 1945 Having survived the 1st World War Babelsberg was hit hard in the 2nd World war. The Nazis took power in 1933, the “Ministry for Popular Enlightenment and Propaganda” made its Nazi-propaganda pictures at Babelsberg. All other productions halted.

Then at the end of 2nd World war Babelsberg studio became part of divided Germany

On May 17th 1946, the studio became a German-Sovjet joint venture “DEFA” – Deutsche Film AG. Then from 1946 to 1990, DEFA produced 1,240 feature and television pictures of various artistic and political colour! Many the world would know about or ever see.

But in 1975, Jakob der Lügner (Jacob the Liar) became the only GDR film production to ever be nominated for an Academy Award.

With fall of The Berlin wall in 1989 Babelsberg was once again faced with an uncertain future

Babelsberg with the help of private investors would rise again onto the world stage. These investors wished to preserve the great history of German filmmaking. So the years 1990-2004 over €500million spent to bring it into the future.

DEFA films made at Babelsberg are mostly unrecognized until the New York Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) created an exhibition on the modern cinema made by DEFA, in the autumn of 2005.

Today major motion pictures are made at Babelsberg with some of Europe’s best talents and dedicated crews.

Myself having just finished working on a film called ‘Rush’ (2013 Ron Howard) which was made up of half Germany/UK Crew. Many of the German crew had worked in Babelsberg and talk of it with great fondness. Much the same way that UK crews talk about Pinewood.

I hope that one day I get the chance to work at the magical Babelsberg studio.

Govinder Rayt

Govinder Rayt

Writer and expert