Helmut Poßmann: The Murnau Foundation – A lighthouse in the Hessian land of film

Since its founding in the year 1966, the Friedrich-Wilhelm-Murnau-Stiftung (Mur­­nau Foundation) has been in charge of the preservation and care of a large part of the German film heritage. The goal of making its u­­­ni­­que portfolio ac­­ces­si­­ble to the public has gained in sig­­ni­fi­cance in recent years and will also increasing­­ly shape future work. As a nationally im­­portant and in­­ter­­na­tion­­ally renowned institution, it makes influential contribu­tions to strength­­en­ing Hes­­sen as a film region. Since 2009, the Mur­­nau Foun­dation has operated the Deut­­sches Film­­haus built by it in the centre of Wies­­baden, which houses noteworthy companies and institutions of the film and media industries.

With a modern office and administrative complex, new future perspectives are opening up for the foundation, previous­ly located in Wiesbaden-Erbenheim: It is moving from the periphery into the centre and is now in the position to present its work directly to the public. Since April of 2009, the foundation has offered regular movie theater operation in collabora­­tion with the Deutsches Filminstitut in the Murnau film theatre and presents ex­­hi­bitions for public participants interested in film. The Deutsches Filmhaus is used as an event location for festivals and symposi­ums, among other things. The modern cinema with 100 seats and a multifunctional area can be used by all house rent­­ers as well as by external organizers. The building, with a total budget of 7.2 million euros, was sponsored by the state of Hessen with 1.85 million euros, the city of Wiesbaden had offered the plot of land under particularly favourable conditions and also provided a construction grant.
The construction project, resolved in 2006 and implemented in just under three years, allowed two additional na­­tion­­ally significant installations to be made successful with optimal working conditions in the tradition-rich city of Wiesbaden: The theatre and modern ex­­amination rooms are used for the Frei­­willige Selbst­kontrolle der Film­wirt­schaft GmbH FSK (Organisation for the Vol­­un­­tary Selfregulation/Film Classification Board of the German Film Industry) to perform inspections of films, video cassettes and other image carrier media (for example DVDs) that are provided for public projection or made accessible to the public in Germany. The well-known age-based protection ratings are determined here. The SPIO – Spitzenorgani­sa­tion der Film­­wirtschaft e.V., the um­­brella organization of 16 professional trade associations in the German film, television and video in­­dus­­tries, which currently represents over 1,100 member compa­nies, has moved to the new location.


The Murnau Foundation
The topmost committee of the Murnau Foundation is the board of trustees, which includes five represen­­tatives entitled to vote from the private film industry as well as two representatives from the public sector. The de­­l­­e­gates from the film in­­dustry are from the branches of produc­tion, distribution, film theatre, technology and exports. The interests of the public sector are represented by delegates of the Federal Gov­ernment Commissioner for Culture and Media, as well as the Hes­­sian Ministry for Sci­ence and Art for the council of minis­­ters of culture of the federal states.
The most important asset in the founda­­tion is the unique, well-rounded collection of films, which includes copies and ma­­te­­­rials from former production companies Ufa, Univer­sum-Film, Ba­­var­­ia, Ter­­ra, Tobis and Berlin-Film – together with their as­­sociated rights – from over six dec­­ades of German film production. The out­­standing stock of historico-cultural and film-histor­­ical material reaches from the very be­­gin­­ning of the moving image through the be­­ginning of the 1960s and includes 2,000 silent films, 1,000 sound films and around 3,000 short, advertising and documentary films.
The evaluation of the Murnau film stock has been taken over by Transit Film GmbH, which maintains an office in the Deutsches Filmhaus. The company, based in Mu­­nich and federally owned, operates com­­mer­cial theatre distribution and licensing with domestic and foreign TV broad­­casters as well as with video and DVD retailers.

Preservation and restoration
The preservation and restoration of its inventory has been one of the most im­­portant jobs since the establishment of the foundation. Loss, damage, decay and wear and tear traditionally represent the greatest dangers for film. Since there is no obligation in the Federal Republic to preserve copies of all films that run in the theatres, in contrast to other countries, only a part of the cultural film her­­itage is kept – so it is not only films from the silent era that count as “missing”. Thus, the conservation and protection of films was one of the primary tasks of the foundation in the 1960s, whose work in this area has often first made it possible for numerous significant historical films to be preserved and shown.
The newly entered digital age represents a double challenge: on the one hand, res­­toration is possible with a quality that has been unimaginable until now, on the other hand, the running digital con­­ver­sion of film projection will affect the eval­­uation of the stock. The task of mak­­ing the inventory of film material, which in large part is available in analogue format, suitable for distribution on digital media is one of the organization’s central future un­­der­­takings. Thus the foundation makes use of digital tech­nol­o­gies and cooperates with leading companies in the in­­dustry.
Two elaborate restoration projects are com­­ing to completion in 2010: Fritz Lang’s two-part epic film DIE NIBELUN­GEN, whose new musical version will pre­­miere in April 2010, and – also by Fritz Lang – the classic silent film ME­­TRO­PO­­LIS, whose restored 2001 version was admitted to UNESCO’s Memory of the World Register and has now been re-edited.
The version of METROPOLIS that was rediscovered in Buenos Aires includes approximately 25 minutes of presumed long-lost footage, which was restored in the past few months and integrated into the existing version. On February 12, that edited version celebrated its world premiere simultaneously in Frankfurt and Berlin.
The film inventory also includes films by influential directors such as Ernst Lu­­­bitsch, Detlef Sierck, Helmut Käutner, Wolf­­gang Staudte and Friedrich Wil­helm Mur­­nau, who gives the foundation its name.



Education and communication
One of the tasks of the Murnau Foun­da­tion is the promotion of film and political education work, and its archives are available to the general public.

The Murnau Foundation works together with the Institut für Kino und Film­­kultur in film and political work in schools and adult educational institutions. Tra­di­tion­­ally, the foundation offers various meth­­ods of support for scientific work, so that the different film stocks are systematically registered and researchable. Fur­thermore, it cooperates with na­­tional and international partners in the cultural film industry, such as film mu­­seums, with regard to exhibitions and pub­­lications as well as silent film festivals.


Short film award
The Murnau Foundation makes a contri­­bution to the future of film culture and thus also to the promotion of young tal­­ent with its short film award, which has been awarded since 1994. The idea of the short film award is to promote the creation of German short films that are attractive to the public and particularly suitable to a movie theatre with a running time of three to 15 minutes. Up to ten films per year can be distinguished with this prize, which is traditionally awarded in a ceremony at the Caligari Film Stage. The Murnau short film award is one of the most in-demand awards of this type nationwide, and not only be­­cause of its total prizemoney of 20,000 euro: In addition to the German short film award, the short film award by the Fed­­eral Film Agency (FFA, Film­för­de­rungs­anstalt) and the German business film award, it counts as reference cri­­teria for the FFA’s promotion of short film productions. The short film award jury includes two representatives from the Fach­ver­­bän­­de für Film­the­­aterwirt­schaft und Kurz­film­pro­­duk­tion (trade as­­so­ci­a­tions for the film industry and short film production), the fifth jury member is the chairman of the board of trustees of the Murnau Foundation.
From SCHWARZFAHRER, awarded in 1994, direction and screenplay: Pepe Dan­­quart to the animated film QUEST (1996, Tyson Mont­­gomery) as well as SPIEL­­ZEUG­LAND (TOYLAND, D 2008, Jo­­chen Alexander Freydank), which also re­­ceiv­ed an Aca­de­­my Award, the list includes 146 pre­­viously distinguished films. These include earlier works by suc­­­cess­ful film creators, still un­­known at the time, such as Fatih Akin (GETÜRKT (WEED) 1997) and Florian Hen­ckel von Donnersmarck (DER TEMP­­LER (THE CRU­­SADER), 2003). Short films by established directors like Wim Wen­­ders, who was honoured together with students at the Munich University of Tele­­vision and Film for DIE BRÜDER SKLA­DANOVSKY – ERSTER AKT (THE BROTHERS SKLA­DA­­NOVSKY – FIRST ACT, D 1994), or Tom Tyk­­wer, who received an award for Episode TRUE (2005) for the PARIS JE T’AIME film compilation project, are also included in the list of award winners.


PoßmannBorn in 1959, the author has an MBA and has been active in the area of the film in­­dustry since 1984. In 1996 he assumed leadership of the umbrella organization of the film industry SPIO, and was a member of the board of directors at the Deutsches Filminstitut until 2006. In ad­­dition, Possmann was a member of the board of directors of the Murnau Foun­dation from 2006 until 2010./quote]