Quentin Tarantino'sInglourious Basterds is a stark reminder of a dark chapter in the history of Germany's Universum Film AG (UFA), when Joseph Goebbels turned the studio into a crude propaganda machine during World War II.
However the next chapter of UFA Cinema looks extremely bright as the re-energised production house is set to churn out five films this year, with a further 30 projects or more in various stages of development.
The game-plan is to generate a wide variety of dramas, comedies and family films not just for the German home market but for international consumption; Universal's Focus Features International has first dibs on its output.
Parent company RTL Group re-launched UFA Cinema at the end of 2007, resurrecting the Babelsberg-based studio which had given the world such classics as Fritz Lang's Metropolis and Marlene Dietrich's first talking movie, The Blue Angel. In recent years the studio focussed on TV productions.
"Even though the feature film sector continues to be a very volatile and hit-driven business, the market share of German productions has been growing continuously over the years," says UFA Cinema chief executive Wolf Bauer. "In 2008, German films reached the highest level since 1991 with a total market share of 26.6 percent."
Production is underway on the first batch of features: Granz Henman's The Devil's Kickers, adapted from Frauke Nahrgang's novels; Hanni and Nanni, based on the Enid Blyton's series of children's books St Clare's, about identical twins, directed by Christine Hartmann; Lars Kraume's Die kommenden Tage (Days to Come), a political family drama set in the near future; and writer-director Otto Alexander Jahrreiss' Tauben auf dem Dach (Pigeons on the Roof), which stars Olli Dittrich and Katja Riemann in multiple roles as four big-city couples whose interlocking stories of happiness and misery ultimately boil down to the power of love.
In November, Roland Suso Richter will direct Nadja Uhl and Thomas Kretschmann in Jungle Child, based on Sabine Kuegler's best-seller about her life growing up among the natives of West Papua's Fayu tribe in primitive conditions.
Among the projects in development are adaptations of books by screenwriter and novelist David Safier (Lousy Karma and Jesus Loves Me), The Reader's Bernhard Schlink (The Weekend), and Leonie Swann (Glennkill), as well as a German-language version of Robert Harris' political thriller Vaterland and an adaptation of Noah Gordon's The Physician in English for the international market.
The next chapter may see UFA become a pan-European player. "The idea of taking this UFA Cinema model to other territories is the third step in our strategy," Bauer told Cineuropa. “It was agreed with our shareholder to begin with production and then a distribution structure. Once this is successful, we could think about exporting the model to key markets in Europe like France, Spain, Italy and the UK.”