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Operation Valkyrie, a fresh look by German filmmaker Jo Baier at the attempted assassination of Adolf Hitler in July 1944, is a highlight of this month’s Festival of German Cinema, in which the moral status of Lieutenant Claus von Stauffenberg and other high-ranking army officers is reappraised. Baier is one of the special guests of the Festival, as Andrew L. Urban reports.

It seemed a thankless task, and Jo Baier was not keen: a tv station had asked him to make a film about the failed attempt on Hitler. This year is the 60th anniversary of that event and the last film about this subject dates back to the 70s.

“I wasn’t enthusiastic at first. In my memory the whole action failed because of the cowardice of the main character: Stauffenberg. He put his briefcase with the bomb in it under Hitler‘s table and vanished – instead of shooting the monster. The more I read about Stauffenberg, the more I learned and realised I was completely wrong. There aren’t many moments or people we can be proud of when we look back at the Third Reich and in my opinion it’s important to show young people today who he was.” 

"to tell it as accurately as possible "

In the morning of July 20, 1944 Lieutenant Claus von Stauffenberg is on a flight to the Fuehrer's bunker "Wolfsschanze" where he is supposed to give a lecture. But Stauffenberg carries a bomb in his briefcase that is to put an end to the cruel Nazi dictatorship: Hitler is to die. In the conference room of the Fuehrer's bunker, Stauffenberg puts his briefcase with the bomb under the table before leaving the room. He and his adjutant Haeften escape the Wolfsschanze when the bomb explodes. Covered with Hitler's cape, a man is carried out of the house. Both men are convinced: The attempt was a success. Hitler is dead. But the rumour that Hitler is still alive turns out to be a terrible truth. More and more officers lose their courage and turn away from Stauffenberg and the other resistance fighters. Armed forces that are faithful to Hitler storm the core of the resistance movement at Berlin Bendlerstraße. Stauffenberg and the other members of his group are arrested. They are accused of high treason and condemned to be executed immediately.

“With Stauffenberg,” says Baier, “I intended to show a human being, not a hero in the foreground. I admire his guts and courage to sacrifice his life for others. But I never intended to glorify someone or something. My intention was to tell it as accurately as possible and not dramatise things for more efficiency or to cover up Stauffenberg’s mistakes. We had to be careful not to get applause from the wrong side. We filmed the scene of Stauffenberg being shot on the actual spot where it happened and we were all deeply moved.”

On February 25, 2004, so were millions of Germans; Operation Valkyrie screened on German tv to an astonishing response: nearly 25% of households tuned in. That’s some 7.5 million people. “Many of them were young people,” says Baier, “and from the letters I received after the screening I can say that many Germans were deeply moved and impressed. The critical response was very pleasing as well, as it was noted that the story was told truthfully and with sensitivity...”

This Australian tour will be the film’s first public screening since that broadcast. More than half the films in the festival will also be enjoying Australian premieres hot from their Berlin success. This was the main reason for moving this third Festival from August to April, says Cultural Officer Claudia Kuehn. “We wanted to catch the films from Berlin, and it’s worked well. This year also marks the Festival’s expansion to Brisbane, and Kuehn believes it will soon be truly national. 

"very positive feedback"

“We get very positive feedback from all cinema lovers, not just those of German background.”

Other notable films include The Miracle Of Bern (opening film), and two hilarious coming of age films: Benjamin Quadeck’s Play It Loud! and Hendrik Handloegten’s Learning To Lie.

With The Miracle of Bern, director and ex-football player Soenke Wortmann has brilliantly succeeded in setting an intensely emotional and touching family drama against the exhilarating, authentic background of West Germany's miraculous World Cup victory in 1954.

The Festival, organised by the Goethe Institute and the German Filmexport Union (supported by VW) is playing in Brisbane (April 21-24, Southbank Cinemas), Melbourne (April 16 – 25, ACMI) and Sydney (April 15 – 25, Chauvel & Valhalla).

Festival guests include:
Jo Baier; He has made more 70 documentaries and TV features before turning to feature films and has been working as a director since 1979. Director of Swabian Children and Operation Valkyrie (both 2003)

Professor Arthur Hofer from the film academy in the city of Ludwigsburg; 
Since 1977 he has worked for several film production companies and has produced a number of successful films. Since 2001 Artistic Director of the Film Academy Baden-Wuerttemberg.

Benjamin Quabeck; studied Direction at the Film Academy Baden-Wuerttemberg. Director of No Regrets (2000), an episode of Europe-99euro-films 2 (2003) and Play it Loud! (2003). 

Sven Taddicken; studied Direction at the Film Academy Baden-Wuerttemberg. Director of Stay Like This! (2002).

Distinguished film critic Dr Joseph Schnelle, who has been writing on film for over 20 years for major print and electronic media in Germany. 

Published April 8, 2004

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The Miracle of Bern

The 2004 Festival, organised by the Goethe Institute and the German Filmexport Union (supported by VW) is playing in Brisbane (April 21-24, Southbank Cinemas), Melbourne (April 16 – 25, ACMI) and Sydney (April 15 – 25, Chauvel & Valhalla).

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