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Germans wary of beating the national drum

BONN - The debate in Germany about protectionism for the European film industry is muted, but some are passionate about it.

Wim Wenders, the leading German film director, was one of seven European film-makers who signed an open letter last month arguing that, if the US were successful in its demands, 'there will be no more European film industry left by the year 2000. The dinosaurs of 1993, that's us: we are facing extinction, and we are merely fighting for survival, our backs against the wall.'

Equally, in the words of a recent polemic in the weekly Die Zeit, it is a question of 'Gatt or Life'. In other words, 'For the European cinema, it will be a lethal blow if the American position on the Gatt negotiations, now entering a crucial phase, is forced through.'

But there is little agreement in Germany about the need to close ranks against big bad Hollywood. Another writer in Die Zeit hit back: 'Above all - and European film-makers like to ignore this point - the Americans simply make films that one can sell, all over the world, whether they are good or bad.'

Many in Germany are wary of defending national cultural achievements. Nikolaus Piper argued, in Die Zeit: 'The concept of 'national' in an interdependent world economy is increasingly anachronistic. But it is even more anachronistic if a cultural identity is defined only in national or Eurocentric terms. The fact that Easy Rider was made in America limits my own identity as little as the fact that The Brothers Karamazov was written in Russia.' He and others argue that the era of satellite television makes any attempt to limit US input on television impossible to police.

Der Spiegel, Germany's most influential current-affairs magazine, was equally sceptical. It refers to a recent advertisement in the German and French press, signed by what Spiegel calls 'the usual suspects'. But it praises the 'supra-national and universal appeal of the Hollywood cinema'.

In Germany, such words are not heretical, partly because, despite figures like Wim Wenders, few Germans would stand by their own film industry as a towering achievement. Indeed, in the words of Der Spiegel: 'The German cinema has never been in such a bad state. Its market share will sink to 6 per cent. And its quality is so modest that no contribution was invited for the competition in Venice. The television studios are filled with game and talk shows.'

German film-makers would no doubt be pleased if the battle on defending the European traditions were won and national film industries continue to be subsidised. But few Germans look set to storm the barricades on behalf of das deutsche Kino. The more Germans feel that they form part of an international family, the happier they are.

(Photograph omitted)