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'The end' to German art films?

By Elizabeth PondStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / March 1, 1984



Bonn

The daggers flashing in Bonn these days are wielded by Interior Minister Friedrich Zimmermann and West Germany's leftist filmmakers. The two sides, each convinced of its moral superiority over the other, have been spoiling for a fight. And Dr. Zimmermann's unprecedented withdrawal of federal subsidies from movies the conservative government disapproves of - as of today - has provided the battlefield.

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At their mildest the film directors call Zimmermann a ''censor,'' a ''dictator of taste,'' and an ''executioner'' of art who is conducting an ''annihilation campaign'' against German cinema, a man who wants to restore the old (Hitler-era) German imposition of political views on art.

Zimmermann retorts that his adversaries are churning out ''pseudoartistic experiments that boost self-satisfaction'' but attract no audiences. He says they have a handy recourse: raising production funds on the open market.

This, of course, is easier said than done. West Germany's auteur films may have won critical acclaim abroad, but they have hardly swept German audiences off their feet.

German movies attracted only 8 percent of total German viewers in 1982, and everyone from left to right is speaking of a film crisis.

Despite the awards - in 1982 Werner Fassbinder won the Berlin, Wim Wenders the Venice, Werner Herzog the Cannes prizes - there is a sense that something is very wrong in the movie world.

The countercultural Tageszeitung laments, ''Why is the New German Film so boring, why is it so lacking in fantasy, why is it so bad, without censorship and Zimmermann having anything to do with it?'' Last year a book by film profes-sionals expressed the same sentiments.

Zimmermann and the Bavarian Christian Social Union say directors must stop making movies for cliques and appeal instead to the ''majority'' of Germans. Zimmerman sees the new subsidy policy as prodding moviemakers in the right direction.

Under these guidelines final decisions on distribution of the government's annual 5 million deutsche mark ($2 million) seed money for new films will no longer rest with a commission of specialists but with the state premiers or their representatives. Since 7 of the 11 states have conservative governments, the intent is clear.