Frank Capra (1897-1991) is one of the most successful filmmakers of the classical Hollywood era. He was the first person whose name appeared above the title of a film in the opening credits and one of the few Hollywood directors to have far-reaching control over his films. Capra led Columbia Pictures into the big leagues and made Barbara Stanwyck, Jean Arthur, and James Stewart famous. His films received 40 Oscar nominations and won a total of 12 Oscars over one single decade (1933-1942), including three for Best Director and two for Best Picture.
Frank Capra managed to follow the American Dream himself, going from being a poor Sicilian immigrant to one of the best paid directors in Hollywood, with his resultant gratitude to the United States finding expression in his films. In the crisis-riven 1930s, his socially critical, but conciliatory (tragi-)comedies made the case for renewed belief in American values, the freedom of the individual, and the victory of justice over cynical profiteers and corrupt politicians. "Perhaps it wasn't America we believed in all those years, perhaps it was just Frank Capra", is how John Cassavetes put it, his colleague from the generation of filmmakers that followed. The "Capra touch" – a cinema of emotion with a personal signature governed by humanistic values that combines elegance and wit, exact timing, precise dialogue, and excellent direction of actors – conveyed hope and optimism in difficult political and economic times. Capra’s believable vindications of humanity, understanding, compassion, solidarity, and love for one's neighbor in connection with his work's subtlety and complexity generates a willingness to also go along with how class boundaries are so easily overthrown, miraculous turns of events happen, and often somewhat abrupt happy endings occur, akin to a fairy tale.
The belief in the victory of the just cause also led the patriotic Frank Capra to apply for voluntary military service at the very peak of his career. With the rank of major, he directed propaganda documentary films between 1942 and 1945 as the head of the war ministry’s film department, including the seven-part series Why We Fight. After 1945, Capra was no longer able to recapture the success of the pre-war years and left the film industry in the 1960s following 6 features as well as several educational films for television and an industry film. Until January 20, we are showing a comprehensive retrospective of 25 of Frank Capra’s films, from his first short made in 1921 to his last feature in 1961, with several of his war films to be shown in January.
A concentration on a small number of characters and locations, a focus on inner conflicts, and a restricted timeframe: the key components of the "Kammerspiel" film genre that emerged in the 1920s sound fairly ascetic. But often a unique sense of drama emerged from the extreme paring down of place, time, and plot that was carried and intensified by the subjectifying use of light and by a camera which got up close to the protagonists to record the tiniest changes in their gestures and facial expressions. This film movement, which was inspired by the modern stage design ideas Max Reinhardt had implemented from 1906 onwards on a new Berlin theatre next to the Deutsches Theater also called the Kammerspiele, experienced its first (and perhaps only, in a classical sense) highpoint at the beginning of the 20s and marked the transition from Expressionist film forms to realistic trends in Germany. This month’s Magical History Tour presents the varied echoes of the Kammerspiel film in film history, from classical homages to the early examples of the genre all the way to creative variations upon it.
Although contemporary French cinema has so much of interest to offer, films by young, unknown filmmakers which don't boast stars and conventional stories have a difficult time finding distribution here in Germany and thus making their way to cinemas. We're therefore happy to be able to present five acclaimed films as part of the 16th Französische Filmwoche that were shown as part of the ACID selection at the Cannes Film Festival from 2014-2016 and which bear witness to the diversity of the forms of artistic expression in current French cinema. The spectrum of the program ranges across intimate film diaries, documentary (self-)depictions of adolescents from the Paris banlieue, and features that connect the real with the fantastic. All five titles have English subtitles and are being shown in Berlin for the first time thanks to our collaboration with ACID, an association of filmmakers founded in 1992 which supports independently made films and helps them find a larger audience.