Located in historic Potsdam, just a short 30 min train ride from Berlin, you’ll find one of the oldest and most iconic production powerhouses in the world. The Universum Film AG (UFA) was founded on December 18, 1917 – exactly 100 years ago – and its history is as illustrious (and notorious) as the region it calls home.
Producing films since 1912, the Babelsberg Film Studio remains Europe’s oldest and largest studio, covering a floor plan of approximately 25,000 square metres. Despite the ebb and flow of its success and failure over the years, the UFA has proven itself a stubborn brand – an enduring asset to Germany, producing contemporary and historic content for a range of audio-visual platforms.
Established just a year before the end of World War I, the UFA provided greater competition against foreign-made films, while delivering massive publicity to the German Empire’s war efforts. Under the Third Reich, it became the HQ in charge of delivering a pastiche of provocative Nazi-era propaganda.
From the 1920s onwards, the company made headway with popular genre films, successfully competing against the likes of Hollywood’s ‘big-5’ studios. Credited with kick-starting the international careers of many of Germany’s biggest acting exports, the studio also played host to a number of iconic films, including Fritz Lang’s Metropolis and Josef von Sternberg’s The Blue Angel.
To celebrate the studio’s 100-year milestone, an exhibition on the facility has opened at the Deutsche Kinemathek Museum for Film and Television in Berlin – a must see for a taste of Berlin’s, and Germany’s, incredible and at times volatile history.
Inimitable directors and iconic actors
During the early years UFA supported many groundbreaking directors and producers. Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau, Georg Wilhelm Papst, Ernst Lubitsch, Fritz Lang and producer Erich Pommer were among the finest, producing enduring 1920s classics. Not one to fall victim to changes in technology or trends, UFA moved on to making ‘talkies’ – 1930s sound films that would ensure their relevance in coming decades. It was during this era that Marlene Dietrich received her starring role in Sternberg’s The Blue Angel.
Born during a politically turbulent era in the country’s history, UFA put German cinema on the map. Demanding international attention and defining itself as a prominent vehicle to voice issues and views, the UFA brand allowed leaders to exert their political influence. Following the end of the war, the studio was able to embrace the 1920s silent-film movement, eventually being rescued from financial ruin in 1927 by Alfred Hugenberg, owner of the powerful media company Scherl Group. Thanks to Hugenberg’s position as Chairman of the German National People’s Party, in 1933 the company was well placed to serve the goals of Joseph Goebbels’ Nazi propaganda machine. Despite this rather dark time in the company’s history, the business bounced back from ruin yet again, becoming fully privatised in 1956, and continuing to develop new strategies to accommodate a changing media environment.
From the great highs of altering the cinematic landscape to the troubling lows during the Nazi-controlled 30s and 40s, UFA has proven itself a cultural treasure, as well as a persevering and determined brand. If you’d like to learn more about UFA’s cinematic history, Ufa – The History of a Brand is on at the Deutsche Kinemathek Museum for Film and Television in Berlin from 24 November 2017 to 22 April 2018.
Where: Deutsche Kinemathek – Museum für Film und Fernsehen, Tiergarten (Potsdamer Straße 2, 10785 Berlin)
When: 24 November 2017 to 22 April 2018
Cost: 7€ (free on Thursdays from 4 – 8pm)