UFA GmbH, shortened to UFA (German: [ˈuːfa] (listen)), is a film and television production company that unites all production activities of the media conglomerate Bertelsmann in Germany. Its name derives from Universum-Film Aktiengesellschaft (normally abbreviated as UFA), a major German film company headquartered in Babelsberg, producing and distributing motion pictures from 1917 until the end of the Nazi era. The name UFA was revived by Bertelsmann for an otherwise unrelated film and television outfit, UFA GmbH.
|Founded||December 18, 1917Berlin, Germany,|
|Nico Hofmann (CEO), former: Wolf Bauer, Martin Licher|
The original UFA was established as Universum-Film Aktiengesellschaft on December 18, 1917, as a direct response to foreign competition in film and propaganda. UFA was founded by a consortium headed by Emil Georg von Stauß, a former Deutsche Bank board member. In March 1927, Alfred Hugenberg, an influential German media entrepreneur and later Minister of the Economy, Agriculture and Nutrition in Hitler's cabinet, purchased UFA and transferred ownership of it to the Nazi Party in 1933.
In 1942, as a result of the Nazi policy of "forcible coordination" known as the Gleichschaltung, UFA and all of its competitors, including Tobis, Terra, Bavaria Film and Wien-Film, were bundled together with Nazi-controlled foreign film production companies to form the super-corporation UFA-Film GmbH (Ufi), with headquarters in Berlin. After the Red Army occupied the UFA complex in 1945 in Babelsberg, and after the privatization of Bavaria and UFA in 1956 in West Germany, the company was restructured to form Universum Film AG and taken over by a consortium of banks. However, in film production and distribution, it failed to revive and went into receivership.
In 1964, Bertelsmann's Chief Representative, Manfred Köhnlechner, acquired the entire Universum Film AG holdings from Deutsche Bank, which had previously been the main UFA shareholder and which had determined the company's business policy as head of the shareholders' consortium. Köhnlechner bought UFA, which was strongly in debt, on behalf of Reinhard Mohn for roughly five million Deutschmarks. (Köhnlechner: "The question came up as to why not take the entire thing, it still had many gems.") Only a few months later, Köhnlechner also acquired the UFA-Filmtheaterkette, a movie theater chain, for almost eleven million Deutschmarks.
In 1997, UFA and the Luxembourgish rival CLT established the joint venture CLT-UFA, which, following the takeover of British rival Pearson Television, was restructured as RTL Group in 2000. Now, UFA GmbH (UFA) works as a subsidiary of RTL Group's production division FremantleMedia, which had been formed out of Pearson TV, and is responsible for all production activities of Bertelsmann and FremantleMedia in Germany. Until August 2013, eight subsidiaries operated under the UFA umbrella: UFA Fernsehproduktion, UFA Entertainment, Grundy UFA, Grundy Light Entertainment, UFA Cinema, teamWorx, Phoenix Film and UFA Brand Communication.
In August 2013, UFA underwent an organizational restructuring that simplified the company down to three production divisions. Today, UFA Fiction, UFA Serial Drama, UFA Show & Factual and UFA Documentary are the four units responsible for production.
An early step towards the founding of UFA was taken on January 13, 1917, with the creation of the Bild- und Filmamt (Bufa) by Germany's Supreme Army Command. Formed as a reaction to the perceived advantage of Germany's enemies in the realm of film propaganda, Bufa's task was to make use of film for the purposes of psychological warfare.
However, the plans envisaged by the German General Staff – especially those of Erich Ludendorff – went far beyond the creation of Bufa. Ludendorff foresaw a large-scale, state-controlled film corporation that would serve national interests. In this spirit, Universum-Film AG (UFA) was founded as a consolidation of private film companies on December 18, 1917, in Berlin. The company's starting capital amounted to 25 million Reichsmark (equivalent to 58 million 2017 €): among the contributors were the German government, the War Ministry and Deutsche Bank. The Board Chairman of the new company was Deutsche Bank director Emil Georg von Stauß.
Prior to establishing the company, the General Staff had initially considered taking over the Deutsche Lichtbild-Gesellschaft e. V. (DLG), which had been founded in 1916. This agency, however, was far too much under the influence of heavy industry and, in particular, of Alfred Hugenberg, chairman of Krupp. Hugenberg would later take over UFA in 1927.
Three main film companies formed the nucleus of UFA from the end of 1917:
More companies joined UFA not long after:
UFA continued to sign production agreements with various independent producers:
Given that Germany had been – and continued to be – largely cut off from film imports due to World War I, the new company had ideal conditions for their conquest of the German market.
The mission of UFA at the time of its founding was the production of films – feature films, documentaries, cultural films and weekly headline (newsreel) films – designed to function as propaganda for Germany abroad. However, after mounting tensions between the company's founding members, Deutsche Bank was able to prevail and implement their approach to film production as a business rather than for military objectives. Instead of propaganda films, UFA now produced elaborate entertainment films such as Sumurun (Ernst Lubitsch, 1920).
UFA was already in 1921 producing the lion's share of German feature films, and in that year it was privatized. Starting in 1922, large ateliers in Neubabelsberg (today's Babelsberg Studio) and on Oberlandstraße in Berlin-Tempelhof were made available for film production. In 1926, the facilities were expanded by means of the construction of the largest studio hall in Europe at the time. In 1923, after Decla-Bioscop AG and others were taken over, Erich Pommer became head of all production operations and discovered and fostered many stars, including Emil Jannings, Pola Negri, Conrad Veidt and Lya de Putti. During this era UFA was a leader in the time of the German Expressionism, experienced a further boom, and emerged as a direct competitor to Hollywood with films such as The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920), Dr. Mabuse the Gambler (1922), Die Nibelungen (1924), Variety (1925) and Faust (1926).
In 1927, UFA found itself in serious financial trouble. After the stabilization of the German currency starting in November 1923, the German film industry in general entered a period of crisis: foreign sales stalled due to low profit margins, and the German market became profitable once again for American film giants. The resulting concentration on a few large German film companies, which came together to unite production, distribution and presentation under one UFA's managers made severe miscalculations with regard to two large-scale productions, Nibelungen and Metropolis in 1924-1926. This situation was made even worse as the result of a gag contract (the Parufamet agreement) they had entered into in 1925 with the American companies Paramount Pictures and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. In March 1927, with the company facing bankruptcy, Alfred Hugenberg – Chairman of the German National People's Party and owner of the Scherl-Gruppe, a powerful media corporation – bought the company. The new General Director was Ludwig Klitzsch; Hugenberg himself took over the chairmanship of the supervisory board; his deputy was banker Emil Georg von Stauß.
At first, nothing changed in UFA's production policy. In 1928, Erich Pommer was replaced as head of production by Ernst Hugo Correll, who led the company through the transition to talking pictures or "talkies". UFA gained an advantage over smaller companies in the realm of talkie production as a result of a contract with Tobis-Klangfilm, which simplified the licensing situation for UFA.[n 1]
Nevertheless, UFA has recorded unsurpassed artistic successes with films such as Fritz Lang's Metropolis (inscribed on UNESCO's Memory of the World Register, the first film thus distinguished) and Woman in the Moon to this day. Asphalt (German Realism) or entertainment movies such as Melody of the Heart or the musical film The Three from the Filling Station are produced by the UFA. In 1930, the company enjoyed worldwide success with the film The Blue Angel, starring Marlene Dietrich and Emil Jannings, directed by Joseph von Sternberg.
UFA experienced a new commercial boom in the Nazi era, not least due to the government's protectionist measures, which freed the company from bothersome domestic and foreign competition, sometimes even incorporating their production facilities and staff (see also: National Socialist Film Policy). On top of that, by occupying almost all of Europe, the Nazi regime also provided UFA with new sales markets, as well as placing distribution outlets in such "neutral" countries as the United States. By 1938, after taking over foreign film production facilities in France, Belgium and other countries, one third of the company's sales came from abroad. UFA's economic boom made it possible to further expand the so-called "star system," which had already been developed in the silent film era. The highest paid UFA stars in the Nazi era were Hans Albers and Zarah Leander. Veit Harlan was the highest-earning director.
In addition, as a result of the nationalist German spirit that already dominated the company, UFA was perfectly suited to serve the goals of National Socialist propaganda in film. Hugenberg had been named Reich Minister of Economics immediately following the Nazi takeover of January 30, 1933, and made UFA openly available for Joseph Goebbels' propaganda machine, even though Hugenberg was removed from his post shortly thereafter (June 1933) under pressure from Hitler. In an act of anticipatory obedience to the Nazi regime, UFA management fired several Jewish employees on March 29, 1933. In the summer of 1933, the Nazi regime created the Film Chamber of the Reich, which adopted regulations officially excluding Jewish filmmakers from all German studios.
In 1936, Germany's first film institute was founded in the form of the UFA-Lehrschau set up by Hans Traub at the Babelsberg Film Complex. Goebbels systematically brought UFA and all other media companies under the control of his Propaganda Ministry. On March 18, 1937, the Hugenberg Company was forced to sell all of its UFA shares for 21.25 million Reichsmark (equivalent to 88 million 2017 €) to Cautio Treuhand GmbH, a quasi-governmental holding company that answered to Goebbels. This move meant that UFA was effectively nationalized. Emil Georg von Stauß was named Chairman of the Supervisory Committee, Ludwig Klitzsch remained General Director, and Carl Opitz was named Press Officer. In May, an art committee headed by Carl Froelich – but in fact controlled by Goebbels – was founded. This committee proceeded to have a direct influence on UFA's production planning; it also severely curtailed the work of production head Ernst Hugo Correll. In 1939, Correll was fired after refusing to join the Nazi Party.
At the time of its nationalization, among the production facilities belonging to UFA were 27 film studios, nine of which were in Neubabelsberg (Potsdam-Babelsberg), and seven of which were in Berlin-Tempelhof, including three that belonged to Carl Froelich-Film GmbH in name only. UFA also had two dubbing studios, a mixing studio, two animation studios, two ateliers for advertising films, one for cartoons and a small training atelier.
On January 10, 1942, UFA officially became the subsidiary of UFA-Film GmbH (UFI), into which all German film production was merged. Other companies were dissolved or integrated into UFA at the time, including Bavaria Film, Berlin-Film, Terra Film and Tobis AG, which became additional production units. Film production in the captured nations was also brought under its aegis. Profits reached 155 million Reichsmarks in 1942 (equivalent to €600,400,517 in 2017) and 175 million ℛℳ in 1943 (equivalent to €660,693,520 in 2017).
At this point, the UFA staff hierarchy was reorganized according to the Nazi Führer principle. The coordination of individual sub-groups of the UFI Corporation was the job of the newly appointed Reich Film Director-General. The production heads worked for the administrative director general and were responsible for the overall planning of annual programming and content design all the way up to the actual shooting of the film: these heads were also responsible for giving instructions to the film line producers and directors. It was subsequently fully nationalized in mid-1944.
In late April 1945, the UFA ateliers in Potsdam-Babelsberg and Berlin-Tempelhof were occupied by the Red Army. After the German Wehrmacht issued its unconditional surrender on May 7 & 9, 1945, the Military Government Law No. 191 initially halted and prohibited all further film production. On July 14, 1945, as a result of Military Government Law No. 52, all Reich-owned film assets of UFI Holding were seized. All activities in the film industry were placed under strict licensing regulations and all films were subject to censorship.
The Soviet military government, which was in favor of a speedy reconstruction of the German film industry under Soviet supervision, incorporated the Babelsberg ateliers into DEFA, subsequently the GDR's state film studio, on May 17, 1946. Murderers Among Us was the first German feature film in the post-war era and the first so-called "Trümmerfilm" ("Rubble Film"). It was shot in 1945/46 by DEFA in the Althoff Studios in Babelsberg and the Jofa ateliers in Berlin-Johannisthal. Wolfgang Staudte directed the film and also wrote the screenplay. Additionally, the Soviets confiscated numerous UFA productions from the Babelsburg vaults and dubbed them into Russian for release in the USSR; and simultaneously began importing Soviet films to the same offices for dubbing into German and distribution to the surviving German theaters.
In contrast, the main film-policy goal of the Allied occupying forces, under American insistence, consisted in preventing any future accumulation of power in the German film industry. The Western powers also had more interest in opening up the German film market for their own products rather than in letting the national film industry regain its foothold. Thus the reorganization of Germany's film industry outside the Soviet zone was very slow, in spite of the "Lex UFI" law issued in September 1949 by the American and British military regime and the Dissolution Law (June 1953) issued by the German Bundestag. Because of its identification with Nazi filmmaking, UFA was additionally relegated to a status of controversy as to whether it should be allowed to resume operations at all, and motion pictures produced after the war in the Allied zones were, for a decade, made by other, fledgling companies.
It was 1956 by the time Bavaria was outsourced and the remaining UFA re-privatized. A bank consortium led by Deutsche Bank was behind the founding of the new Universum-Film AG, whose production facilities included the Afifa-Kopierwerk and the ateliers in Berlin-Tempelhof. Its first Board Chairman was Arno Hauke who, until then, had been the General Trustee for UFI assets in the British zone. The first film made by Universum-Film AG, a short documentary film called Am Seidenen Faden, came out in 1955. In 1958, the first UFA feature film Stefanie came out: it starred Sabine Sinjen and was directed by Josef von Baky, who had directed the UFA's large-scale 25th anniversary film Münchhausen in 1942. In 1969, after ten further feature films directed by leading artists such as Curtis Bernhardt, William Dieterle, Helmut Käutner and Wolfgang Liebeneiner – as well as such newcomers as Peter Beauvais, Rolf von Sydow and Georg Tressler – feature film production at UFA was ended.
In 1964, Bertelsmann acquired Universum-Film AG and all other divisions of UFA-Theater AG. In order to prevent the sale of film rights belonging to the old UFA, the Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau Foundation was set up in Wiesbaden on the initiative of the German Federal Government and representatives of the film industry. In 1966, the foundation acquired the rights to UFA and Bavaria Film – and they have been administering, storing and restoring ever since. In 1972, the Riech Group acquired UFA-Theater AG and continued operating the company with a license from Bertelsmann under the UFA's trademark rhombus logo. The right to the UFA name remains, however, with Bertelsmann. Under the management of Werner Mietzner, the company experienced a renaissance in productions at UFA Fernsehproduktion. With the launch of private television in 1984, the Bertelsmann Group brought together its film and TV activities in a new holding – the UFA Film und Fernseh GmbH in Hamburg – which also held investments in radio and TV stations such as RTL and Premiere. They also established and marketed new film and sports rights.
The production companies belonging to UFA Berlin have been under the management of Wolf Bauer, Norbert Sauer and Axel Reick since autumn 1991. Using the rhombus logo again, this team developed UFA Film & TV Produktion into the largest production company in Germany, now written in capital letters UFA. UFA's many prize-winning TV films, light entertainment formats, popular soap operas, long-running TV series, sitcoms and non-fiction programs have made it the leader on the German television market. The company broadcasts over 2,800 hours of content each year. In early 1997, the holding society UFA Hamburg (today Cologne) merged with CLT in Luxemburg to form CLT-UFA. April 2000 saw a merger with Pearson TV and the creation of the RTL Group, in which Bertelsmann has held the majority (90.4%) since late 2001. All worldwide production activities of the RTL Group are consolidated in FremantleMedia, and UFA is the holding company of all FremantleMedia's production activities in Germany. UFAInteractive, a small subsidiary directly associated with the holding company, was created to fulfill UFA's need for constant innovation (e.g. program content for mobile devices and special-interest channels) as well as to assist the larger companies independently in an advisory function.
On August 9, 2013, the company underwent a major restructuring based on the new strategic goal and concept of "One UFA". UFA's organizational structure was simplified down to three production units.
UFA experienced a golden age in cinema from the 1920s to the 1940s. In this period, the company contributed significantly to the history of German film. The following are among UFA's most famous productions from those years:
The following are among the most successful UFA directors in the silent era and early talkie period: Ludwig Berger, Paul Czinner, Wilhelm Dieterle, Ewald André Dupont, Karl Grune, Fritz Lang, Ernst Lubitsch, Joe May, Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau, Arthur Robison, Hanns Schwarz, Paul L. Stein, Wilhelm Thiele.
Between 1933 and 1942, the following were house directors at UFA: Carl Boese, Eduard von Borsody, Peter Paul Brauer, Karl Hartl, Georg Jacoby, Gerhard Lamprecht, Herbert Maisch, Paul Martin, Karl Ritter, Reinhold Schünzel (until 1936), Douglas Sirk (until 1937), Hans Steinhoff, Robert A. Stemmle, Viktor Tourjansky, Gustav Ucicky und Erich Waschneck.
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