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Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck's libelous story

Posted at 3:50 PM on February 16, 2007 by Euan Kerr

German film director Florian Henckel von Donnersmark is an imposing figure on many levels. Besides his name, he's 6'8" tall, speaks English better than I do, he could well have changed his country with his film.

Henckel von Donnersmark wrote and directed "The Lives of Others" the Oscar nominated thriller about the surveillance performed by the Stasi, the East German secret police. The film follows a Stasi officer who sets up listening equipment in the home of a playwright. He's a true-believer in the Stasi mission, but finds himself deeply effected by what he hears.

There have been remarkably few films made in Germany set in the GDR, other than "Goodbye Lenin" which was a comedy. Indeed Florian Henckel von Donnersmark had to struggle to get the film made, in part because a lot of people in the German film industry thought audiences simply wouldn't be interested.

He succeeded though, and his persistence and stamina has paid dividends.

The film broke box office records for a drama in Germany when it opened, and it has already attracted a great deal of interest in the US, despite still being on a relatively limited release. And of course there is that Foreign Language Oscar nomination, not bad for a first time director.

There has been a downside: he and Ulrich Muhe, who plays the Stasi officer, were sued for libel by Muhe's ex-wife after they published a interview where Muhe talked about how he had discovered she was a Stasi agent assigned to watch him. It's a complicated story, and amazingly, despite having a 500 page Stasi dossier outlining how she had spied on him they lost. Muhe ended up paying out more in damages than he earned making the film.

You can hear him tell it here.

Henckel von Donnersmark is in town for a couple of events tonight and tomorrow. He'll speak at a sneak screening of "The Lives of Others" at the Edina Theater at 10.00 tomorrow morning. Tickets are $15.

We'll run the interview closer to when the film opens to the public.

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