Every year Villa Aurora follows its own long tradition of welcoming the German community and friends to socialize and celebrate the German contribution to American culture.
The German co-production “Citizenfour
” by Laura Poitras
(De/Us, Praxis Films
, Br, Ndr) was awarded the Oscar® for Best Documentary Feature yesterday. “Citizenfour
” has also received an Independent Spirit Award for Best Documentary Feature.
“The Grand Budapest Hotel” by Wes Anderson
(Gb/De, Neunzehnte Babelsberg Film
), another German co-production, picked up four Academy Awards® in the categories Best Production Design, Best Costume Design, Best Hair and Make-Up as well as Best Original Score. It had been nominated in nine categories.
A day before the Oscars®, German Films joined forces with the Villa Aurora and the German Consul-General in Los Angeles to hold their traditional reception in honor of the German Oscar® nominees at the garden of the Villa Aurora in Los Angeles.
The teams of “Citizenfour
” comprising the German producers Dirk Wilutzky
and Mathilde Bonnefoy
, “The Grand Budapest Hotel” with the producers Carl Woebcken
, Henning Molfenter
and Christoph Fisser
, the representatives of the German regional funders Carl Bergengruen
of Mfg Baden-württemberg and Kirsten Niehuus
of Medienboard Berlin-Brandenburg as well as the director Wim Wenders
, who was nominated for Best Documentary Feature for “The Salt Of The Earth
," celebrated there with guests from the German and international film industry.
The beautiful Spanish Deco home at 520 Paseo Miramar in the Pacific Palisades was bought by the famed author, Lion Feuchtwanger
and his wife Marta in 1943 the same year that he published The Devil in France, the account of his imprisonment by the Nazis in the South of France before he fled to the U.S.
In September of 1940, with the support of Varian Fry and the U.S. Vice Consul in Marseille, Hiram Bingham, Lion and Marta were able to join another group of exiles in crossing the Pyrenees on foot. They made their journey from Lisbon to New York on different ships. From there, they traveled to Los Angeles, and in 1943 moved into the Villa Aurora, which soon became a focal point in the lives of many intellectuals and artists who had fled from Germany including Bertold Brecht
, Thomas Mann and his brother Heinrich Mann
, Marlene Dietrich
Their German passports had been confiscated by the Nazis. In the McCarthy era, Feuchtwanger was scrutinized as a “premature antifascist” by the House Un-American Activities Committee. Fearing that he would not be allowed to return, he never traveled outside the U.S. again. After years of immigration hearings, Feuchtwangers application for American citizenship was finally granted, but the letter informing Feuchtwanger of the fact was not received until a day after his death.
Marta bequeathed to the University of Southern California the library and the house in exchange for the life-long right to live in the Villa. She was appointed curator of the Villa and was politically and culturally active. The Villa remained a social destination in Los Angeles. In 1987 she died at the age of 96.
"So, in my fiftieth year, I literally arrived in the U.S. on foot. Has that made me a U.S. citizen? Can a piece of paper change half a century of my life? I don’t believe it. Now, that I have only 10 years to complete the second half of the century, I feel, it is good to have the citizenship of a country that unites my German routes with the ones of many other nations. Being American is very close to being a citizen of the world."
Source: Marta Feuchtwanger: Only a Woman, Years Days Hours, Aufbau Verlag Berlin Leipzig, 1984
Celebrating the Academy Award Nominees at the same time as 20 years of present ownership of the Villa Aurora and at the same time as 25 years after German reunification, restoration of the famed Babelsberg Studios made this year especially notable.
At the party, I had the chance to speak with Mariette Rissenbeek
, Managing Director or German Films.
How long have you been with German Export?
I started in 2002, 13 years ago. I was in charge of festivals and public relations. The position gave me rewarding insights into festivals and I was able to meet many producers.
What changes have you seen in your time there?
I started a year after “Good Bye
Lenin” and “Nowhere in Africa”. In the 2000s, German films became very popular internationally. Since 2011 I have been the Managing Director which involves lots of administration and politics.
How do German films do abroad?
Every year two to three titles work well. “Phoenix” is doing very well in France. “Hannah Arendt” and “The Lives of Others
” did well worldwide. This year we have “Elser” (“Thirteen Minutes”) which just premiered in Berlin and of course “Salt of the Earth
” and “CitizenFour
” (winner of the 2015 Spirit Award for Best Documentary), “Victoria” which Adopt Films acquired for U.S.
Germans have consistently won Academy Awards since 1929 when Emil Jannings
won for Best Actor in “The Way of All Flesh
” and “ The Last Command
I also had the chance to speak with the Director of Villa Aurora, my friend since her days at Goethe Institute.
How long have you been Director of Villa Aurora ?
Three years in May.
You moved over from Goethe Institute and have changed Villa Aurora significantly. Can you tell us what changes it has undergone since you took over as its director?
When I applied for the position, I gave my vision for the Villa in various areas which included increased visibility, and renovations, as the home was in a rather neglected state. I also wanted our guests to network more with the Los Angeles arts community. So now their work appears in galleries, they give master classes and they show their work.
I had support from the Berlin headquarters and the German Foreign office and so we could renovate, landscape and install better lighting. I love creative work and this has been very satisfying.
Similarly as at the Goethe Institute, I still network and organize events, but I am also a “den mother” to the fellows. At this time we have five artists in residence. Four are here for three months and one is here for eight months – a writer in exile who cannot live in the native country of birth. We have had a writer from Syria living in Turkey; last year we had someone from Viet Nam and before, a blogger from Belarus living in Poland.
We also have an agreement with Cal Arts to send an artist to Germany to work and present their work.
Once again the congeniality and milieu brought together Hollywood and Germany, a partnership which goes back to the first days of the Hollywood we know today.