This paper follows a film-focused sociological agenda and involves investigating general mechanisms in the production of contemporary German feature film. The study presented here starts with the premise that, in Germany, as in several other national contexts, especially in Europe, the medium of film is not only an economic asset and a form of cultural heritage. Instead, such a meaningful medium is also an important topic in media-oriented policy interventions (cf. Mingant & Tirtaine, 2016). More precisely, to lessen competitive disadvantages of the socially relevant product of film at the international level, a highly branched system of state promotion bodies has developed, one which sponsors national film production at different stages in amounts of nearly €500 million per year. Furthermore, even without that funding, public television—an agent shaped by societal and political influences—often serves as the co-producer of films (cf. Hammett-Jamart et al., 2018). Consequently, and not unlikely its US counterpart (cf. McDonald & Wasko, 2007), German filmmaking is highly contested. Moreover, it is likely to reflect power dynamics and prerogatives in constructing reality that exceed the simple yet sometimes conflicting interactions between film authors and film producers or distributors. Put differently, the filmic construction of social reality in such broader constellations is presumably the outcome of struggles, whether conscious or unconscious, for legitimate meaning—at least, meaning, acknowledged by the majority.
To critically ask how specific constellations of agents intertwined with social structures advance the formation of meaning in German filmmaking, I envision the mutual constitution of agency and social structures with 'transintentional' outcomes, as theorized by German sociologist Uwe Schimank (2010). Major sources are 103 expert interviews with screenwriters, directors, producers, distributors, festival curators, cinema theater operators, funding representatives, and television editors, as well as dozens of document analyses. The entire research material was examined with the aid of a system based on Schimank’s recursive framework.
The findings show that the construction of social reality in German feature film is anything but unconditioned. On the contrary, owing to the essential role of film funding and public television in the agent-structure dynamics that shape the film production process, the medium’s key communicators are confronted with expectations that far exceed economic parameters. In particular, the paper reveals that German filmmaking also reflects a political dimension and expresses hierarchies and constraints, and that not only questions any autonomous practice in the field but also reduces the spectrum of possible filmic reality constructions. Thus, whereas “funding goes to what Germany needs” (filmmaker Dominik Graf), the medium’s genuine strength of being a system of reference for plurality and diversity is more than challenged.
Hammett-Jamart, J., Mitric, P, & Novrup-Redvall, E. (Eds.). (2018). European film and television co-production: Policy and practice. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan.
McDonald, P., & Wasko, J. (Eds.). (2007). The contemporary Hollywood film industry. Boston, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.
Mingant, N., & Tirtaine, C. (Eds.). (2016). Reconceptualising film policies. New York, NY: Routledge.
Schimank, U. (2010). Handeln und Strukturen. Einführung in die akteurstheoretische Soziologie. Wiesbaden, Germany: Juventa.