Universum Film AG

From Academic Kids

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UFA logo

Universum Film AG, better known as Ufa or UFA, was the principal film studio in Germany, home of the German film industry during the Weimar Republic and through World War II, and a major force in world cinema during its brief existence from 1917 to 1945.

UFA was created on December 18, 1917 in Berlin as a government-owned producer of World War I propaganda and public service films. It was created through the consolidation of most of Germany's commercial film companies, including Nordisk and Decla. Decla's former owner, Erich Pommer, served as producer for the 1919 film The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, which proved the best example of German Expressionism, a commercial success, and an enormously influential film. In the same year, UFA opened the UFA-Palast am Zoo theatre in Berlin.

In 1921 UFA was privatized. It became the leading production company in an industry that cranked out 600 films a year and attracted a million customers every day. In the silent movie years, when films were easier to adapt for foreign markets, UFA began developing an international reputation and posed serious competition to Hollywood.

In the Weimar years the studio produced and exported an enormous, accomplished, and inventive body of work. Only an estimated 10% of the studio's output still exists. Famous directors based at Ufa included Fritz Lang and F.W. Murnau, producing landmark films such as Metropolis, M and Marlene Dietrich's first film,The Blue Angel.

In addition to avant-garde experiments and lurid films of Weimar street life, UFA was also the studio of the bergfilm, a uniquely German genre that glorified and romanticized mountain climbing, downhill skiing, and avalanche-dodging. The bergfilm genre was primarily the creation of director Arnold Fanck, and examples like "The Holy Mountain" (1926) and "White Ecstacy" (1931) are notable for the appearance of Austrian skiing legend Hannes Schneider and a young Leni Riefenstahl.

The studio over-extended itself financially in the late 1920s, partly as a result of the expensive production of Metropolis, and was taken over by Alfred Hugenberg in March 1927. Hugenberg was connected to Krupp, sympathetic to the Nazis and the company became a producer of Nazi propaganda films after Hitler took power in 1932. Joseph Goebbels' ministry of propaganda essentially controlled the content of UFA films through political pressure and threat. One such threat to Fritz Lang in 1933 resulted in Lang leaving Germany the next morning, leaving behind a sizable fortune, a large collection of primitive art, and his entire career. Lang, like many of his UFA colleagues, would end up working in Hollywood.

During the 1930s UFA produced both lighthearted musicals and odious examples of anti-Semetic propaganda. In 1937 the Nazi Party bought up 72% of Ufa's shares, and in 1942 UFA was totally owned and controlled by the Third Reich.

After the end of the Second World War UFA became the property of the GDR (East Germany) as its studios were located in Soviet occupied East Berlin, and it became part of East Germany's film studio, DEFA, or Deutsche Film-Aktiengesellschaft. After German reunification in 1991 Ufa was re-established and became a major producer of television programs. Today it is part of the transnational Bertelsmann corporation.

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