German film festival Filmfest Hamburg has scrapped its plan to give the Douglas Sirk Prize to the Austrian director Ulrich Seidl, following allegations of on-set impropriety and child exploitation against him and his film “Sparta.”
However, the festival has decided to continue with its plan to show “Sparta,” a statement released Tuesday by festival director Albert Wiederspiel and program director Kathrin Kohlstedde explained.
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The statement read: “The accusations against the production around the working conditions during the making of the film came up after our [festival program] was already in print.
“We included the film in the program because of its outstanding quality. It is a very sensitive film about a particularly difficult and taboo subject. The accusations against Ulrich Seidl are directed against the conditions during the shooting and explicitly not against his film.
“We have therefore decided to leave the film in the program.”
The statement added: “Regarding the Douglas Sirk Prize, we have decided not to award the prize as the current allegations against the production would overshadow an award ceremony.”
On Friday, the Toronto Film Festival decided to withdraw the film from its program due to the allegations, which were published on Sept. 2 in German news magazine Der Spiegel.
The investigation alleged that Seidl did not communicate the film’s theme of pedophilia to its young actors, who were between the ages of 9 and 16 and not from professional backgrounds. It’s also alleged that the actors were confronted with alcoholism, nudity and violence during the production without adequate preparation or support.
Der Spiegel said its journalists spent more than six months investigating the production of “Sparta” in Germany, Austria and Romania, and spoke to dozens of crew members, including some actors.
Seidl’s lawyer told Der Spiegel that there is no sexual context nor pornographic or pedophiliac scenes in the film. They also denied that any child was “filmed naked or in a sexualized situation, pose or context.”
In a statement addressing the allegations posted to his official website, Seidl wrote that the film is based on a true story, and follows an Austrian man in his 40s who moves to a remote part of the country to start a new life, and together with a group of young boys from the area, transforms a dilapidated school into a fortress. Throughout the process, however, the man is forced to “confront a truth he has long repressed, one that neither the boys nor the outside world suspect. On the inside he is secretly struggling against his pedophile urges,” writes Seidl.
Commenting on the allegations, the director wrote: “My films are not the product of my manipulating my actors, misrepresenting the film to them, much less abusing them. On the contrary: Without the trust that we build over weeks and months together, the long shooting periods my films require would be impossible. I have the greatest respect for all my actors and would never take a decision that could in any way endanger their physical and psychological wellbeing.”
The film will also screen in competition at the San Sebastian Film Festival.
The Douglas Sirk Award is presented to “personalities who have made a special contribution to film culture and the film industry.” Sirk was born Hans Detlef Sierck in Hamburg, and emigrated to the U.S. in 1937. His first success as a director was melodrama “Summer Storm.” Other films included “Written on the Wind,” “A Time to Love and a Time to Die” and “Imitation of Life.”
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