Florian Gallenberger’s epic drama John Rabe about the “Oskar Schindler of China” was the big winner at this year’s German Film Awards, taking home four Golden Lolas, including for Best Film and Best Lead Actor for Ulrich Tukur as John Rabe.

Uli Edel and Bernd Eichinger’s four-times nominated The Baader Meinhof Complex was passed over completely by the 1,100-plus members of the  German Film Academy at the ceremony in Berlin.

John Rabe, a production of Hofmann & Voges Entertainment, EOS Entertainment and Majestic Filmproduktion, had its world premiere at a gala screening during this year’s Berlinale and had received enthusiastic press reviews. However, this has not translated so far into box-office success for the $22.4m (Euros 17m) production which had taken just over $704,461 (Euros 535,000) in its first two weeks of release for Majestic Filmverleih since April 9.

It also picked up Golden Lolas for the Chinese production designer Tu Juhua and German costume designer Lisy Christl andis being released in China on April 29 with over 750 prints after a gala premiere in Beijing in the presence of the Chinese lead actress Zhang Jingchu, Japan’s Teruyuki Kagawa, lead actor Tukur, director Gallenberger and producer Benjamin Herrmann.

This will be the biggest ever opening for a German film in China – on a par with the release of the last James Bond film Quantum Of Solace – and the biggest international opening of all time for a German-language film.

The Silver Lola for Best Film went to Caroline Link’s family drama A Year Ago In Winter, which also received the Golden Lola for best music for composer Niki Reiser, while the Bronze Lola for Best Film was awarded to Andreas Dresen’s tragicomedy Cloud 9 which had premiered at the Cannes Film Festival last year.

Cloud 9 was also the popular winner of the Golden Lola for Best Director – the first time that Dresen had received this distinction – and the Golden Lola for Best Lead Actress for veteran actress Ursula Werner.

Thalidomide victim Niko von Glasow gave an impassioned speech about the financial obligations of the German pharmaceutical company Grünenthal on accepting the Golden Lola for Best Documentary for his NoBody’s Perfect, while the Golden Lola for Best Children’s and Young People’s Film went to Julia von Heinz for her coming of age drama Was Am Ende Zählt.

Other awards included the Lolas for Best Supporting Role to Andreas Schmidt (Fleisch Ist Mein Gemüse) and Sophie Rois (The Architect), screenplay (Özgür Yildirim for Chiko), cinematography (Kolja Brandt for North Face), editing (Sebastian20Thümler for Chiko), sound (North Face), and the Honorary Lola in recognition of his life’s achievement to the humourist Vicco von Bülow, popularly known as Loriot.

A total of $3.8m (Euros 2.845m) was awarded again this year by the State Minister of Culture & Media (BKM) Bernd Neumann and in the form of nomination premiums and prize-money to the final prize-winners. Speaking to an audience of 2,000 at the ceremony in Berlin’s Palais am Funkturm, Neumann noted that “the international economic and financial crisis will certainly not pass the film industry this year without a trace.”

“In such times, the responsibility of the state for the promotion of culture assumes a particular significance,” he said. “Despite the financial crisis, we will extend the German Federal Film Fund for another three years until 2012. The German cinema can therefore rely on the solidarity of the political establishment particularly in difficult times. I will not be making any cuts to my budget.”

Neumann also suggested that there could soon be movement in the question of the financial future for the German Federal Film Fund (FFA) after four cinema chains put payments of their ticket levy to the national funding institution on ice at the end of this March (ScreenDaily, March 2009).

“We can and will solve the problems together,” Neumann declared. “We are currently working on bringing about a statutory alteration which takes account of the decision by the Federal Administrative Court. In this connection, one has to be grateful for the constructive attitude of the broadcasters, the video industry, and the distributors. The exhibitors can learn a lesson from this because they are biting the hand that feeds them.”

In an interview with Deutschlandradio ahead of the awards ceremony, Neumann explained that the public and private TV stations, video companies and theatrical distributors had continued making their contributions to the FFA without reservations and these sums could be drawn upon once the national funding body’s 2009 budget was passed.

He revealed that he was now working on introducing an amendment to the recently passed German Film Law (FFG) to set statutory criteria for levies to be paid by the German broadcasters to the FFA. “The parliamentarians have assured me that they will support this. And then we also have a bit of peace there at the front.” Neumann said.