German chancellor Merkel calls him a ‘passionate motivator and dreamer’; Berlinale adds special screening.

Tributes have been pouring in from the worlds of film and politics at the sad news of the unexpected death of Germany’s leading producer Bernd Eichinger at the age of 61 (see full story here.)

In words of condolence on Wednesday morning, Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel wrote that “ike countless friends of German cinema I have learnt with consternation of the death of  Bernd Eichinger.”

“Our cinema loses with him not only the most successful producer of the last decades, but also its most passionate motivator and dreamer. Millions are grateful to him for moving film moments,” Merkel said.

“Bernd Eichinger will live on in his films – from Christiane F. through Downfall to The Baader Meinhof Complex.”

On Tuesday evening when the news broke about Eichinger’s death, State Minister for Culture and Media Bernd Neumann had paid tribute to the producer: “He was the motor of the German cinema – his sure sense for subjects and stories impressed and enthused millions of cinema-goers.”

“The German film world and all of us will miss him a lot. Germany has lots its most successful filmmaker,” Neumann said

Tributes also came from across the political spectrum – from party chairperson Claudia Roth (Greens), Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle (FDP), Berlin’s Governing Mayor Klaus Wowereit (SPD) and Bavaria’s Prime-Minister Horst Seehofer (CSU).

In a communique from the Bavarian State Chancellery, Seehofer said: “As a film producer, screenwriter and director, Eichinger succeeded like no other in bringing people into the cinemas and inspiring [them] with his films” and noted that he had “decisively contributed to the development of the film hub of Bavaria for decades and thus also promoted it with his great international standing.”

Many in the German film community first heard the news of Eichinger’s passing as they were arriving for the world premiere of Til Schweiger’s new film Kokowääh at Berlin’s Potsdamer Platz and the DIVA media awards in Munich.

Speaking to the media on the red carpet before his film’s premiere, Schweiger said that Eichinger had been a mentor as well as a good friend.

“Without Bernd, I would not be where I am now. Bernd incredibly stuck up for me,” Schweiger recalled. “And Bernd gave me important tips when I said that I would like to produce myself.”

Schweiger made his breakthrough in the cinema as an actor thanks to Eichinger’s co-produced comedy Manta, Manta and the comic adaptation Der bewegte Mann. Schweiger also starred in Eichinger’s only feature film as director, Der große Bagarozy.

A minute’s silence was held at the events in Berlin and Munich, with Feo Aladag dedicating her award for the direction of When We Leave to “the man we are all mourning.”

Meanwhile, in an interview with the dpa news agency, Wolfgang Petersen gave his first reaction to the news of the death of a friend who had produced his taboo-breaking gay love story The Consequence in 1977 and the fantasy film The Neverending Story – at the time the most expensive German film – in 1984 as well as being the distributor of his international breakthrough hit The Boat in 1981.

“Many producers are interested, above all, in the financial successes, but Bernd was different,” Petersen recalled. “He always had the creative side in mind. His drive was the creative implacability.”

In addition, the German Film Academy’s president Iris Berben tried to put the loss for his friends into words: “Bernd was the heart of his films. The heart that beat for the people he held in esteem was even bigger.”

In a communique, the Film Academy added: “With Bernd Eichinger, the German cinema has lost from one moment to the next its most creative, active, committed, dazzling, courageous and striking personality.”

Eichinger had been one of the architects of the Film Academy which was finally established in September 2003, and he was awarded the German Film Awards Honorary Prize at the Lolas ceremony in Berlin last April.

Eichinger had been currently working on writing the screenplay for a film about the life of Natascha Kampusch, who was held prisoner in an Austrian cellar.

In another radio interview, 38-year-old producer Christian Becker of Ratpack Entertainment - whose credits include such films as Jerry Cotton, Der Wixxer and Wickie The Strong Viking, spoke of how Eichinger was an inspiration for him and his fellow students during their time at Eichinger’s alma mater, Munich’s Academy for Television and Film (HFF). “Naturally, he had the function of a role model for us all when we came to film school.“ Becker said. “He was the Übervater who hovered above us, someone we admired, revered and liked”.

In an interview with Deutschlandradio Kultur on Tuesday evening, Berlinale director Dieter Kosslick described Eichinger as „a maniac in the positive sense, a great guy who simply wanted to make films, and he also really had a nose for commerce. He was a stable pillar of the German film industry and he really did see it as an industry.”

“Who else would have dared to make Perfume? Eichinger was something like a German tycoon, perhaps our last,” Kosslick added. In his opinion, the film Rossini was the best among Eichinger’s 70-odd productions “because it is about the film business and shows that he had a sense of humour and could make fun of himself.”

In the interview, Kosslick admitted that there may have been “a little bit of tension” between the producer and the Berlinale before he was appointed festival director in 2001, “but I always had a good and pleasant relationship with him and we often sent each other emails, albeit short ones like ‘Hey, you, super’, but he told me once that he thought it was great how the Berlinale had developed.”

Kosslick – who is one year older than Eichinger -  said they had even agreed on the producer being the president of the International Jury at the Berlinale at some point while Kosslick was still festival director.

The Berlinale announced today that as an homage to the late producer it will have a special screening on Feb 12 of Bernd Eichinger’s feature directorial debut A Girl Called Rosemarie which he made in 1996 as a series of “German Classics” commissioned by private broadcaster SAT.1. The remake of Rolf Thiele’s 1958 film of the same name starred Heiner Lauterbach and the young discovery Nina Hoss who is a member of this year’s International Jury at the Berlinale.

Meanwhile, the ARD network has changed its schedules to show the feature film version of Downfall tonight and The Neverending Story on Friday in honour of Eichinger, and the pay TV platform Sky is planning a day of Eichinger productions this Saturday with such films as Fantastic Four, The Name Of The Rose, and Nowhere In Africa.

Germany’s leading celebrity, gossip and lifestyle magazine Bunte is publishing a 10-page special edition in memory of Eichinger to appear on the newstands on Thursday in a print run of 120,000 alongside the normal weekly issue.