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Far from being able to pride itself on a long as well as rich national cinematographical tradition, the Grand Duchy has only recently managed to find its place in the global audiovisual industry. A lot of Luxembourg films and co-productions were shown and awarded at major international festivals. Day after day, year after year, the country witnesses the growth of a new jewel in the crown of its economy: the audiovisual production.
The professionalization of the branch
Since the 1990s, co-productions with foreign companies have regularly attracted leading film stars to Luxembourg. John Malkovich, Nathalie Baye, Nicolas Cage, Gérard Depardieu, Catherine Deneuve, Philippe Noiret, Patrick Swayze, Joseph Fiennes, Jeremy Irons and Al Pacino are but some who have demonstrated their talents in the Grand Duchy. Alongside the cream of the crop, Luxembourg actors, directors, producers and technicians have known how to get a piece of the action and managed to make a name for themselves on the international roll of honour of cinema professionals.
This marks the birth of a national industry that has no reason to be jealous of its famous foreign peers, as a few figures will suffice to show: Luxembourg now boasts around 40 production companies, half a dozen of which regularly produce feature films, several animation studios as well as around 30 specialist services enterprises.
This young branch of activity occupies over 500 film-makers, both from Luxembourg and abroad, and produces 8 to 15 feature films per year. There are about forty directors among the film-makers, the majority of whom currently dedicate themselves to short films and documentaries.
1989 was to become a turning point for Luxembourg cinema. The Government decided to invest 15 million LUF (about EUR 372,000) in producing a film that was to be shot on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the country’s independence: Schacko Klak. The film was adapted from the novel of the same name by the Luxembourg author Roger Manderscheid, the story of his own childhood during the Second World War in a village not far away from the Luxembourg capital.
After this experience Luxembourg producers have drown the conclusion that it was time to heave their production structures to a professional level. As a result, the Luxembourg Government decides to promote this new aspect of the Grand Duchy. With no real tradition of motion pictures to lean on, Luxembourg acquires the means to create one.
The Film Fund of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg (Fonds national de soutien à la production audiovisuelle), founded in 1990, is the official authority in charge of the promotion and development of the audiovisual sector. The fund implements the sum of the audiovisual production support policies.
As a result, the cinema sector in Luxembourg developed extremely rapidly during the 1990s.
While some 110 films of all genres (documentaries, feature-length films, shorts and news reports) were produced between 1899 and 1989, 120 were produced between 1990 and 1999. Most of which were shorts.
In 1992, the film Hochzäitsnuecht by Pol Cruchten was the first 100% Luxembourg feature film presented at the Cannes Festival (in the Un Certain Regard section). Subsequently it won the Max Ophüls prize at the Festival of the same name in Saarbrücken/Germany.
The Luxembourg Government continued its efforts to support the audiovisual sector, particularly through production agreements with foreign countries. Memorandums of agreement on audiovisual relations were signed in 1994 with Quebec and in 1996 with Canada. Other motion picture agreements were signed in 2001 with France and in 2002 with Germany.
In the absence of a domestic market enabling to make a feature film profitable, most national companies focused on co-productions with foreign companies. On the other side, foreign producers increasingly called upon their Luxembourg colleagues to set up their projects.
The Luxembourg co-productions above all, produced over the past five years partially in the Grand Duchy, bear witness to the success achieved by the various efforts of the Luxembourg Government to support the audiovisual sector:
From Venice to Esch-sur-Alzette
After shooting several scenes in Venice, the film crew from Secret Passage set up on the industrial wasteland Terres Rouges in Esch-sur-Alzette. Within a mere six months, some 300 craftsmen and labourers transformed six hectares of this abandoned site to make it look like Venice at the end of the 16th century. The sets were designed by Miljen Kreka Kljakovic.
Cinénygma Luxembourg and Lëtzebuerger Filmpräis
Organized in collaboration with the Film Fund and the multiplex Utopolis, the Cinénygma Luxembourg International Film Festival presents around 30 European and international films on an annual basis, a competition for feature-length and short films, and the now traditional Fantasy Film Night (four films in succession).
A total of four awards are issued at this festival: the 'Grand prix Cynénigma' awarded to the festival’s best feature film, the 'Mélies d’argent' which goes to the best European fantasy film, the People’s Award and the Jury Prize for the best short film.
In 2003, the first Lëtzebuerger Filmpräis was also awarded as part of a week devoted entirely to national productions. The objective of this award is to reward the best contributions to Luxembourg cinema.
In recent years only two feature-length fiction films have been shot in the Luxembourg language (Back in Trouble, 1997, and Le Club des chômeurs, 2002), both by Andy Bausch. Moreover, only eight directors from or living in Luxembourg (Andy Bausch, Pol Cruchten, Paul Scheuer, Geneviève Mersch, Laurent Brandenbourger, Paul Kieffer, Frank Hoffmann and Luis Galvão Teles) have made feature-length films.
Le Club des chômeurs by Andy Bausch was a huge success when it was released in 2002, with an audience of over 40,000 spectators. Luxembourg actors such as Thierry van Werveke, Myriam Muller, André Jung, Marco Lorenzini, Fernand Fox and Luc Feit were top of the bill. In 2004 was shot the sequel of this comedy of historic success, La Revanche, written by Andy Bausch, Jean-Louis Schlesser and Nicolas Steil. The film leans of course on the main characters of Le Club des chômeurs as well as on new characters played by actors with various backgrounds and it is part of Luxembourg’s reality of today, modern, multicultural and multilingual.
In 2002, Geneviève Mersch, a Luxembourg director who had already made a name for herself with high-profile short films and documentaries, shot her first feature film, J’ai toujours voulu être une sainte ('I always wanted to be a saint'). In 2003, this film was awarded the Zénith d’or for the best first feature film at the Montreal World Film Festival. At the first awards ceremony of the Lëtzebuerger Filmpräis 2003 the film won the award for 'Best Luxembourg Feature Film'.
In 2001, Pol Cruchten shot Boys on the Run in English in the United States.
Black Dju (1996), also by Pol Cruchten, starring Philippe Léotard and the Cape Verdian singer Cesaria Evora, has been shown at many festivals throughout the world.
Luis Galãvo Teles directed Fado Blues in 2002.
In 2002 the Luxembourger Laurent Brandenbourger co-directed his first feature film together with the Belgian Philippe Boon Petites Misères, which starred Marie Trintignant.
In 2001, Wiroth had similar success with his short film Ere Mela Mela. Among other awards, it won the Hans Züllig Prize for the best dance film at the 52nd Montecatini International Short Film Festival in Italy. Dan Wiroth reappeared in 2003 with a new dance film called If not Why not. This film received the award for 'Best Short Film' at the first edition of the Lëtzebuerger Filmpräis.
Im Anfang war der Blick ('In the Beginning was the Eye') by the Luxembourg director Bady Minck appeared in the Official Selection in the Directors’ Fortnight at the Cannes Festival in May 2003.
Founded in 1989, the CNA (Centre national de l'audiovisuel) files the national productions and, more generally, all films produced or co-produced in the Grand Duchy. Furthermore, it stores the entity of all film, video and audio materials of RTL Télé Lëtzebuerg and it disposes of a considerable collection of family films. The CNA produces and co-produces documentaries on the basis of archived films (Little Big One, Histoires de jeunesse, D’Lëtzebuerger am Tour de France, Ons Arméi).
In 1997, in co-operation with the Film Fund Luxembourg and ULPA (Union of Luxembourg Audiovisual Producers), the CNA launched a programme named Films made in Luxembourg, created to distribute documentaries on the Grand Duchy on videocassettes, as well as fictional films; additionally, the programme proposes to broadcast these films regularly on national television.
In December 2003 the CNA issued a very striking documentary by Andy Bausch called L’homme au cigare, which was rated best film of the year at the first edition of the Lëtzebuerger Filmpräis together with Geneviève Mersch’s J’ai toujours voulu être une sainte.
The documentary Heim ins Reich, directed by Claude Lahr and produced by the CNA, was a huge success in 2004. It was the first time a Luxembourg film arrived in first place at the box office in the Grand Duchy and the first time the box office was dominated by a documentary.
Certain Luxembourg studios started to specialize in animated films at the beginning of the 1990s. Since then, the sector has achieved several unchallenged successes and a real industrial platform, internationally recognized, has been created in the Grand Duchy.
Animated films launched or co-produced by Luxembourg studios are:
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