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Tom Cruise revives former Nazi studio

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Thursday, July 19, 2007
Hollywood actor Tom Cruise is to use Nazi Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels' Babelsberg Studios, in Berlin, to film a story of the man who tried to kill Hitler.

The film titled Valkyrie has already stirred up a fierce debate about whether Cruise, a leading scientologist, is suitable to play the role of Claus von Stauffenberg, who led a plot to assassinate Hitler in 1944, reports The Telegraph. There is strong opposition to Scientology in Germany, where the government has described it as a "cult".

At Babelsberg, however, there is a sense of relief to be making films, as till a few years ago, plans were afoot to shut the film studio down, when Vivendi, the French-owned media group, sold the loss-making enterprise after pumping in 300 million pounds in abid to keep it going. Henning Molfenter, Babelsberg's production chief, described it as hard going because Vivendi didn't have a clear vision of what to do with the studio.

"Now however, Valkyrie is just one of a host of big-budget international productions that are queuing up to film in a studio that is suddenly in the Hollywood spotlight," he said. Currently, Speed-racer, a blockbuster version of a Japanese cartoon, which is being shot by the directors of the Matrix films and stars Susan Sarandon and John Goodman, is being filmed. On the sprawling Babelsberg stages, a few miles south-west of Berlin, teams of carpenters and prop handlers are working furiously to transform warehouse-sized sets into visions of the future.

Founded in 1911, the studios gained early celebrity with the filming of Fritz Lang's Metropolis in 1927 and the bewitching performance of Marlene Dietrich in The Blue Angel, in 1930. From then until the Second World War, almost 100 films were completed at Babelsberg every year. Among those working there was Leni Riefenstahl, who came to the attention of Goebbels, and went on to film the infamous Nuremberg rally for Triumph of the Will. As the Nazis cemented their grip on power, the studio fell further under the sway of Goebbels. Under his command, some of the Nazis' most notorious films were shot at Babelsberg, including the anti-Semitic Jud Suss (1940), aimed at whipping up anti-Jewish sentiment.

After the war, with Babelsberg under East German control, it continued to produce hundreds of films, but it was only after re-unification that an effort was made to restore its glorious, pre-propaganda, past. Valkyrie is one of the first films to benefit, winning almost four million pounds in federal funding.

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