Magic Moments of Music: Franco Zeffirelli’s La Bohème

Magic Moments of Music: Franco Zeffirelli’s La Bohème

Magic Moments of Music: Franco Zeffirelli's La Bohème

A film by Anaïs Spiro, ZDF/arte und UNITEL, 43 min.

This magic moment with music by Giacomo Puccini and artworks by Zeffirelli opens a window into the tender and melancholically intimate story of Mimì in bohemian Paris. The studio-made opera film was the first musical to be directed by Herbert von Karajan and was Franco Zeffirelli’s first opera film production. 

Zeffirelli’s production of La Bohème at La Scala in Milan was such a resounding success that Herbert von Karajan and Zeffirelli were compelled to turn it into an opera film. The soundtrack, featuring the choir and orchestra of the Milan Scala and the renowned ensemble of Mirella Freni, Gianni Raimondi, Rolando Panerai, Ivo Vinco, Gianni Maffeo, Adriana Martino, was recorded first. The stage was recreated in a film studio and the  production was shot in Technicolor – the best film technology available at the time.  The young Mirella Freni, who sang the role of Mimì for over 50 years, gained fame the world over, not least because of her natural and pure voice.

The screen adaptation of Puccini’s masterpiece of La Bohème was a bold attempt to marry the art of film with the opera stage. Zeffirelli’s staging and the film’s international success have made La Bohème one of the most-performed operas of all time. The original production has been revived again and again and is still performed today.

South African soprano Pretty Yende, who was a student of Mirella Freni and later sang in Franco Zeffirelli’s production of La Bohème, recounts her experiences with her mentor. As a very young tenor, Franco-Italian singer Roberto Alagna sang alongside Mirella Freni in the Zeffirelli production and is grateful to count himself among the great tenors, alongside Pavarotti and Carreras – thanks in large part to this performance of La Bohème.

Decarbonize: Can We Cool the Planet?

Decarbonize: Can We Cool the Planet?

Decarbonize: Can We Cool the Planet?

A Film by Marvin Entholt, 52min, 2023

Our planet is getting warmer – that’s clear. But how can we cool it down? Worldwide, research is being carried out into different ways of getting climate-damaging carbon dioxide under control. The film shows eight of these methods and has three leading minds in climate research evaluate them. One is the application of ground rock dust to our fields, which is currently being tested in Bavaria. Does the natural process of weathering really bind Co2 long-term? Direct air capturing is very promising: can the huge filter systems like those in Iceland extract enough gas from the air? Or is the reforestation of mangrove forests, which is being advanced in Bangladesh, the key to lowering the temperature? Or is it products made from algae, produced in a climate-friendly way, that will bring us a decisive step forward? Still others rely on pyrolysis, which binds greenhouse gases in biochar that end up as fertilizer on our soils or are mixed into concrete as a cement substitute. Can this help the climate-damaging construction sector to reduce CO2 emissions? Or is building with wood the key?

Each of these methods offers advantages, yet none is without its pitfalls. But which ones are promising, which ones are still too vague? Three climate researchers evaluate the methods for us: Prof. Jan Minx from the Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change (MCC), the US American, Prof. Jennifer Wilcox from the US Office of Fossil Energy and Carbon Management, and Prof. Julia Pongratz geoscientist at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität in Munich.

“Decarbonize” is an inventory of the options that humanity currently has at its disposal to cool the climate. It clearly shows how urgent the need for action is and – it gives hope. We can still suceed.

Betrifft: Wohnen ab 60 – Wo leben im Alter?

Betrifft: Wohnen ab 60 – Wo leben im Alter?

Betrifft: Wohnen ab 60 - Wo leben im Alter?

A film by Jonas Geisler and Peter Podjavorsek, 45 min., SWR, 2023

The topic of housing is associated with challenges in old age. How do you avoid loneliness when you no longer have any colleagues and the children have long since moved out? What do you do if your health fails you at some point or your finances are no longer sufficient for your current home? Karin Stütz and Gereon Niekamp, both soon to retire, visit housing projects that are especially suitable for older people.

Gereon owns his own home, Karin lives in rented accommodation. Both know that they will have to adapt their living situation in retirement. To gather ideas, the two set off on a journey through the southwest of the country. They visit a multigenerational house where young and old live in community. They take a look at a farm for senior citizens, where the residents are actively involved. They learn about real estate pensions, find a senior student shared apartment and much more. It is important for them to look for answers early on to the question: Where do we want to live in old age?

The General and the Electrician – Power Struggle in Poland

The General and the Electrician – Power Struggle in Poland

The General and the Electrician - Power Struggle in Poland

A Film by Holger Preuße, WDR/ARTE, 43/52min, 2021

They are two people who could not be more different: Here, the general who had made his career in the party and the military, eventually rising to become the most powerful man in Poland; there, the electrician who challenged the powerful and became the leader of the first independent and free trade union in a socialist country. In the winter of 1981, the situation escalated and the military and state leader, General Wojciech Jaruzelski, knew no other way to contain the growing influence of the Solidarność union under his leader, Lech Wałęsa, than to impose martial law on December 13th.

Now, 40 years later, the film looks back on the biographies of the two dissimilar men who were closely interwoven for a decade – until the trained electrician succeeded General Jaruzelski in the office of President in December 1990.

The film tells the story of the battle between two rivals and lets close confidants and contemporary witnesses have their say. For example, the union leader and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Lech Wałęsa; the co-founder of Solidarność, Bogdan Borusewicz, who called on Wałęsa to take part in the great strike in August 1980; Wałęsa’s collaborator Anna Maria Mydlarska; former Le Monde Poland correspondent Bernard Guetta; the underground fighter and documentarist of Polish martial law Małgorzata Niezabitowska; Jaruzelski’s press spokesman Jerzy Urban and Stanislaw Ciosek, who on behalf of Jaruzelski conducted political negotiations with Wałęsa during his internment.

With the help of archive material and interviews, the documentation revives the turbulent times in Poland in the 1980s, thus providing an insight into this important chapter of contemporary European history. The GDR civil rights activist and long-time head of the Stasi Documentation Authority, Roland Jahn, believes that the fall of the Berlin Wall would not have been possible without the political events in Poland in the 1980s.

At the end of the film, Lech Wałęsa sums it up in his well-known pragmatic way: “I’m not a classical politician. I actually didn’t want it, I just filled it out. I was raised with the ambition that if I set out to do something, I have to get the best out of myself. “

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Paul Dessau – Paul Dessau  Let’s hope for the Best

Paul Dessau – Paul Dessau Let’s hope for the Best

Der Komponist Paul Dessau - Von Hamburg über Hollywood in die DDR

Ein Film von Anne-Kathrin Peitz, 53 min., NDR/ARTE 2023

Paul Dessau (1894-1979) has been a violin prodigy, became Otto Klemperer’s assistant and finally an accomplished conductor. He wrote operetta and film music – from mountain films with Leni Riefenstahl by director Arnold Fanck to Walt Disney’s animated films. Born in Hamburg, he was a soldier in World War I and a Jewish exile in France and the USA in WWII. In Hollywood, he meanwhile worked on a chicken farm and wrote the sounds for some celluloid blockbusters as an anonymous “music slave” for the major studios.

As a convinced communist, Paul Dessau settled over to the GDR in 1948. He worked with Bertolt Brecht as well as his fourth wife, the stage directing idol Ruth Berghaus, and had a significant influence on the socialist music scene and stage art. He became a music teacher for children at his son Maxim’s school in Zeuthen. His works were taught in schools, his “Thälmann-Kolonne” became soon very popular, but at the same time he was condemned as a formalist because of his often idiosyncratic tonal language. He became a GDR state composer who was mainly celebrated on the outside, but sharply criticized on the inside.

With over 430 works to his name, Paul Dessau has been what a workaholic is being called, with his explosive, often unwieldy sound language an inconvenient man who wanted to change society and help shape it: “Music is not a medium for relaxation. Absolutely not. There are pills or walking for that, which is cheaper. Music is really exhausting – to make and to listen to.”

Who has this man of conviction been, who truly fought for musical innovation and clung to the communist idea with almost naïve steadfastness? Who was this person whose appearance could be just as ornery and edgy, witty and contradictory, laconic or loving as his music?


“Paul Dessau: Let’s hope for the best” by Anne-Kathrin Peitz sketches an artist’s life between conformity and repulsion, political idealism and musical individuality, in which the changeable German-German history of the 20th century is strikingly condensed as if under a burning glass.

The film portrait consciously traces the contradictions in Dessau’s character, life and work and embeds the man and his music in the historical context. The cinematic approach to the protagonist and his sound cosmos becomes a jigsaw puzzle, both literally and figuratively, whose individual – often disparate – pieces slowly come together to form an overall picture.

In staged concert scenes, artists translate his sound into body language and tongue-in-cheek cartoons his song humoresques into associative picture stories. Musicians play in quarries, orchestral works become music clips, pupils of the “Paul Dessau” comprehensive school in Zeuthen walk in the footsteps of their namesake. Historical recordings evoke the world and stations of Dessau’s life, and the composer himself has his say in rarely shown archive scenes. In addition, interview partners – from politician Gregor Gysi to former concert hall director Frank Schneider or the American jazz composer Jack Cooper as well as composer and pianist Steffen Schleiermacher – try to create a portrait of Paul Dessau not only with words, but actually by doing a puzzle.