DENKmal-Film Verhaag

Bertram Verhaag

Director and Producer

 

Born in Sosnowitz (Upper Silesia). Studied Sociology and Economics.

Spent three years as a freelance employee at the Munich’s Department of Town Planning

Graduate of the Munich College of Film and Television

In 1976, co-founded DENKmal-Film Production. As a producer, author and director, he has made over 120 films for cinema and television.

For over 30 years, Bertram Verhaag has been making documentary films with his own production company, DENKmal-Film Verhaag. Those three decades have seen the realisation of over 120 productions, including eight feature-length films. As a producer, author and director, Bertram Verhaag continues to engage unflinchingly with political, environmental and social issues. He has probably won more awards for his films than any other German documentary maker.

Verhaag is dedicated to making films which bolster democracy and educate people – in the broadest possible sense. He aims to motivate others through his films by focusing on protagonists who, themselves, engage with important social questions. His films stem from the belief that nobody should submit to the idea that “there’s nothing I can do about it, anyway”!

During the 1980s, the Bertram Verhaag’s proximity to the Upper Palatinate area of Bavaria meant that he was motivated to make three films exploring the proposed nuclear reprocessing plant at Wackersdorf, and the unprecedented local resistance movement which, eventually, succeeded in preventing the plant’s coming into operation. The best-known of these three film is Spaltprozesse (“Nuclear Split”), whose title refers not only to the process of nuclear fission, but also to the deliberate splitting of the population into supporters and opponents of the nuclear facility.

Within only a few months of its release, Verhaag’s film Life Running out of Control (2004, 95 minutes) quickly became Germany’s go-to work on genetic engineering.

Life Running out of Control takes the viewer on a trip around the globe, presenting compelling evidence that genetic engineering is not, as its proponents claim, the logical “next step” for conventional agriculture, but actually a complete departure from everything that has gone before: a high-risk undertaking totally lacking in democratic legitimacy. In the six years since its release, consistently high DVD sales have been testament to the huge success of Life Running out of Control. The film is used as an informational resource by individuals, schools, youth organizations, NGOs and political parties. In Bavaria, where DENKmal-Film is based, 2,000 DVD copies of the film have been distributed to teachers, along with educational material for use in schools.

Verhaag’s latest film, Scientists under Attack – Genetic engineering in the magnetic field of money (2010, 88 minutes) was screened to great acclaim in German and Austrian cinemas throughout 2011. Scientists under Attack is a documentary thriller on genetic engineering and the independence of science. It illustrates the fate of those few scientists – such as Árpád Pusztai and Ignacio Chapela – who undertake independent research in the field of genetic engineering and who are punished mercilessly as a result, through character assassination and the withdrawal of their means of research. Pusztai and Chapela represent the many respected scientists whose careers have been ruined in this way, after they published research the biotech industry found unpalatable. Statements from scientists themselves suggest that 95% of those conducting research in the field of genetic engineering are funded to do so by industry. Just 5% are independent. The situation is clearly incompatible with principles of freedom of thought – and with democracy. The question is: Can we, the public, still trust our scientists?

Over the last ten years, Bertram Verhaag has made nine films exploring aspects of genetic engineering. Given the frustrating nature of the topic, however, he sees it as vital to also illustrate the other side of the story by portraying people who have consciously chosen to produce food in an ecological, holistic and sustainable way. In doing so, his aim is not only to provoke thought but also to encourage viewers to take action. The fifth film in this series, Der Bauer der das Gras wachsen hört (“The Farmer Who Hears the Grass Growing”) has so far won nine accolades, including “Best Ecological Film” at the Greenscreen Festival 2010.

Despite the pressure on filmmakers to achieve high viewing figures by whatever means, Bertram Verhaag has never abandoned his commitment to making high-quality documentaries. His approach is not to swamp audiences with information, but rather to allow them to relate to the protagonists. In doing so, he creates films that are accessible, engaging and enlightening. The resounding response, reflected in numerous international awards, confirms the success of this approach. Verhaag’s films on the topic of genetic engineering have won 19 prizes so far.

DENKmal Film’s productions serve society as a whole. DENKmal is, in the truest sense, a “social business”. As a filmmaker, Bertram Verhaag sees himself as an active participant in the movement towards more humanity, greater respect for nature, and sustainability. He encourages his audiences to think, to engage - and to act.

From the outset, Verhaag has taken the approach of making several films on any given topic: for example, nuclear energy and democracy (5 films), racism (2 films), genetic engineering (9 films) and sustainable agriculture (8 films). His works helped to defeat the plans for a reprocessing plant at Wackersdorf and to drive forward the movement against nuclear energy. His films on genetic engineering have encouraged countless people to actively engage with, and resist, this deeply flawed technology. Life Running out of Control has served as a catalyst for the establishment of a citizens’ movement and for the ever-growing GM-free regions.

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