Munich, February 22nd 2019
For the 18th time the Bernhard Wicki Memorial Fund will be honoring the work of outstanding film makers. The prize is awarded to German and international films that stand out both in terms of their artistic vision and the human and political dimension they convey. Roundabout 50 symbolic bridge piers have been awarded since 2002. The first winner to receive one of these unique sculptures on June 25th 2019 has just been announced: director Michael Bully Herbig will receive The German Peace Award for Film -The Bridge for his spellbinding thriller Balloon. Balloon tells the true story of families Strelzyk and Wetzel who dared to escape from East Germany in a handmade hot air balloon in 1979. One of the most spectacular flights of East German history..
Michael Bully Herbig is known as one of Germany´s most successfull directors, writers, producers and actors. After mostly working on comedies, he ventured on new terrain with his first “serious” movie, and with Balloon he delivered a breathtaking thriller full of suspense and tension. Herbig himself says: ” We are telling the story of courageous people who wanted freedom and sincerely believed in their goal. That´s what makes their story, which simultaneously is a part of our Geman-German history, so fascinating.”
Herbig´s storytelling causes breathless suspense throughout the movie, so the jury of the Peace Award. He describes the environment of the two families, the prevailing circumstances, the constant patronizing and the threat of the GDR just as credibly and competently as the insanity of making a hot air balloon with hundreds of yards of secretly bought fabric. The movie shows a family that cannot reconcile with the stifling circumstances and who see no alternative but a risky flight. Growing fear and anxiety compulsively end in a psychosis that could easily cause a total breakdown. The jury continues that he staged these problems, fears, and misgivings of the families just as convincingly as their courage and solidarity. Herbig has assembeld a fine cast with Friedrich Mücke, Karoline Schuch, David Kross and Alicia von Rittberg, they are fantastic and absolutly convincing. Thomas Kretschmann is outstanding in his role of the Stasi officer, rather subtle and low key, but subliminally always a threat, free of any kind of cliché.
Herbig shows a differentiated view of Thuringia in the late 70s, and the production design is far away from the usual bleak uniform grey. At the same time the director lets the audience experience the constant threat and strain in this state. Large parts of the story are told from the children´s point of view, which adds an additional emotional depth.
The jury´s statement: ” With Balloon Herbig has produced an immensely gripping and captivating movie about the freedom of every individual, a thriller with an extraordinary cast and great images. A deeply moving portrait of a family that risked everything for their freedom.”