Documentaries about people and their worlds


Helpless heroes - Whistleblower without protection

A documentary by Caroline Nokel and Valentin Thurn

A production for WDR

TV-Premiere: 22nd november 2018, 23.25, WDR

Further broadcasts:

16.12.2018, 22.50, tagesschau24.de

19.12.2018, 21.02, tagesschau24.de

20.12.2018, 09.30, tagesschau24.de

20.02.2019, 21:45, HR

Rudolf Schmenger should be punished, as 70 other tax investigators from the Frankfurter tax office. The officials opposed their superiors, who demanded that they let many cases of tax evasion pass to Luxembourg. The authorities sidelined them, and little by little they all gave up. Almost all. Over fifteen years after the scandal there is still Rudolf Schmenger.

He won the court in all instances, but he has not been rehabilitated until today. How did he endure that? His case went through the press, but did he make a difference in Germany? Are the whistleblowers better today?


Valentin Thurn is on the search. Unfortunately, in employment law, it still looks bad: whistleblowers can even be fired if they report a criminal act by the employer. To change that, a whistleblower protection law was already planned in the coalition agreement of the last government but was never implemented. While politics have remained inactive, many companies became active: In the last ten years many whistleblower hotlines were developed, of course, out of self-interest, in order to prevent grievance in the press. But is that enough?


Director and author: Valentin Thurn and Caroline Nokel

Camera: Dieter Stürmer, Gerardo Milsztein and Boris Fromageot

Editor: Frederic Sapart

Commissioning editor: Angelika Wagner

Leave the Coal in the Earth - Red Line for the Climate

A film by Karin de Miguel Wessendorf

A production for WDR

First showing: 9th of november 2017, 23:25

29th of april 2019, 21.00, HR

Year of production: 2017

Length: 30 min.

While the World climat summit is beeing held in Bonn, resistance is forming in the Hambacher Forst, just 70 kilometers in the rhenisch lignite mining area. A film about forest occupants, citizens' initiatives and committed church members, a moral portrait of the regional fight against global warming.

Almost 20000 participants, international diplomats, politicians and NGO’s are struggling in Bonn to slow down the global warming. While they are discussing the resistance is forming in the rhenisch lignite mining area. For many years activists have occupied the forest. “I’m not going to leave as long as they keep digging this hole”, says Clumsy, who lives in a tree house near to the opencut minging, to avoid further logging. The support by citizens' initiatives and environmental groups has grown significantly. In one of the biggest protest actions at the end of August, 3000 people, dressed in red, formed a red line on the route of the old A4. They showed that the excavators should stop here to save the remnants of the most contested forest in Germany and the surrounding villages.

Too good for the garbage - How we can save food

Three contributions by Florian Schneider for Quarks & Co. / WDR television
Editorial office WDR Claudia Heiss

First broadcast 22.10.2019, WDR

Further broadcasts 13.08.2020, WDR
Available in the media library until 22.10.2024

Nobody likes to throw food away, and yet it happens: at home, in the supermarket and at the manufacturers. 18 million tons of food end up in the bin every year in Germany. Quarks goes on a search and asks why so many good foods end up in supermarket containers.

Our meat - Organic or mass stock?

A film by Tatjana Mischke and Monika Kovacsics
A production for SWR

On german television: 26th of september 2018, 20.15, SWR

For many years, livestock farming was discussed only in specialist circles. But for some months now, the debate on ecological consequences and sustainability has widened. It's not just the greenies anymore, but also many conventional farmers themselves and even associations from the more conservative camp, who realize that things can not go on like this. The front of traditional industrial agriculture is crumbling.

Many conventional farmers earn less and less money in the current system and can barely survive. At the same time, we have been paying consumers for decades because the public must pay for the consequential costs, for example the nitrate pollution of groundwater by manure.

The film aims to show where the problems of the traditional agricultural system are and to present viable alternatives with concrete examples.


Director and Author: Tatjana Mischke and Monika Kovacsics

Camera: Stefan Arens

Sound: Philipp Klein

Editor: Frédéric Sapart

Producer: Valentin Thurn

Commissioning editor: Birte Gräper, Hans-Michael Kassel and Martin Schneider

Letter from Ewa

A film by Lin Sternal
A production of 3Sat, "Ab 18!"

First TV Screening: 06.11.2017, 23:40

A young woman leaves her home town in Eastern Poland and moves to Germany. Now she turns to an old friend with a letter to explain to her  the real reason for her move...

The film tells the story of a young Polish woman, who aborted her child a few years ago and is still suffering from this painful experience. Besides the traumatic experience itself, she is sentenced by the dealings of society and the the social pressure.

Climate Savers against electrical Giants

A film by Karin de Miguel-Wessendorf
First showing: 10.11.16, 22.40, WDR

The Rhenish brown coal field is the biggest source of CO2 in Europe. The opencast pit engulfes entire villages and also the Hambacher Forest. But some activists are fighting against this destruction. They live in up to thirty tree houses and try to stop the clearing of the valuable biotope. Also, the residents of the affected villages won't give up their homeland without a struggle - some stay as long as possible. They are supported by a citizens' initiative nearby, people who fear the same fate. And RWE, the energy group operating in strip mining, wants to reduce brown coal by 2045, is under increasing pressure, since church groups and local politicians have joined the resistance.

We have accompanied the protagonists for one year. For example Clumsy, who built a tree house at 18 meters height. For four years, he has been living at an altitude of 18 meters to prevent the dredges from moving forward. "By living in the tree house, I'm standing in their way." Or Lars Zimmer, one of the last inhabitants of Immerath. Most residents have already moved, but he does not want to leave his home: "If there was more resistance, RWE would not have a walk-over to raze these villages to the ground." And Antje Grothus from Buir, a few kilometers from the opencast mine in Hambach: "If we can not stop it, the excavators will be standing in front of our doors."

The School Experient -
Is There A Chance For Inclusion?

A film by Kadriye Acar

A production for WDR

On german television: ARD, 14.05.2017, 17:15 – 17:45

Jonas is currently on an integrative elementary school, his grades are very good. Both, teachers and parents believe that Jonas could go to high school. Actually, there is still time, because it is not until 2016 that he goes to the secondary school. But it's more difficult than with other children. Jonas has Down syndrome. All secondary schools, with which his parents have already made contact, have waved off. They do not want Jonas. Above all, the grammar schools are reserved. Although still a year is running, time is, too.
Inclusion (the common instruction for pupils with and without disability) is currently the most difficult task of schools. Parents and children meet at schools that are not prepared for them. And it often lacks money. But can it nevertheless succeed? And if so, what conditions must be fulfilled?

Beloved Bullshit Job

First showings: Thurdays, 17. + 24.11.16, 23:25, WDR

Two films by Jessica Krauss and Insa Onken

A coproduction with SCHNITTSTELLE KÖLN

Our series shows people, who want to get out of their virtual working world and back to a life, which doesn't seem to be taken out of context.

A life in which you finish what you started, take responsibility and succes is actually within reach: They want to become farmers.

We tell a story about people from the city, who work for their romantic dream of the country life.

The Business of Development Aid
- The Virtue of Multinationals​

A film by Caroline Nokel and Valentin Thurn

Production for NDR and ARTE

Exclusive preview on 2nd May 2017:
Zülpicher Straße 24
50674 Köln
More information in german here: Allerweltskino

TV screening on 9th May 2017:
20:15, ARTE

Special Prize of the Jury at the NaturVision Film Festival in Ludwigsburg (July 2018)

The private sector is increasingly engaged into public development aid. Facing a decrease in natural resources while the demand is growing, it is time to integrate corporate goals into those of development politics, politicians and entrepreneurs proclaim. World’s poverty and hunger can only be overcome, if the economy takes over and produces more food worldwide, they say.

The documentary, that is produced for the German TV-Channel “Arte”, takes a look at the efficiency of public-private partnerships in the development sector.  How do less developed countries profit from big private investments into their agriculture? How can you link the demand for profit and the goal to decrease hunger worldwide?

The Milk Rebels

A film by Karin de Miguel-Wessendorf and Valentin Thurn

The milk in the supermarket gets cheaper and cheaper. The consequence for the dairy farmers: increase or shut down! In the last decade, one-third of German dairy farmers have had to give up - the number of giant firms has also increased. In huge stables hundreds of cows stand close together. To ensure maximum performance, the animals do not reach the pasture even in the summer.

Also the dairies are getting bigger: multinational corporations like Arla or Friesland-Campina have taken over the small regional dairies and export milk to China. But they are also dependent on the price of the supermarkets, mainly by Aldi or Lidl. "Consumers are not honest with themselves," criticizes a farmer from Kleve in the Lower Rhine region. "They tell us they are ready to spend more on organic and regional food, but then we meet them all at ALDI." He thinks the farm dying is inevitable, only large farms are competitive: "We can not go on with the romantic agriculture as we had it 20, 30 years ago, the hard reality is, only the one who can handle the costs will survive."

But some small dairy farmers dare to stand up against the development on the dairy market: they rely on direct marketing and better prices. For example, a farmer from the district of Soest, who founded a peasant dairy with others in order to get rid of the quoted price of the giants.

Or a young farmer from the Siegerland region: "Already in training, we are told that we should invest in larger stables, but I would like an agriculture in family hand in which every animal is not just a number." In March 2015, the last protection for small farmers will fall: with the EU-wide end of the milk quota. If the dairy market is liberalized, many fear a new price decline. It is a fight like David against Goliath, because they can't rely on the support of the peasant federation and the federal government. Those have decided long ago that modern agriculture can only function in large structures.


A coproduction with SCHNITTSTELLE KÖLN

A production of WDR and NDR

This is the story of people who are fighting for a different way to deal with food. Farmers, supermarket executives, cooks, design students and completely normal households: all at their points in the production chain, in the course of which over half the food is still being thrown away. They are fighting for a new appreciation of food, an appreciation that, piece by piece, has gone by the wayside in recent years. Their examples raise the question: Why is it so difficult to counteract this waste of food? We analyze each point of the production chain, why throwing away even pays off from a purely business management point of view, yet poses a catastrophe for the environment and for feeding the world. And what kinds of approaches toward solutions make sense. The commentary pursues the basic issue: If politics and society have already formulated the clear-cut goal to stop food waste, then why is it so hard to make this goal a reality? At the end of the film the insight should arise that the situation deals with a ‘task of the century’, a state of affairs that can only be brought to a halt in our system of doing business when economic pressure is built up in the direction of waste prevention.

Killer Germs

A film by Frank Bowinkelmann and Valentin Thurn

A production for ARTE and NDR

„If a livestock is deseased or threatened by illnesses as for instance the flu, we absolutely  need to have the possibility to come back to antibiotics.” If you ask farmers why exactly such a huge amount of antibiotics is applied in animal feed, this kind of argument is often used. In Germany, over 1700 tons of antibiotics a year are in the field - in France it is even twice the amount. As a consequence, more and more resistant germs are comprising in the barns, two in particular: the so called MRSA and ESBL-germ. But not only are they resistant to most of the antibiotics used, they can even be found in our food. Thus, since they were found in our meat as well as on vegetables, they do not only mean a potential health threat for farmers who are in direct contact with animals and barns, but also for the average consumer. However,  how did these pathogens get there and what might be the consequences, if we are incorporating them? Questions that Frank Bowinkelmann and Valentin Thurn want to find an answer for by talking to scientists, farmers, veterinarians and doctors in Germany, Denmark and the Netherlands.

Less Is More

A film by Karin de Miguel Wessendorf

​A production for ARTE

Is there prosperity without economic growth? Throughout Europe, the film searches for examples showing the way towards a post-growth economy. Filmmaker Karin de Miguel Wessendorf wants to find out how sustainable her own life style is. We accompany the author on a trip through Europe. She searches answers to the questions: „What I must change, so that my life style is sustainable? And what can I renounce without loss of quality of life?“ she visits people, initiatives and enterprises that have recognised that economic growth cannot be the measure of all things.

Fresh to the Trash - The Global Foodwaste

A film by Valentin Thurn

A coproduction with SCHNITTSTELLE KÖLN


More than half of our food is going straight to the garbage! Most of it gets thrown away on the way from the field to the shop before it reaches our dining table at all: every second lettuce, every second potato and every fifth bread. This makes approximately 500,000 truck loads per year. Director Valentin Thurn has researched the extent of this waste internationally - in the waste containers of the major markets, warehouses and supermarkets. He has documented overwhelming quantities of impeccable food, partly still in original packaging, often with a still valid minimum shelf life. Up to 20 million tons of food are disposed of every year in Germany alone. And they are getting more and more!
Valentin Thurn talks with supermarket managers, bakers, supermarket inspectors, ministers, farmers and EU politicians in the search for the causes.
What he finds is a global system in which everyone is involved. Everything should be available at all times, supermarkets offer the whole range of goods throughout, until late in the evening the bread on the shelves must be fresh, strawberries are available in all seasons. And everything has to look perfect: a wilted salad leaf, a crack in the potato, a dent in the apple - immediately the product will be sorted out. Yoghurt cups end up in the rubbish bin two days before their minimum shelf life expires.
The fact that half of the food produced is already waste has a devastating effect on the world climate. Agriculture consumes huge amounts of energy, water, fertilizers, pesticides and the rainforest, which is responsible for more than a third of the greenhouse gases. When food rots on the rubbish dump, methane gas, which has an effect on global warming 25 times as much as carbon dioxide, escapes.
The desire of consumers to be able to consume anything at any time also aggravates global hunger. The rising price of wheat shows that today the industrialized countries buy their food on the world market as well as the developing countries. If we were to discard less, we would have to buy less; The prices would fall and there would be more ressources for the hungry.
But there is also another side: Valentin Thurn finds people around the world who try to stop the insane waste: so-called garbage dumpsters who save food from the waste containers of the supermarkets, supermarket directors convincing their customers to buy less climate-damaging products, consumer services that bring farmers and customers together directly. Small steps, however, which could do a lot: if we only reduce the food waste by half in the industrialized countries, this would have the same effect on the world climate as if we did without any second car.

Life In-Between -
People Between Sexes

A film by Britta Dombrowe

A production for ZDF

Almost every 5.000th baby that is born is neither man nor woman. In Germany alone there areabout 80.000 intersexual people. But rare is known about their lives "in between" the sexes. We accompany the intersexual Christiane Völling, who's female internal sex organs where removed in a surgery without her knowledge when she was 17. The five year old "girl" Inge will have the chance to make her own decision. After her puberty she can decide: man, woman or in between.

Guillaume Depardieu - "This is hell!"

A film by Valentin Thurn
A film for  the Arte-Themenabend „Tatort Krankenhaus“

Link to ARD report

Many cinemagoers celebrated Gérard Depardieu's son, Guillaume, as the greatest newcomer to french cinema. But things went wrong. In 1995 the 24-year-old had to be operated on the knee after a motorcycle accident. During the procedure the hospital sprout MRSA penetrated the wound. There was no definite cure, either by 17 operations or by antibiotics. In 2003, Guillaume Depardieu made a tough decision. To put an end to his unbearable pain, he had his right leg amputated.
In the fight against the killer germs, the actor founded the "Guillaume Depardieu Foundation" and in talkshows drew attention to unsustainable conditions in French hospitals. He threatened the health minister with a "crusade" if the government did not go against the conditions in the hospitals. Soon he had to realize that the mass of the inquiries overwhelmed him. He gave his life's work to the "Lien" association and concentrated on his career. While he was shooting in Romania, he fell ill with a lung inflammation. Suddenly everything went quickly. On 13 October 2008, Guillaume Depardieu died at the age of 37.
What is his legacy? His angry appearances on television raised public awareness of the danger of anti-antibiotics in France and caused political pressure. The health ministry, which previously reluctantly published figures on the problem, changed its course in 2003. Since then the diseases have been recorded and published nationwide. And patients can read how active their hospital is in the fight against the killer germ.
The reform is proving effective today: as the only European country, France has been able to reduce the number of infected patients in the last five years, while elsewhere the killer germ continue to spread in the hospitals.
Filmmaker Valentin Thurn talks in his documentary to Guillaume Depardieus ex-wive Elise. In addition, friends and colleagues get interviewed. The actor himself is present in numerous archive recordings from documentary and feature films.

The Whistleblower

A Film by Valentin Thurn

A coproduction with SCHNITTSTELLE KÖLN
A production for WDR

Link to whistleblower network

On the 30th of August, 2001, Rudolf Schmenger decided: “My loyalty to the Constitution outweighs my loyalty to my boss.”
Until then he had been an efficient tax investigator and had received a number of commendations from his employer, the Frankfurt Tax Office. His work on its behalf leads him to a major bank. While investigating he turns up evidence of tax evasion in which millions are being smuggled to accounts abroad. Without offering the slightest reason his employer enjoins him from pursuing these ‘cases’ any further. Presumably a politically motivated directive from the Hessian State Ministry of Finance. Why? Because investigations at banks would have a negative impact on this German state as a prime location for business and commerce.
“When it comes to tax evasion, it just can’t be that we hook the little ones and let the big ones go,” says Rudolf Schmenger. But, in the end, the Ministry of Finance closes down his department.
Rudolf Schmenger fights back – until the department chiefs eventually come up with a way to get rid of him: by commissioning an expert opinion. A psychiatrist attests that Rudolf Schmenger displays a bent towards ‘troublemaking’ and prescribes that he be declared ‘unfit for service for life’.
Against his will he is sent into early retirement in his early 40s. Meanwhile the Hessian Medical Council has accused the psychiatrist of having written a made-to-order expert opinion tailored to accommodate the interests of the state government. As Rudolf Schmenger battles to defend his reputation he has gathered more civil servants around him, people who, like him, want to do what their conscience tells them is right.
We use an investigative feature to re-open the “Schmenger Case” and ask: What enables this person to place his ethical principles above his personal career, despite hefty resistance?

Innocent Behind Bars

A film by Valentin Thurn

Link to website of Harry Wörz

Link to Song of Nadeem

It’s a nightmare any way you look at it: The day when a judge pronounces that fateful word “in the name of the people”: Guilty! Yet the convicted person knows: It wasn’t me. But no one believes them. 3 cases form the focus of this documentary. Donald Stellwag, who spent 9 years in jail for robbing a bank. A mere 2 weeks after he was set free, the real bank-robber was caught in the act. Harry Wörz, sentenced to 11 years in prison, released as innocent after 5 and now back in court again because the district attorney still feels that he is guilty as charged. And Andreas Kühn, who is trying to get his case retrialed while behind bars. Convinced that Andreas is innocent, his former boss is helping him along the way.

A Guide For Life

A film by Kadriye Acar by Valentin Thurn

A production of NDR

Link to ARD Themenwoche

“I would have become a more self-confident person if I had gotten to know Inge earlier. A lot of things would have been easier. I trust her more than I trust others because her help is honorary, which means it comes from the heart,” says 27-year-old Öznur Demir. She had looked for help towards achieving the German equivalent of a junior high-school diploma. And found Inge Alexy, a 69-year-old pensioner, at the project “Senioren-Lotsen” (‘Senior-Citizen Guides’). The honorary ‘godmother’ helps the young Turkish woman learn German and in her search to find a vacancy for vocational training.

Battling The Superbugs

A film by Valentin Thurn and Sabine Goette

Journalist price 2009 of the ARGUS-Stiftung

36th International Festival of Sustainable Development Films, Bratislava, Slowakei, 2009

International Science Film Festival, Athen, Griechenland, 2009

The worldwide spread of new superbacteria is making doctors worry. The most widespread and dangerous among these hospital germs is called MRSA (multi-resistant staphylococcus aureus). In Germany alone, 15,000 patients are infected with it each year; twice that figure in France. As the name implies, MRSA is resistant to commonly prescribed antibiotics. And this germ is becoming more and more aggressive. The number of medications that can still be deployed effectively against it is sinking from year to year. MRSA can lead to wound infections, pneumonia, sepsis, and can often be fatal. Throughout Europe, around 50,000 people die due to this killer germ each year.
Superbacteria like MRSA have been around for more than 40 years, but in countries like Germany or France the problem was underestimated for a long time. The consequence: The germ disperses itself so heavily that today clinics can barely keep it in check. Even the strictest preventive hygiene procedures are unable to drop the risk of infection during an operation to zero.
Ever since penicillin was discovered, doctors have relied on antibiotics to effectively fight bacterial infection. Yet as soon as a new drug was found, a few years later strains of bacteria existed that were already resistant against it. Their march onward proceeded fastest above all in those countries in which antibiotics were used as generously as possible. In contrast, fewer supergerms exist wherever they were dispensed more frugally and in a targeted manner.
Film-makers Valentin Thurn and Sabine Goette investigate the question: What is being done at European hospitals to stop the spread of hospital germs? How have doctors and staff in the Netherlands managed to reduce the number of illnesses due to MRSA to almost none? How do these new bacteria spread, germs against which no antibiotic around offers relief anymore? What hope is research offering in terms of vaccines? And: How are patients coping with the fact that they were infected with a superbacteria at a hospital and probably will never be rid of it again?

Food For Thought -
Living On Trash

A film by Britta Dombrowe and Valentin Thurn

A coproduction with SCHNITTSTELLE KÖLN

A production of WDR

“Hey, this bread is just fine!” Hanna exclaims, and she’s right about that. It looks appetising and has been sealed properly in plastic wrap. Nothing is apparent that makes it any different from the other loaves on the supermarket shelves, except that the 21-year-old has just fished it out of the rubbish. It’s been quite a while since Hanna bought her food at supermarkets: She does her food shopping at the dumpsters behind them instead.
“Dumpster diving” is the term these self-appointed recyclers of the left-over and discarded have given to their way of refusing to participate in the consumption cycle propagated by today’s throwaway society. Not out of need, out of personal conviction.
Concrete figures on just how much food is thrown away in Germany do not exist. At the wholesale market in Cologne alone, up to 10 tonnes accumulate on any normal market day. There are various reasons for this: Sometimes the printing on the label is sloppy, other times the refrigeration during transport didn’t comply with the standards. And yet, frequently it’s simply cheaper for wholesalers and retailers to toss out the food and purchase it new than to rent warehouses. “Then all that stuff, and I mean cases of it, lands in the bin,” is a fact that Jens from Cologne knows only too well. His time spent “diving” has meanwhile completely cut him from the ties that bound him to what was once a bourgeois existence. “I don’t have to bend over backwards for anybody, but freedom like this can get to be pretty tough.”
We accompany these recyclers of the left-over and discarded on their forays into “for-free land”. What kinds of freedom has their chosen lives brought them? What types of limits are they confronted with in terms of health, socially or even politically?

Sperm Donor Unknown -
Anna’s Quest To Find Her Father

A film by Valentin Thurn

A production of WDR

When Anna (28) learns from her mother that she was conceived via a sperm donor, the shock lames her at first. For weeks she gazes at family photo albums, constantly comparing her face in the mirror with those of her father and sisters.
Anna’s parents separated 8 years ago. Since then Anna has had only rare contact with her figurative father. Her two younger sisters were born naturally, though at the time a doctor had told the father that he was sterile. That was the reason why the parents made use of a sperm bank in Boston/USA to assist them back then.
' Anna travels to Boston to look for her genetic father. To put it more accurately, she goes there to find the ‘donor’, because she avoids using the word ‘father’ in this context: “I already have a father!” The quest proves to be difficult because Pauline, her mother, destroyed all of the documents at the time. After all, no one was supposed to find out about the sperm donation. Once she realises just how important ‘finding the donor’ is to her daughter and Anna actually finds a possible donor via an internet forum, Pauline resolves to travel to Boston, too. They visit Randy, the man who had donated at the time when Pauline was in treatment. Following a highly emotional talk in his flat, they take a saliva sample on a Q-tip. When they return home to Munich they have the sample tested at a genetic lab. On her quest for her true identity, Anna hears the test results from the director of the lab...

Vaccination –
Just A Prick Of A Needle?

A film by Valentin Thurn and Sabine Goette

A production of ZDF in cooperation with ARTE

The discovery of vaccines is one of medicine’s great success stories. Epidemics such as smallpox and polio, which had terrified and horrified mankind for ages, were able to be vanquished thanks to vaccinations. And yet, the victories achieved during the history of medicine were rarely won without undesired side effects or even casualties. Even though vaccinations are much, much safer than they were as recently as 20 years ago, the possibility of harmful damage due to vaccinations still exists. On the other hand, experts assess the risks of infectious diseases that can be prevented through vaccinations as a great deal higher. The fatal consequences of measles are merely one example. But even so, they’re still there: Damaging after-effects that can lead to disability or even death.
Film-makers Valentin Thurn and Sabine Goette investigate the bright and the shady sides of vaccinations. A journey back into the history of immunization paves the way to the fates of those affected, both long ago and today, as well as to the current controversial debates that revolve around immunizing today.
Families from Germany and France give accounts of both sides of this ‘medallion of success’: What can happen if inoculation is not performed, and how even one vaccination can change life dramatically. Micha, 6 years old, is doomed to die because he was infected with measles at a pediatrician’s practice at the age of 5 months. It took years for the disease to erupt: SSPE, a chronic inflammation of the brain and a consequence of measles that leads to certain death. Little Joel has been affected, too. He became ill during the largest epidemic of measles Germany has ever known. It broke out in Duisburg in 2006. He died while the film was still being shot. In contrast, Madame Zanakolona from Paris had to fight for years until a court finally ruled that the brain damage her son suffered following inoculation against whooping cough had a direct correlation. Today he is 15. That vaccine has long since been taken off the market, but new vaccinations bearing potential risks are pressing their way to the fore. At any rate, the Schomaker family is convinced that the 6-way vaccine which was launched 6 years ago caused their son’s death.
Over the last few years Professor Randolph Penning, a state medical examiner, has performed autopsies on several children following the 6-way vaccination. His findings: conspicuous and alarming cerebral swelling. A former member of staff at the Paul-Ehrlich-Institute and an ‘insider’ in the field, Dr Klaus Hartmann, also takes an extremely critical stance towards these new compound vaccines. Are they the cause of these children’s deaths? No one has been able to prove it yet, but the controversy is in full sway. How frank does reporting on possible damaging after-effects has to be without fanning the flames of anxiety in parents and, as a result, producing low vaccination rates and a return of epidemics?
Most infectious diseases have lost the threat they once posed, not least due to the success vaccinations have had. To many people, that’s why vaccinations no longer seem to be very important at all. In stark contrast, some vaccinations would be welcomed by many others all over the globe: for example the new vaccine against tuberculosis being developed at the Max-Planck-Institute in Berlin. Millions of people are affected by TB worldwide. Resistant pathogens are becoming more and more widespread. Relief could be attained through a vaccination. That’s what the scientists hope, because TB continues to gain ground.

The Law Of The Jungle Behind Bars  -
Ways To Get Away From Violence

A film by Valentin Thurn and Britta Dombrowe

In November 2006, inmates at the Jugendgefängnis Siegburg, a juvenile penal institution, tormented a co-inmate for hours and eventually killed him. The penitentiary staff never noticed the agonizing ordeal, despite the lengthy period of time involved. The deed casted a harsh light on the conditions at prisons for juveniles in Germany: Cells are overcrowded, an acute personnel deficit prevails, inmates are locked away for up to 23 hours a day and left to themselves.
Ufuk, 19 years old, is well aware of this. He has been sentenced to Siegburg, the “toughest pen for juvies”, as he puts it. Ufuk knows what he is talking about: At 14 he already had 140 criminal offences on his record. He’s a ‘regular’ at German prisons and knows the rules that reign behind the walls. “When you start doing time, the first thing that happens is you get checked out. Either they respect you or you have to make them respect you. The only law here is the law of the jungle.” On the other hand, German penal law states that “In the course of executing a sentence in incarceration, the prisoner is supposed to gain the ability to lead a life of social responsibility without criminal offences in the future.”
The film shows the causes of growing brutality behind bars and presents new methods in imprisoning juveniles.

„Not with my daughter!“ -
Female Genital Circumcision In Europe

A film by Valentin Thurn

A production of ZDF in cooperation with ARTE

1001 Documentary Film Festival, Istanbul, 2008

Gold Panda Awards, International Sichuan TV Festival, China, 2007

E. Desmond Lee Africa World Festival, St. Louis, USA und Lagos, Nigeria, 2007

Filmfest Eberswalde - Die Provinziale, Deutschland, 2007: "best documentary"

Immigration brought the circumcision of women from Africa to Europe. But more and more black women are making the decision: “Not to my daughter!” Three women from England, Germany and France tell about the day they were circumcised, about the problems they have urinating and the pains of menstruation, their fear of sexual intercourse and giving birth. Yet there is hope: Dr Pierre Foldes from Paris developed a technology with which he is able to reconstruct the clitoris. 

Without Proper Papers In Germany

A film by Mauricio Estrella and Antonio Uscátegui

Coauthor: Valentin Thurn

A production of WDR

Abelardo lives illegally in Germany. He doesn’t have a residence permit or work papers and is constantly on the lookout for police. Abelardo doesn’t want to go back to Ecuador, back to the slums in the port town of Guayaquil. His mother still lives there, a sick woman but with no health insurance. Abelardo sends her money for medicine.For 6 years now he has made his way in Germany. A life in the shadows, defined by the search for cheap-labour jobs where no one asks for any papers. Then he meets Ines, a German woman, in a completely normal way while dancing. They fall in love. But does Ines trust him or does she feel like she’s being used as a means to an end so that he can acquire a residence visa through her?
Like Abelardo, over a million foreigners live illegally in Germany. For over a year Mauricio Estrella and Antonio Uscátegui observed two families whose daily game of ‘hide-and-seek’ has become normality for them due to their fear of being deported. As so-called ‘economic refugees’, they master life bravely and at times in amazingly normal ways, a life in which everything is there except a sense of security. 

„I am Al Qaeda“ -
The Life Of Zacarias Moussaoui

A film by Valentin Thurn, coauthor Stephan Müller

A production of NDR in cooperation with ARTE

Nominated as “Best Feature” for the Deutscher Fernsehpreis (‘German Television Prize’)

Internationales Leipziger Festival für Dokumentar- und Animationsfilm (DOK Leipzig), 2006

Basel_Karlsruhe Forum (BaKaFORUM), Basel, Schweiz, 2007

Gold Panda Awards, Sichuan TV Festival, China, 2007

Zacarias Moussaoui is the only assassin who was brought to court on charges for the attacks on Sept. 11th, 2001. It was a symbolic trial for the USA. In May 2006 he was sentenced to life in prison. He is to have no contact with the outside world until he dies. Though still alive, he has been locked away for good.
Is he the so-called “20th bomber”, the one who was supposed to fly a plane into the White House? Or was he merely a psychologically ill wannabe co-conspirator? Fact is, he was arrested 4 weeks before the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon when he tried to get lessons on how to fly a Boeing 747. What has also been established is that the FBI could have prevented the attacks on September 11th if Moussaoui’s notebook and laptop had been thoroughly searched in time.
What made a young French citizen born in Morocco hook up with al-Qaeda and have himself trained at camps in Afghanistan to become a suicide bomber? As a youth he was not religious. He liked parties, loved his girfriend, and even drank alcohol at times - that is, until the day in London when he was converted by radical Muslim preachers to join the jihad.
His mother, Aïcha el-Wafi, fought against the death sentence for her son during the trial. On the fringes of the court proceedings in the USA she became acquainted with Phyllis Rodriguez, the mother of Greg. He was killed in the flames that consumed the World Trade Center. Film-maker Valentin Thurn shows the development of this extraordinary friendship in his documentary film and retraces the history of the broken Moussaoui family. Intense interviews with friends and relatives, among others with both of Moussaoui's two sisters, are augmented by exclusive footage, some of which has never been shown before - including a private video of Zacarias in his youth.
On the 5th anniversary of the attacks on New York and Washington, the film takes a new, heretofore unknown look at the young Frenchman from Morocco: on a man whose difficult family background and subsequent influence through Islamist circles turned him into a pilot of death. A pilot who, in the end, never got to carry out his mission. The film also casts an illuminating light on Moussaoui's conduct during the trial: on his admission of guilt, which he has meanwhile retracted, and on the role justice plays in the USA. This along with the wish expressed by many Americans to have judgment passed on the only assassin brought to court.

"My child in your womb" -
The Shady Business With Surrogate Mothers

A film by Valentin Thurn

A production of ZDF

Being a surrogate mother is prohibited by law – that’s what the lawbooks say. Yet the black market flourishes in the anonymity of the internet. That’s where Hildegard and Anton ran into Sarah. The conception of their child took place in a toilet with the help of an enema syringe. Hildegard and Anton don’t tell a soul about this, not even their parents. The child is supposed to see the light of day in the utmost secrecy.
As for Sarah, who receives a considerable sum of money for acting as a surrogate mother, she too hides her pregnancy from her parents. She knows that they would never agree to this. Sarah relates the terms of the contract she has negotiated with Anton and makes an effort to suppress any kind of emotional relationship to the baby in her womb. It’s not as easy as it sounds, because she is the baby’s genetic mother. For better or worse. At last the time comes when delivery is imminent.
Yet when the yearned-for call on the phone finally rings at Hildegard and Anton’s that “The baby’s born”, the scheduled changing-of-hands doesn’t take place. Hilde and Anton have apparently been taken in by a swindler. It never becomes clear whether Sarah ended up wanting to keep the baby or sold the child to another couple: The surrogate mother is nowhere to be found. Hildegard and Anton don’t want to chance the risk of a fraud like that again. They decide to look for a surrogate mother in the Ukraine and find one in Kiev. Surrogate mothership is permitted in the Ukraine, which has led to the existence of a downright tourism business in surrogate mothership there. Ole and Ingrid already made the trip to Kiev months ago too in order to find a surrogate mother for their baby. The couple is convinced that they are not doing anything wrong.
With most surrogate motherships, the ovum comes from a woman who is a complete stranger. Technically speaking, only the man is the child’s genetic “parent” as a result of his donated sperm. In the case of Ingrid and Ole, they see this completely differently. Genetically the child is 100% theirs; all the surrogate mother did was to carry it until birth. At the notary she signs over all the rights to the baby to Ole and Ingrid. Overjoyed, Ole and Ingrid travel back to Germany with their child, who has been officially verified as their natural-born child before they set off.
Diana and Steffen find their surrogate mother in South Africa. Surrogate motherships are legal there, too. The insemination is performed at a clinic. Diana and Steffen deal frankly with the planned surrogate mothership situation and have already told their families, neighbours and colleagues at work about it. They are convinced that the German authorities for juveniles can’t do a thing about it when they adopt the baby pursuant to South African law.
“37°” tells of the 3 couples and poses questions about the responsibility for a child born via surrogate mothership. When a child learns of its different mothers, finding its own identity can prove to be a lifelong problem.

Inadequacy Or Simply A Poor Show –
Child Poverty In Affluent Europe

A film by Valentin Thurn

A production of ARTE

Poverty in the prosperous EU: For many children this puts them at a number of disadvantages. First of all in terms of education: They don’t perform as well at school, and they abandon their schooling more frequently. Or in terms of health: They are more prone to have health problems than children from families that are better off. Or in material opportunities: Holidays are frequently simply not an option. Nevertheless - as was shown to be the case in Germany, as well as in England and France - when parents don’t have much, they scrape together all the available cash there is in order to at least be able to buy gifts for the children. They’d rather notch their belts tighter, scrimp on food or the car, but at all costs they want to avoid having their children experience poverty as a restriction on their lives. Governments help to different degrees: The situation in England remains the worst, albeit in the last 5 years the government has managed to reduce what was once the highest rate of child poverty throughout Europe by 25%. Sums in the billions are being pumped into early childhood education in order to enable the chance for equal opportunities at a pre-school age. The situation in Germany is a different story: The social inequalities that had been relatively well cushioned in the past are now being scaled steadily downwards towards the British level. The stance in France is slightly better, but here too a persistently high degree of unemployment is ensuring a lasting, high level of child poverty. On the other hand, Scandinavia poses a major contrast, first and foremost in Denmark, where poverty for children and families is as good as non-existent. What are the Danes doing better? The film takes us through 4 countries in Europe on a quest for answers as to where combatting poverty can be initiated and which models seem promising.

"My father wants to kill me" -
Women On The Run From Being Killed In Matters Of Honour

A film by Valentin Thurn and Kadriye Acar

A production of NDR

Fatma Bläser was threatened with death by her own family because first she refused to marry the man who had been chosen for her, then proceeded to flee to her German boyfriend. Her brothers and uncles laid siege to the house for 6 weeks, dead set to kill her in order to cleanse the family’s honour. Fatma was able to hide. For over 15 years she had no contact with her family except for clandestine rendezvous with her mother. Her father is now an elderly man. Fatma would like to reconcile things with him. Though he has become milder with age, he doesn’t regret what he and the other men in the family did back then. Fatma is uncertain: How is the clan in Turkey going to react, the same people who had banished her from their midst at the time? We accompany her to her native Kurdish village, 1500 kilometres away from Istanbul on the border to the former Soviet Union. We observe how Fatma cautiously approaches a world that was once her homeland, yet today is so foreign to her. Fatma recalls the time when she was 8 years old and watched a woman be stoned to death who had been accused of being an adultress. She searches for the grave, only to hear that “disgraces” like that are scantily buried far off in the mountains.
Hatun Sürücü was also thrown out by her family. She too longed for contact once again, but her story ended tragically: She was murdered by her 3 brothers. The motive: She had separated from the husband her family had chosen for her and wanted to raise Can, her son, all by herself. The crime occurred out in the open on a street in Berlin: The older brothers posted themselves as lookouts, the youngest took the pistol and fired. Families frequently select the youngest male because they know he will receive a milder sentence when prosecuted according to juvenile penal law. Her friends and colleagues at work are shocked speechless, but immigration has carried this barbaric tradition straight into the heart of Europe. Hatun’s family originally came from south-eastern Turkey as well. The traditions there call for brothers to watch out that sisters remain “pristine” until marriage. Misbehaviour must be atoned for: The family’s honour has been soiled and the family itself now runs the risk of being expelled by the village community. This still plays a viable role, even in today’s Berlin, because the clans remain in close contact, including those relatives who have stayed behind in Turkey.
Killing for honour is a matter not limited solely to Turks and Kurds. It is still prevalent among people from other regions, too, for instance Albanians. Warning signs of impending conflicts often appear years in advance: Ulerika Gashi came from Kosovo to Germany with her family when she was 2 years old. The father beat the mother frequently. Later on, the 4 daughters received the same treatment, above all Ulerika when, at the age of 16, she began to wear make-up and fashionable clothes. Once the father found out that Ulerika already had a boyfriend, he strangled her with a piece of adhesive tape in the cellar of their house, then tossed the corpse into a gravel-pit lake.
Many use Islam to justify these killings for honour, but actually not a word in the Koran refers directly to the topic. On the other hand, only few imams take an open stance against this pre-Islamic custom. Even so, powers do exist that are willing to help when conflicts of honour occur: for instance a Kurdish member of the state parliament in Berlin, a Turkish cultural association in Paris, and “Rosa e.V.” in Stuttgart, an association that maintains an number of flats for girls only. Young women whose family councils have sentenced them to death can hide there. There, as well as at one of the strictly guarded safe houses for women in Istanbul, the situation becomes clear that beatings alone do not suffice to drive a Turkish woman into a safe house. The feeling of disgrace is overwhelming, even for the women themselves. Most of them don’t flee until the first attempt is made to kill them. They flee to save their lives and the lives of their children.
Film-maker Kadriye Acar, who grew up in Germany as the daughter of Turkish parents, and her fellow colleague Valentin Thurn spoke with Turkish, Kurdish and Kosovar women to make their documentary filmed in Germany, France and Turkey. These women are hiding out in anonymous, high-rise residential buildings and strictly guarded safe houses for women so that they can save their lives and the lives of their children. The film also illustrates the stories of 2 women who, despite being banished and threatened with death, sought out contact with their families again years later. Why? An insatiable yearning for life within the bosom of an extended family. One of them, Fatma Bläser, who had come to Germany as a child, was able to patch things up with the relatives in her native Kurdish village. The other, Hatun Sürücü, paid for the attempt to reapproach her family with her life: murdered on a street in Berlin by her own brothers. The film also visits one of only 2 safe houses for women in Istanbul, thereby making only too clear how similar the fates of these persecuted women are – whether in Berlin or in Istanbul.

Bitter Pills

A film by Valentin Thurn

A production of ZDF in cooperation with ARTE

Hans S. wasn’t able to sleep anymore without pills. He was an executive employee, but for more than 17 years no one noticed his addiction until everything came to a head: First he lost his job, then his driver’s licence, and in the end he was committed to a psychiatric clinic for withdrawal. His doctor, the one who had regularly prescribed Rohypnol, should have known the sleeping pills are addictive. Once Hans S. had finally overcome his addiction, he sued his doctor before the court of arbitration that represents North German medical associations. And won. For the first time in a case like this, the patient was awarded damages and medical malpractice was established as the cause. Also known as the “silent addiction” because it doesn’t make itself apparent, nonetheless about the same number of people are addicted to sleeping pills and tranquilizers as are addicted to alcohol: There are over a million pill addicts in Germany, as many as 3 million in France. The worst sleep of all is relegated to housewives: As far back as 1967, the Rolling Stones sang about “Mother’s Little Helper”: pills from the benzodiazepine family of drugs. Against its own better judgment, the pharmaceutical industry kept quiet about the dangers of addiction involved here right up into the 1980s – the same way it had done before in playing down the damage done to embryos by another sleeping pill, thalidomide, and the same way the toxicity of barbiturates was benched. These early sedatives became a frequent favourite for suicides. Their use has been prohibited more and more since the 1960s. In Europe, nowadays their use is limited solely to Switzerland: for assisted dying, which is legal there. Modern-day sedatives are fatal only when taken in combination with other drugs or alcohol. Even so, junkies quickly found out that the high lasts that much longer when the pills are mixed with heroin. And criminals discovered that sedatives can be used effectively as knockout drops or date-rape drugs. When a case comes to court, abuse can be verified only with difficulty because the body quickly breaks down the active substances.

A Child At All Costs

A film by Valentin Thurn

A production of ZDF in cooperation with ARTE

One out of 6 couples in Germany waits in vain for progeny. More and more women and men are banking on modern reproductive medicine so that they can still have a child. The first German test-tube baby was born 20 years ago. Since then, hundreds of thousands of children have been “fathered” in test tubes using methods like in vitro fertilisation, methods that are legal in this country and are financed to a certain extent by health insurers. Yet when these attempts fail and the desire for a child of their own becomes too imperative, couples in Germany increasingly resort to techniques prohibited by law, for example ovum donation or preimplantation genetic diagnostic testing. They travel to nearby European countries to circumvent such regulation.

Susanne and Hans desperately want a child. They have wanted one for years. As Susanne is unable to become pregnant in a natural way, she decides to give in vitro fertilisation a try. After the seventh attempt, Susanne was finally pregnant. And once again, she lost the child. But the two of them don’t want to give up. They take a trip to Belgium to improve their chances. At the university hospital in Brussels, couples desiring a child are allowed to have the genetic make-up of fertilised cells tested via PID/PGD for the possibility of genetic damage: a method prohibited by law in Germany. Ines and Christoph already have 10 attempts at in vitro fertilisation behind them. They too refuse to simply resign themselves to the situation: The wish for a child of their own is too overpowering. Meanwhile Ines is 45. Their last try for the time being takes the two of them to a fertility clinic in Cape Town, South Africa. Here they would like to give ovum donation a try. Once again, in Germany a method prohibited by law. For Michaela and Ralf, ovum donation is again the last possibility open to them to have a child. Though in this case they are still young, for years they have been trying to have a child, but with no success. Michaela, who already has 8 miscarriages behind her, suffers from a rare hereditary disease. They travel to the Czech Republic so that they can at last get a bit closer to seeing their wish come true. In the end, are these 3 couples finally going to have the wish they long for the most be fulfilled?
Film-maker Valentin Thurn employs a great deal of tact and consideration in pursuing what is often a hard path for the 3 couples on their way to the child they all want so much. He explains the most recent status research has to offer, throws light on the various methods of treatment for fertilisation in the laboratory, and asks pointed questions about side effects. He interviews the operators of clinics in the Czech Republic and South Africa. For them, the rigid legislation in Germany signifies a pleasant rise in profits, because in the meantime large sums are being demanded from couples desperate to have children. Valentin Thurn offers an in-depth look at the status quo of in vitro fertilisation in Germany, and in the process does one thing first and foremost: For these couples who wish nothing more in the whole world than a child, he listens to what they have to say.

„Where have all the children gone...“

A film by Valentin Thurn

A production of ZDF

Why is the population in some European countries shrinking faster than in others? How have France and Sweden managed to convince young families to have children? Until most recently, German politicians frowned upon any form of active population policy as being all too reminiscent of the “mother cult” propagated by the Nazis. Now the consequences are all too obvious: In eastern Germany, entire blocks of high-rise dwellings are being torn down due to a lack of people to occupy them. In the Ruhr region to the west, the proportion of foreigners is on the rise because their fertility rate is higher. What’s more, the increase in the number of elderly people is threatening to turn the social welfare systems upside down: In 30 years at the latest, each gainfully employed person will be providing the funding for one existing pensioner. Communities and companies are working on problem-solving approaches in order to escape from this demographic downwards spiral

The Doctor, The Depleted Uranium And The Dying Children

A film by Valentin Thurn

A production of WDR

Back in 1991, Dr Siegwart-Horst Günther, a German epidemiologist and specialist in tropical diseases, was the first to point out the highly dangerous long-term repercussions of so-called uranium projectiles. Tonnes of this kind of ammunition were fired by the US Army during the Gulf War.
The film accompanies Dr Günther and his American colleagues during their investigations in Kosovo, Bosnia and Iraq. American troops deployed this perilous uranium ammunition indiscriminately in all these places. The documentary displays long-term consequences about which little had been known until now, effects that especially children suffer from in these war-torn regions.
Following the end of the most recent phase of the war in Iraq, experts discovered contaminated war theatres in the area around Basra whose radioactivity exceeded the Earth’s natural radioactivity by a factor of 20,000.
In the aftermath of the Gulf War in 1991, Dr Günther was a professor at the university hospital in Baghdad. He began to notice that patients were displaying symptoms of illnesses he had never seen before in the course of 40 years of work in that country. In the process he also examined many deformed infants and children, most of whom did not survive for very long. He documented these cases. He diagnosed severe disorders of kidney and liver functions, cancer and genetic damage. Once similar symptoms of illnesses began to appear in American and British veterans of the Gulf War, as well as in their children, the correlation was clear for Dr Günther and for many other scientists and researchers. They demand a comprehensive ban on this ammunition, which remains a part of standard armament for US troops.

"Oh, those Beckers" -
A Family In The Limelight

A film by Valentin Thurn

A production of ZDF in cooperation with ARTE

For Ben and Meret Becker, acting was quasi a birthright. Both mother and father are actors, even their stepfather, Otto Sander. Yet it’s not easy to develop a profile of one’s own standing in the shadow of larger-than-life parents. Valentin Thurn observed Ben and Meret during film shootings and concerts. He portrays how brother and sister achieved their goals of an artistic personality of their own via different paths. Now a third generation is getting ready to make its start: Ben’s daughter Lilith and Meret’s daughter Lulu were along during the filming. They moved around the sets just like the grown-up stars, the same way Ben and Meret used to when they accompanied their parents on a shoot.

"Daddy loves a man" -
Children And Their Homosexual Fathers

A film by Valentin Thurn

A production of ZDF

Christian (14) was gravely neglected by his mother. His homosexual uncle kidnapped him in the course of a “cloak and dagger” operation, saving the child from the impending threat of a children’s home. He was 9 years old at the time. He spent the first few weeks with his new “father” and his boyfriend. Christian was anything but delighted. He was teased by his schoolmates because everyone in the neighbourhood knew that Christian was now living with two “gays”. There was nowhere to hide in this small town in the Eifel region, which meant the boy was forced to take sides. The choice became increasingly easier for him because his new “parents” showed the kind of loving care that had been so lacking. Even the local youth authorities at social services were impressed by so much interest and parental competence. Nowadays nearly everyone in the village has gotten used to this somewhat different family model, and Christian is glad to be with his uncle. Despite that, now that he is 14 he has decided that girls definitely interest him more than boys.
With Patricia it was a completely different story. Her parent’s marriage seemed to be a happy one. Then one day – Patricia was 12 at the time – her father told her that he wanted to get a divorce. After being married for 18 years, he had to face the fact that he had no way of getting around homosexual inclinations that were becoming stronger and stronger. He had fallen in love with a man. Patricia was speechless. That her father wanted to part ways with her mother for a reason like this was very difficult for Patricia to cope with. Her shining image of “Dad” fell apart from one day to the next. For nearly a year Patricia kept silent about how her own father had “disgraced” her. When Carina, her sister, was with friends, she always referred to Bernd, Daddy’s new partner, as “Bernadette” in order to keep up appearances. More than a year went by until one day she became hopping mad when schoolfriends kept cracking jokes about gay men. When asked why she was getting so excited, she felt she had no other choice than to explain how things are. She told them about her father and his friend. Almost all of her friends stood by her. Even Patricia gradually changed her attitude towards her father. The sisters eventually moved to their father’s, and now live together with him and his companion for life in Cologne, Germany.
Valentin Thurn narrates how adolescents cope with the situation when fathers are suddenly very different from what one had assumed the whole time, and no longer correspond to what is a commonly accepted role model. How does the relationship between father and child change? How do you yourself change?

The Trail Of The Toros –
Bullfighting Steers On A Long Trek

A film by Valentin Thurn

A production of WDR

The focus is on Gerardo, a cowboy, and his employer, Cesar Chico. Cesar owns a herd of steers meant for the bullfighting arena. They spend the winter on their farm in Andalusia, but in the summer when the southern Spanish heat dries everything to a crisp, they hit the trail and migrate to the mountains of central Spain. Each year Cesar hires on a troop of cowboys to drive the steers. Gerardo is their “foreman”. We follow the herd on its trek 600 kilometres across Spain as we experience how old and new Spain collide with each other: For example, Gerardo and his cowboys meet up with major motorways that transect traditional cattle trails. These roads force them to make laborious detours. But Spaniards are delighted by the revival of this old tradition. They give the cowboys a hero’s welcome as they pass through the villages, because Spain’s historic identity is closely linked to the large cattle herds: The origins of what we call cowboy culture lie in Spain and were first brought to the Americas with the arrival of Columbus and his successors. Bullfighting arose on homeland pastures too, back then a way for cowboys to pass the time. The “toros bravos”, as Spaniards call their fighting bulls, are bred to be as aggressive as possible. When they turn 4 the fiercest bulls are sold to bullfighting arenas for up to well over 2500 euros. The breeds of cattle still have the instinct to migrate in their genes. Cowboy Gerardo doesn’t have to show them the route to take. Kilometres away from the next “waterhole” they already pick up the pace: The cattle know exactly where water lies.

Planet Knowledge: The Dinosaurs

A film by Valentin Thurn

A production of WDR

Dinosaurs dominated life on Earth for more than 160 million years, only to vanish from our planet over a period that lasted just a few hundred thousand years. And with them, more than half of the animals that existed back then. Why did they become extinct? And why so many species all at once? Many scientists presume that a massive meteorite impact triggered the mass dying. Others tend to believe that a series of devastating volcanic eruptions was the cause.

If one lends credibility to the most well-known theory, the end of the dinosaurs came suddenly. 65 million years ago a meteorite from outer space collided with Earth. When the chunk with a diameter of 10 kilometres smashed into the Earth’s surface, its force of impact was 10,000 times as powerful as when all the nuclear weapons in existence today would explode at once. The meteorite sent soot and dust bursting into the atmosphere. The consequence: The skies darkened, the climate cooled off and the cold-blooded dinosaurs either froze to death or their eggs were unable to incubate any longer due to the colder climate.

Remains of the killer meteorite were found on the coast of the Yucatan peninsula in Mexico, although nothing remains to be seen of what was once a 200-kilometre-wide crater because it has been covered by more recent rock strata. That this meteorite changed the world’s climate seems to be proven by the presence of iridium, a metal rarely found on Earth, but often contained in meteorites. Iridium has been found in rock strata around the globe, precisely in the time bordering between the Cretaceous and Tertiary eras.

On the other hand, this rare metal could also stem from another source because iridium is expelled by volcanoes, too. This is what the second theory regarding the extinction of dinosaurs assumes, and the theory is gaining more and more supporters among scientists: Prolonged volcanic eruptions hurled incredible amounts of sulphur, carbon dioxide and dust into the atmosphere, thereby assuring global darkness and a drop in temperatures. The site of the mega-volcano: central India. Today the huge Deccan Plateau can be found there. Its volcanic rocks date back exactly 65 million years.

One factor that speaks in favour of the volcano theory is that other known meteorite impacts, for instance in Nördlinger Ries (Bavaria, Germany), did not trigger mass death worldwide. The devastation was merely short-term and limited to a regional area. In contrast, volcanoes could have been a constant source of dust and gases for more than several hundred thousand years. In the end, the dinosaurs did not die suddenly, as would be expected in the case of a meteorite impact, but instead over a lengthy period lasting over 500,000 years: approximately as long as the volcanoes in India remained active. And there are further examples of apocalyptic volcanic eruptions over the course of the Earth’s history: for instance at the end of the Permian period when the huge volcanic plateau in North Siberia arose. That was when the trilobites died out, a precursor to crabs that had practically ruled the seas until then.

The reason why the killer meteorite is so popular is probably because the idea is so spectacular. As dinosaurs became trendy, it simply became that much easier to market the catastrophe theory, for example in the dinosaur films from Walt Disney. People’s interest in an apocalypse is a winner, hands down.

When all is said and done, scientists still don’t know why other groups of animals, like mammals, survived the climate catastrophe at the end of the Cretaceous era, but not one single dinosaur. They used to assume that the dinosaurs froze to death because they were cold-blooded. In other words, their body temperature was dependent on the temperature of their environment. In turn, mammals would have survived because they were warm-blooded. Yet these days people know that this presumption is more than questionable. After all, other cold-blooded reptiles survived the Cretaceous era, too. And in Siberia, one of the coldest poles on Earth today, the only living species of vertebrate there is a salamander – definitely not a warm-blooded creature. To top things off, there are also indications that some species of dinosaurs may have been warm-blooded.

This leads to the question: What would have happened if the dinosaurs hadn’t died out 65 million years ago? Dr Michael Maisch, a paleontologist from the University of Tübingen in Germany, postulates that in that case there probably wouldn’t be any human beings today. The reason: “...dinosaurs led the field for more than 100 million years and wouldn’t have let mammals move up the chain.” The scientist’s conclusion: If they hadn’t become extinct, intelligent dinos might possibly rule the world today, not mankind.

Champion For A Day –
A Tale Of Winners And Losers

A film by Valentin Thurn

A production of ARTE

“Lucky Housewife Sweeps Up Millions”, “Schoolteacher Stumbles Over 4th Form Quiz Question – A Disgrace to the Entire School” The stuff that new headlines in the tabloids are made of. These days heroes and dimwits are established for their media impact in fractions of seconds: Highlight or blackout! – Winner or loser!  

To be the contestant on a TV quiz show just once: Sybille, 28, and Jean-Pierre, 72, made that dream a reality. Sybille Longlez, 28 years old and single, watches the quiz shows on TV together with her mother. Both join in the guessing.

Jean-Pierre is a “mordu”, as the French would say, a “hard-core fan” who spends nearly every evening at one or the other quiz club where television shows are re-enacted - with questions all their own. Why? “After they forced me into early retirement, I wanted to show those young know-it-alls that I’m not ready for the scrap-heap yet,” says Jean-Pierre.

With Sybille it was her mother who urged her to apply. Every day they watch the quiz show “Questions Pour Un Champion”. Jean-Pierre had applied 7 times already, but in vain. Both of them pass the strict qualification test and assert themselves against over 100 other contestants from all over Belgium. But at the TV studio in Paris the conditions are tougher: Jean-Pierre hardly slept a wink the night before at a hotel. And Sybille’s nerves are shot. Luckily, both of them have someone sitting in the audience to support them.

The feature accompanies the contestants and asks about motivations as it records the preparations made within the family and their circles of friends. We’ll be right with them when they head for the studio, when the contestants get their final briefing, when the personal tensions grow by the hour, right up to the time when someone says: “We’re on air!” – Of course, not completely unobserved...

The Story: Death On The Glacier –
Whose Fault Was The Tunnel Fire In Kaprun?

A film by Valentin Thurn

A production of WDR

The wristwatches found on the 150 charred corpses all show the same time: 9:11 a.m. The fire in the narrow tunnel must have spread so lightning-fast that the passengers aboard the glacier lift on the Kaprun glacier were asphyxiated and burnt to death in one fell swoop. Even those who raced up the emergency stairs to a height of 142 metres.

How did it come to a flash-fire where only 12 passengers survived because they knocked out the windowpanes with their ski poles? WDR author Valentin Thurn spoke with the survivors. They reported there were 2 explosions. He visited the glacier lift at the scene of the accident and found a round steel tank that burst due to the force of an explosion. It had contained hydraulic oil for the emergency brake. As its technical director explained, the glacier-lift operator itself had not reckoned in the least with a catastrophe. Which is why there were neither emergency hammers nor fire extinguishers in the passenger compartments, and neither emergency lighting nor exhaust ventilation in the tunnel. The glacier-lift operator shifts the responsibility onto the manufacturer of the glacier-lift line because it installed a defective fan heater and a chassis made of plastic. The manufacturer, in turn, shifts the blame onto the “TÜV”, the local technical certification association, because it didn’t inspect the measures for fire prevention. For its part, the association says that it’s the Ministry of Transportation’s fault because it forgot to issue appropriate regulations. A system of nothing but sloppiness. One in which a lot of money is earned: That winter was a record season. More skiers than ever before had spent their holidays in Austria. Even in Kaprun the tragedy seems to be forgotten: The hotels are booked solid. In the aftermath of the accident skiers are now being brought to the glacier via a hastily erected cable-car line.

At the trial in Salzburg against 16 defendants who had been in charge, all that the deceaseds’ next of kin can expect as compensation pursuant to Austrian law are a few thousand euros. That’s why Ed Fagan, a star lawyer from New York, convinced most of them to sue for damages in America. The impending trial in the USA revolving around billions could turn out to be a precedent for other large-scale accidents in Europe.

Two Moms And No Dad –
When Lesbian Dreams Of A Child Come True

A film by Valentin Thurn

A production of ARD

When Barbara realises in her mid-20s that women are her cup of tea, at first she says goodbye to one of her life’s dreams, the wish to have a child. It takes a while for the idea to gradually ripen: This can happen without a husband, too. Together with Irmgard, her partner, she travels to a clinic in the Netherlands and buys donor sperm. The adventure of lesbian motherhood can begin.
Ursula Ott and Valentin Thurn accompanied the two future mothers for 9 months. They travelled with them to the sperm bank to buy sperm – In Germany, strictly prohibited for unmarried women, in Holland an everday occurrence. They were along in the women’s living room when the two women transferred the individual sperm samples into nitrogen-cooled special containers for storage and had it explained to them how artificial insemination is performed at home. They accompanied the lesbian couple to the gynecologist and to ultrasonic scanning, to an “in” disco and a lesbian volleyball tournament, to their lawyer and to a reverend, and finally to the bed where the child is born. Little Lili cannot become acquainted with her father until she turns 16, and to do that she has to make contact with the sperm bank. On the other hand, all the mothers know about the Dutch sperm donor is that his skin is white, his hair is dark and he has neither AIDS nor hepatitis.
Despite new laws, the two women and their baby continue to be faced with considerable reservations in Germany: Although Irmgard can contractually obligate herself to pay support for the child’s entire lifetime, she receives barely any rights in return. She is neither able to adopt the child as its “stepmother”, nor can she be certain that she will continue to be allowed to visit the child in the event that the couple separates.
We’re long past the point where the situation deals with a fringe problem posed by a social fringe group. Today around 1.5 million children are being raised by homosexual parents, estimates Lela Lähnemann, the Berlin Senate’s delegate for same-sex lifestyles. Most of them originate from the heterosexual “prior lives” of mothers who are meanwhile lesbian, though more and more are coming about through insemination. Professor Wassilios Fthenakis, a family researcher in Munich, even holds this number to be understated because in the USA 10 million children are already living with homosexual parents. And according to Fthenakis, who also advises the German federal government, they are not living any worse off than in “traditional” families: “We have not been able to establish any differences in the course of child development.” These children were neither going to be behaviourally disturbed later on, nor was the probability going to increase that they themselves were going to be gay or lesbian.
In many places, neighbours and teachers have already become accustomed to the colourful new families. For example in Monschau in the Eifel region of Germany, where two gay men are raising their foster-son Christian lovingly on a former farm in the midst of geese, hares and ducks. They receive support from their neighbours in the village – and from the local youth welfare office. As the family caseworker from the welfare office praises: “The two of them have a sustainable relationship and offer the child a stable home that it hadn’t had for a long time.” She can even imagine arranging a second foster-child for the gay couple.
Or take the extended family comprised of 2 gay fathers and 2 lesbian mothers who are jointly raising 2 daughters. The children live mostly with their moms, weekends and holidays are often spent with their dads – and they think it’s wonderful. Mia (9): “I have 2 moms and 2 dads at home. The other kids always only have one.”
In good times these new “rainbow families” are an exciting sociological experiment. But in bad times human dramas are on the agenda, because homosexual love can shatter too, leaving the non-blood parent without any rights at all. As was the case with Sigrid, a social worker who took care of the baby she had planned together with her girlfriend for 4 years, only to find that she no longer had any chance of ever seeing little Janek again after they separated. “I love you all the way to the moon and back” is how she sends her regards to him via children’s TV on his birthday. Yet the courts have ruled: no relationship as a blood relative, no rights.
Legislation lags hopelessly behind social reality. Just a few years ago homosexuals were unable to imagine having children at all – “These days they sit in the bar and perk up their ears when the conversation turns to having kids,” says Ingo Wolf, a gay father in Berlin. They even have an agency there that hooks up lesbian women to gay men who wish to have children. Susan Darrant, the proprietor of “Queer&Kids”, has already counselled 750 interested parties. She uses questionnaires to determine who fits with whom: “Homo, bisexual or hetero? Joint or sole custody? Living together or not?” The first babies to come about like this will be born this spring.
Politicians and church representatives are still relatively helpless when faced with these families. Is homosexual parenthood “unnatural”, as Norbert Geis (CSU Party) thinks? Do children with 2 gay fathers lack the “motherly breast”, as Hanna-Renate Laurien from the Central Committee of Catholics in Germany fears? Or must children stemming from homosexual relationships have to at least have the same rights as children from single parents raising a child alone, as Volker Beck (Green Party) demands? At any rate, the law regarding “Homo Marriage” that Beck initiated barely regulates the issue of children at all. That 2 homosexuals could go to the registry office for a civil wedding squeaked through negotiations with the SPD Party, but the situation went too far when the couple wanted to have kids now, too.

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