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(Gebenedeites Gebein)

Director Dominik Wessely (photo courtesy of Filmtank)

Production Report featured in
German Films Quarterly 01/2007

Even for many practicing Christians, the idea of religious artefacts and reliquaries is something that belongs to the Dark Ages, the years of ignorance and superstition. But for millions of others, they are a direct link between themselves and their God. As what we term civilization – our everyday existence based increasingly on fact, not fundamentalism, knowledge, not faith – advances, religion gets pushed further into the background. For many people, it becomes a weekly (if that) observance. At the same time, others cling tighter to their beliefs.

In Gebenedeites Gebein, Dominik Wessely examines the legend of Saint Ursula and the 11,000 virgins who supposedly chose a martyr’s death. Ursula herself became the patron saint of Cologne while three of her followers are venerated in the village of Eichsel, near Basel. Each year they are commemorated with a service and procession, but what’s the reality behind all this?

“She never existed,” says Wessely. “Her name and story are pure fiction, inventions of the Middle Ages! Historians have long since proven it. She’s been exposed as a fraud. The power of her reliquaries was used to move the pious masses and also exercised a worldly power.”

But the cult still remains, says Gebenedeites Gebein’s researcher and writer, Hellmut Telge, “even her followers are aware of the reality. And that’s what the film is about: why they continue to believe despite all the evidence to the contrary. Do people in today’s society still really believe in a higher order? Are the old concepts for dealing with the beyond still valid today?”

For producer Thomas Tielsch, the film also offers a journey into the world of, for want of a better description, bone cultists. “We actually meet the people who collect reliquaries,” he says, “and have filled their living rooms with bones! We also have a heretical city tour guide and the abbot who subjected his Saint Ursula to a DNA test!”

Director Wessely specialized in documentaries at the Filmakademie Baden-Wuerttemberg, winning the Adolf Grimme Award 2002 for his five-part series about provincial actors, Broadway Bruchsal.

Production company Filmtank develops and produces documentaries for cinema and television, as well as conceptualizing and realizing theme evenings for broadcasters. The emphasis lies on contemporary social developments and cultural phenomena, cross-culture and history. The company was founded in 2001 in Hamburg as a joint venture between Thomas Tielsch and Wueste Film. Their film Call Me Babylon took the 2004 Adolf Grimme Award for Best Documentary. Gebenedeites Gebein is produced by the recently founded Stuttgart-based arm of the company.

Genre Religion
Category Documentary
Year of Production 2007
Director Dominik Wessely
Screenplay Hellmut Telge
Cinematography Knut Schmitz
Producer Thomas Tielsch
Production Company Filmtank/Stuttgart, in co-production with Mira Film/Basel, WDR, in cooperation with SWR, ZDF, ARTE
Format color
Shooting Dates Cologne & surroundings, Eichsel, Paris, Basel, October 2006 - October 2007
With backing from MFG Baden-Württemberg, City of Basel

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