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(Untergang der Pamir, Der)

Klaus J. Behrendt, Jan Josef Liefers (photo © Polyphon / Marion von der Mehden)

Production Report featured in
German Films Quarterly 04/2005

Man against nature turned savage, an epic battle for survival against the elements; that is Der Untergang der Pamir, the true story of the four-mast, merchant navy training ship, the Pamir, which foundered on 21 September 1957 in the face of the full-on fury of hurricane “Carrie”. From her 86 hands, including 52 very young cadets, just six survived after days in storm-tossed and shattered lifeboats.

“I was twelve when the Pamir sank,” says writer Fritz Mueller-Scherz, who was himself born on a ship and spent his first eight years afloat. “I experienced it live on the radio and never forgot it.”

In fact, the nine-day hunt for survivors involved 180 ships and 20 aircraft, making it the then world’s largest search and rescue action.

Told through, among others, the story of boatswain Acki Lueders (Klaus J. Behrendt), 1st Officer Hans Ewald (Jan Josef Liefers) and Cadet Carl-Friedrich von Krempin (Max Riemelt), Mueller-Scherz, who has written with Rainer Werner Fassbinder and Wim Wenders, adopted the same technique that made the award-winning, mining-disaster drama Das Wunder von Lengede (2003) a national and international success.

“I paint the big picture by looking at the smaller, human one,” he says. “I look for a main character I can be close to. The drama arises from the basic situation. Here we have young men on a journey into adulthood and they die on the very cusp.”

For Kaspar Heidelbach, who also directed Das Wunder von Lengede and cites great narrative directors such as Ridley Scott and Michael Mann as his mentors, “Pamir has everything a great filmic story needs! A big ship, the hard fate of the sailors, action and adventure! But there is also the emotional story to keep people watching. The characters develop and there is conflict and friendship; all the elements to bring them closer to the viewer so they care who lives or dies.”

In a film such as this, technical and special effects matter and, says Heidelbach, “we’re giving every effort to come close to Titanic and Master and Commander while also trying to compensate emotionally. We’re working under very good conditions for a German TV movie, including using the world’s 2nd largest water tank, in Malta.”

For Polyphon, a company whose pedigree stretches back forty years and which now specializes in high-end drama series, managing director Matthias Esche “agreed on a handshake after a five minute pitch! The reaction was the same from our two partners, NDR and Degeto Film, who were enthusiastic enough to back us from the start. It has everything a film like this should have! Our philosophy is to deliver great entertainment but also the unusual, and this, our first, big TV movie event story, will do that and more.”

Genre Drama

Year of Production 2005
Director Kaspar Heidelbach
Screenplay Fritz Mueller-Scherz
Cinematography Daniel Koppelkamm
Hedy Altschiller
Arno Steffen
Goetz Weidner
Cast Klaus J. Behrendt, Jan Josef Liefers, Herbert Knaup, Max Riemelt, Karoline Teska, Elena Uhlig
Producer Matthias Esche
Production Company Polyphon Film- und Fernsehgesellschaft/Hamburg, in cooperation with Degeto Film, NDR/Hamburg, ARTE
Format Super 16
Shooting Dates Hamburg, Cuxhaven, Moenchengladbach, Cologne, Schleswig-Holstein, Tenerife, Malta, June - October 2005
Sound Technology Dolby SR
With backing from MOIN Filmförderung Hamburg Schleswig-Holstein, Film- und Medienstiftung NRW, Nordmedia

Polyphon Film- und Fernsehgesellschaft mbH