Wim Wenders

Wim Wenders, Professor of Film at The European Graduate School / EGS.


Wim Wenders (b. 1945) is a film director, writer, and photographer. He is a professor of film at The European Graduate School / EGS and Professor für Narrativen Film at the Hochschule für bildende Künste Hamburg. Wenders is considered one of the most important figures to have emerged from the “New German Cinema” in the 1970s and was a founding member of the German film distribution company “Filmverlag der Autoren”. In 1977, he established his own production company in Berlin, “Road Movies,” which has produced many of his films, as well as numerous films by Ken Loach. Wenders received the Cannes Film Festival’s Palme d’Or in 1984 for his movie Paris, Texas, the Golden Lion at the 1982 Venice Film Festival for The State of Things, and won best director at the 1987 Cannes Film Festival for Wings of Desire. He has also been nominated three times for the Academy Awards for his films Buena Vista Social Club (2000), Pina (2012), and, most recently, The Salt of the Earth (2015).

Born in Düsseldorf, Wenders grew up in Düsseldorf, Koblenz and the surrounding areas. His early studies followed in the footsteps of his father with Wenders spending a year studying medicine in Freiburg (1963-1964), followed by a year studying philosophy (1964-1965). However, in 1966, he dropped out of university and moved to Paris to become a painter. In Paris, he worked as an engraver and has often described this period as the loneliest time of his life. As a result, he started to spend more and more time at Henri Langlois’s Cinémathèque and became enchanted by film, watching more than five films per day. After this experience, he returned to Germany and attended the University of Television and Film in Munich from 1967 to 1970, where he also began working as a film critic for Süddeutsche Zeitung and Filmkritik.

Wenders’s directorial debut was also his thesis film, Summer in the City, produced in 1970. This film also marks the start of a long and fruitful collaboration with his frequent cinematographer Robby Müller. His second film, The Goalkeeper’s Fear of the Penalty (1972), marked the beginning of another important collaboration––that with the Austrian writer Peter Handke. The Goalkeeper’s Fear of the Penalty was Wender’s adaptation of Handke’s critically acclaimed novel. Handke also wrote the script for Wenders’s movie The Wrong Move (1975) and co-wrote with Wenders the script for Wings of Desire (1987). Wenders sees the primary theme of this period in his career as “the Americanization of Germany.”

In 1978, Francis Ford Coppola hired Wenders to make a noir film, Hammett, loosely based on the life of Dashiell Hammett, before he became a writer. Unfortunately, their collaboration was not successful and, in the end, only thirty percent of the material Wenders shot remained in the final version of the film. One of their main disputes on set was over the choice of the main actor––Wenders wanted Sam Shepard, but he was not allowed to cast him. In part, addressing issues that arose during the making of Hammett, Wenders produced the short film Reverse Angle (1982), which reflects upon “filmmaking in Europe and America.”

When the shooting of Hammett was suspended, Wenders returned to Europe and made The State of Things (1982). This was a very personal and self-reflexive film in which Wenders again addressed some of the difficulties that he encountered during the making of Hammett. The State of Things tells the story about a German art film director, Friedrich Munro, and his film crew who are left stranded in Portugal after they lost the financial backing for the completion of their film. This film is also partially based on the problems that Raúl Ruiz had during the making of The Territory (1981), which Wenders had helped him to complete, and was thus also an inspiration for The State of Things. Friedrich Munro reappears in Lisbon Story (1994), which is considered as a partial sequel to The State of Things.

In 1984, Wenders completed one of his most successful films, Paris, Texas. The movie is based on a screenplay written by Sam Shepard and marks the end of the director’s so-called “American phase.” Following the success of his film, Wenders embarked on a prolonged period of travel and filming around the world, including Germany, Japan, Australia, Cuba and Israel. He first returned to Germany and made Wings of Desire (1987), which was another huge international success, and for which he received the award for best director at the Cannes Film Festival.

After he completed Wings of Desire, Wenders went to Japan were he made the highly acclaimed documentary Tokyo-Ga (1985) about the legendary Japanese filmmaker Yasujiro Ozu. Wenders’s forary into documentary filmmaking has been highly successful with some of his most important works during this period focusing on music. Buena Vista Social Club (1999) follows Ry Cooder and the music of Cuba and The Soul of a Man explores American blues music and the careers of Skip James, Blind Willie Johnson, and J.B. Lenoir.

Currently, Wim Wenders’s work explores 3D as a new language of filmmaking. The films If Buildings Could Talk (2010), Pina (2011), and Every Thing Will Be Fine (2015) approach this question from different perspectives. If Buildings Could Talk, Wenders’s short film about The Berlin Philharmonic, within the six-part omnibus Cathedrals of Culture (2014), uses 3D technology to offer a unique experience of architectural space, while Pina (2011), about dance choreographer Pina Bausch and her company, attempts to present movement, dance, and physicality in a new and visceral way. According to Wenders, 3D technology possesses hidden revolutionary potential that still remains unexplored. He insists that the language of 3D makes everything more visible, more emphatic––including the acting––as in Every Thing Will Be Fine (2015), the slightest show of emotion is perceived as “overacting,” and as such, this technique demands a new approach from the actor. According to Wenders, the 3D camera fundamentally questions and alters the profession of an actor, and therefore creates a completely new mindset both for the making and perception of films.

He is also a well-known photographer; his beautiful images of desolate landscapes engage themes of memory, time, and movement. After decades of photographing abandoned spaces and lonely roads throughout the world, Wenders produced the series of photographs, Pictures From the Surface of the Earth and Places, Strange and Quiet, which have been exhibited in numerous museums and art institutions.

Wenders is president of the European Film Academy, and an honorary professor at the University for Television and Film in Munich. He became a member of the Academy of Arts, Berlin in 1984, and holds four honorary doctorates from the Sorbonne, Paris (1989); the Theological Faculty of Fribourg University, Switzerland (1995); the University of Louvain, Belgium (2005); and the Architectural Faculty of the University of Catania, Italy (2010).

Presently, Wim Wenders and his wife, photographer Donata Wenders, live in Berlin. In the fall of 2012, they established the Wim Wenders Foundation situated in Düsseldorf. By acquiring the rights to all of his films, including those currently held by third parties, its primary aim is to make Wim Wenders’s oeuvre permanently accessible to the public at large. As well, the foundation provides a stipend, the Wim Wenders Bursary, for young filmmakers and artists “whose vision is to tell stories with new aesthetic and technical means and to enrich and renew our visual language.”