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A film by Dominik Wessley and Marcus Vetter

The reanimation of the glass manufacturer Theresienthal

A film by Dominik Wessley and Marcus Vetter

The reanimation of the glass manufacturer Theresienthal

The Unbreakable

The rescue of a traditional German company

When the Theresienthal glassworks filed for insolvency in April 2001, a tradition of glassmaking that goes back more than half a millennium came to an end. The message seems clear: there is no place in a globalized market for a company that has hardly changed for 500 years. But the former employees are not giving up…

The film accompanies former workers of the company who, together with partners of the Eberhard von Kuenheim Foundation and other comrades-in-arms, are making a new start for Theresienthal: through their own initiative, creativity and unusual ideas, they overcome the already proverbial German standstill and finally also their long-term unemployment. Since August 2004, glass is being made in Theresienthal again.

For 39 years, Max Hannes’ life is connected with the crystal glass manufactory Theresienthal: At the age of 14 he starts his apprenticeship as a glass cutter, then he becomes a master craftsman and finally works manager. In April 2001, the glassworks has to file for insolvency – it is only one of 40,000 company collapses in Germany in 2001. For the people of Theresienthal, the bankruptcy means the end of a centuries-old tradition of glassmaking.

Max Hannes and his colleagues join the army of the five million unemployed. Two years after the bankruptcy, a few young idealists discover the ailing glassworks in the Bavarian Forest for themselves: Christoph Glaser, Mirjam Storim and the Eberhard von Kuenheim Foundation are convinced that not everything that is old must therefore be worthless.

They believe that even in Germany things can get moving if people allow change, if they take courage and finally use their imagination again to dare something new instead of just following the past.

They share a dream with Max Hannes: glass is to be made again in Theresienthal. The best in Germany. Today, in the summer of 2006, glass is being made in Theresienthal for the second year in operation, the furnace glows as it did five hundred years ago. 18 long-term unemployed, most of them at an age when others are already thinking about retirement, have found permanent work again. They call it ‘The Miracle of Theresienthal’.

DIE UNZERBRECHLICHEN accompanies Max Hannes, Christoph Glaser, Mirjam Storim and the glassmakers of Theresienthal over a period of three years in their tenacious fight for one of the oldest traditional German companies. A rescue story that awakens hope. Because only after the glassmakers of Theresienthal had already lost everything could they win the future.

But the documentary by Dominik Wessely and Marcus Vetter does not only tell an economic success story – exciting, entertaining and up close it shows the progress and setbacks of the men from Theresienthal on their often arduous way back to the market. The film familiarizes the viewer with the protagonists (who, although they don’t always speak the same language, still pursue the same goal), makes the personal stories behind the company’s history tangible and the significance that the insolvency and the new start have for those involved. In this way DIE UNZERBRECHLICHEN has become a lesson in personal initiative and a plea for partnership.

Trailer

A film by Dominik Wessley & Marcus Vetter

Director´s Statement

by DOMINIK WESSELY

We all know it: You meet a person, you come across a text. And suddenly, from one second to the next, curiosity is aroused and a premonition is formed that there is something waiting for you, something you already know about, without being able to say how.

Such a moment also stands at the beginning of the unbreakable: In the summer of 2003 I was sitting in Munich listening to the story of a good friend. He told me about an experience he had had a few days earlier: he had visited Theresienthal, an ancient glassworks in the Bavarian Forest. It had gone bankrupt and was now rotting away. The friend described the place to me: the soot-blackened roof truss, the hall with the cooled-down ovens, the warning signs of doom: normal clocks, all stopped at the same time because the electricity had been turned off. Dusty calendar sheets that still showed the last working day – April 30, 2001 – and he told me about the people he had met: unemployed glassmakers, men and women around 50 who burst into tears because they still wouldn’t accept that “their” Theresienthal had landed on the rubbish heap of history after almost 600 years.

Inspired by my inner images, I decided to visit the hut myself. To make a long story short: reality not only withstood the imagination, it far surpassed it. So a story told over lunch turned into almost three years of filming, during which we accompanied the arduous but also wondrous journey of one of the oldest traditional German companies out of bankruptcy back into the market. 240 hours of material, from which the editor Anja Pohl distilled 93 minutes. Her contribution to the becoming of the unbreakable cannot be overestimated.

After numerous works for format television – from docu-soap to living history – Die Unzerbrechlichen signifies for me a return to the classic documentary as an auteur film. Free from editorial or format constraints, supported by a trustworthy producer, we were able to find the film we had been shooting all along in the editing room for months. The rediscovery of slowness as a productive working principle was a delightful experience.

Reviews

Almost inevitably, it has driven our profit-oriented society in this direction, from which it will be difficult to get away for the time being. The flourishing discount culture, with cheap offers that one could only dream of ten years ago, seems, on the surface, to be enjoying the consumer thanks to monetary benefits, as they say. But behind the beautiful appearance, there is a threat of a loss of quality, of work, of craftsmanship. 1.49 euros for six wine glasses called “Reko” – such an offer from a well-known Swedish wooden furniture discounter seems to make fun of the traditional glazier’s craft in the shabbiest possible way even on paper.

And while the cynical laughter of the discounters still lingers on, businesses like the traditional glassworks Theresienthal, whose mouth-blown and handcrafted wine goblet “Dagmar” is a bargain at 29 euros a piece, for example, are squeezing the door handle of the insolvency administrator. But especially former employees of Theresienthal, unemployed since 2001, did not want to be made a victim of globalisation and, thanks to great creativity and commitment, first found a potent sponsor and, since mid-2004, also found their way back into the production of craftsmanship that is now emphatically tradition-conscious.

By Oliver Baumgarten

Dominik Wessely and Marcus Vetter dedicate their entertaining and relaxed documentary film to these “unbreakable” people. The protagonists and dramaturgy of the film make it look a little like a representative of the sports film genre in which a handful of discarded, edgy but ultimately fundamentally likeable ex-professionals form a team for the last time and sensationally win the championship in the end. There is, for example, the gnarled glassblower, a master of his class, who is reluctant to re-enter at the beginning because he can immediately forget about the Ich-AG he has just been approved by the authorities. The eternally doubting but fundamentally loyal foreman, the chain-smoking company institution from the sales department: they will all win in the end, and this little social worker pathos that the film sometimes spreads is one that one is happy to put up with. All in all, however, which is also one of the film’s strengths, the filmmakers also suggest that this “Miracle of Theresienthal”, as the employees call it, is a controlled miracle. Not one that the workers have wrested from the globalized economy, but one that one can afford to do out of the globalized economy. Because the motor behind the Theresienthal initiative is the Eberhard von Kuenheim Foundation – an institution from BMW.

Source: Schnitt #45

Credits & Awards

A production of ARTE and the Bayrischer Rundfunk

Year of production2006
Lenght96 minutes
ProducerMichael Jungfleisch
In co-production withARTE, BR
Gambit Filmproduktion GmbH
DirectorDominik Wessley
Co-DirectorMarcus Vetter
Director of photographyOascal Schmitt
Grischa Schmitz
EditingAnja Pohl
DistributionSalzberger
Supported byMFG Filmförderung Baden-Württemberg
FFF Film Förder Fond Bayern
FFA Filmförderanstalt des Bundes

Awards

2006Göthe Institut Documentary Award
Duisburg Filmweek
2007Film+ Film Festival – Best editing

Festivals

200712. Festival des deutschen Films in Paris
2006Filmfest München
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