The voices who bring English movies to German ears

It's a regular complaint among expats in Germany: just how hard can cinemas make it to find a showing of a Hollywood movie that isn't dubbed by German voice actors?

The voices who bring English movies to German ears
Voice actor Gerrit Schmidt-Foß is better known as Leonardo diCaprio to most Germans. Photos: Marco Justus Scholer/DPA

Butt for Germans, these artists are the people who make it possible to enjoy watching global films in their native language.

While they're not resented, though, almost no-one has much of an idea who provides the voices of English-speaking megastars like Leonardo DiCaprio or Daniel Craig.

Now Berlin-based photographer Marco Justus Schöler is trying to bring the unsung heroes of German movie-going to the fore with a portrait exhibition called Faces Behind the Voices, touring rail stations around the country.

“It was very, very difficult to find them, most of them don't even have an internet or Facebook page,” Schöler told The Local.

But once he had tracked down a few of the actors who did have online presences, their connections in the small world of voice acting quickly helped him to reach others to reach the full complement of 30 portraits.

“Eighty percent of the people I photographed were happy about it and wanted to be in front of the camera – but some were reluctant to destroy the illusion,” the 26-year-old photographer said.

Voice actor Sandra Schwittau is the talent behind Bart Simpson, Hilary Swank, and many others on German screens. Photos: Marco Justus Schöler/20th Century Fox

In fact, many voice actors were already film, theatre or TV veterans themselves before finding work in the world of dubbing foreign movies.

Below each portrait of the 30 actors Schöler photographed will be a tablet with headphones, ready-loaded with extracts from the films they've worked on, German versions of famous film quotes and anecdotes from their experience as dubbing actors.

“What I was really positively surprised about was how they were able to play with their voices, moving high or low or using accents,” the photographer said.

“You don't realize as a film viewer how much they synchronize themselves to the Hollywood actors.”

That can even occasionally bleed over into personal styles and mannerisms copied from the A-listers on the big screen – although it's not as common as you might think.

“If you've been dubbing the same actor for 20 years, then you take on some of their theatrical qualities, but that's only the case when the microphone is on,” Schöler said.

Voice actor Dietmar Wunder describes his work as Daniel Craig/James Bond and others (in German).

“I think they're good at separating their private and their work lives. But the guy who does Robert Downey Jr. does have a very nice pair of blue glasses just like him.”

What Schöler hopes to achieve is increased visibility for the hard work that goes into making foreign films accessible for German audiences.

It was only in 2014 that a Berlin court ruled that voice actors had the right to be named in movie credits.

“As Germans, we take dubbing for granted and don't realize how much work and art is behind dubbing,” Schöler said. “That's how we can experience the message of acting from America.”

As a voice actor, “you have to be a really good actor, a real theatrical talent,” he went on.

“I want people to recognize and respect that, to value the art of acting.”

If you're interested in seeing the “Faces Behind the Voices” exhibition, you can catch it at:

Munich Hauptbahnhof, May 4th-12th

Berlin Ostbahnhof, May 14th-23rd

Lübeck Hauptbahnhof, June 1st-13th

Mannheim Hauptbahnhof, June 20th-30th

Frankfurt Hauptbahnhof, July 5th-13th

Kiel Hauptbahnhof July, 18th-28th

Bremen Hauptbahnhof, July 30th-8th

Braunschweig Hauptbahnhof, August 11th-21st

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7 ground-breaking German movies made by female filmmakers

To celebrate the works of women in the German film industry, and at the conclusion of this year's special outdoor Berlinale, we have compiled a list of seven must-watch German films directed by women. 

7 ground-breaking German movies made by female filmmakers
A scene from System Crasher. credit: picture alliance/dpa/ZDF | Peter Hartwig

This year’s Oscars marked the first time in its almost 100-year history that two female filmmakers – Chloé Zhao and Emerald Fennell – were nominated in the Best Director category. Only five women have ever been nominated for this award. Zhao took home the gong, becoming just the second woman ever to do so.

In 2021’s Berlinale Festival, 60 percent of the films in the Generation category were directed by women — with 75 percent of female filmmakers making up the Kplus selection (a category for younger audiences).

Here is a look at seven films by some of the most influential female directors in German cinema.

Never Sleep Again (1992) — Pia Frankenberg

Featured in Berlinale’s Retrospective series, meant to showcase female filmmakers, this film is written, directed and produced by Cologne-born filmmaker, Pia Frankenberg.

The film follows three female friends through post-unification Berlin, who are making their way to a wedding when their car breaks down. They wander through the streets of former East Berlin, roaming in and out of bars meeting men. 

The dilapidated sites of the former Cold War frontier city, still scarred by World War II, become a place for sheer endless personal experimentation where the women begin to reconfigure their lives and loves.

Frankenberg’s impressionistic portrait of three women in the city reflects on the state of the newly unified Germany, where for a moment all possibilities seemed radically open. (Available on Mubi, Binged)

The German Sisters (1981) — Margarethe Von Trotta 

Considered one of the classics of the New German Cinema movement, The German Sisters tells an intimate story of Germany. 

Based on the real-life story of the Enslein sisters, it is an expression of director Margarethe Von Trotta’s combination of the personal and the political. It’s the story of Juliane, a feminist journalist and her sister, Marianne, who is a terrorist revolutionary. The film, which won six awards at the Venice Film Festival including the Golden Lion, was Margarethe Von Trotta’s third film and first collaboration with Barbara Sukowa. The director-actor duo went on to do six more films together. (Available on Mubi, Prime)

Margarethe Von Trotta on set in 1975. Photo: dpa | Bertram

Toni Erdmann (2016) — Maren Ade 

Toni Erdmann is a German-Austrian comedy which was directed, written and co-produced by Maren Ade. The film, which premiered in competition at the Cannes Film Festival, was named the best film of 2016. 

Meant to showcase the intricacies of a father-daughter relationship, the film pairs carefully constructed, three-dimensional characters in a tenderly funny character study. A hard-working woman reluctantly agrees to spend time with her estranged father when he unexpectedly arrives.

As a practical joker, the father does his best to reconnect by pretending to be her CEO’s life coach. (Available on Mubi, Kanopy, Prime, Vudu)

I Was at Home, But (2019) — Angela Schanelec 

I was at home, but (Ich war zuhause, aber) is a 2019 German drama film directed by Angela Schanelec. At the Berlinale that year, Schanelec won the Silver Bear for Best Director. 

The film is a story about a 13-year-old student, Phillip, who disappears without a trace for a week and suddenly reappears. 

It maps the existential crises his mother and teachers are confronted with that change their whole view of life. The film features several plots, which tell the stories of several people who are all connected to Phillip in some way. It has scenes with long silences, to contrast ones with heavy dialogue, which critics believe makes this film a cinematic masterpiece. (Available on Apple iTunes, Google Play Movies, Vudu, or rent on YouTube).

The Audition (2019) — Ina Weisse

This film has been described as a symphonic study of human behaviour. It’s the story of a violin teacher, who takes great interest in mentoring a student for an audition. Anna, the violinist and teacher played by Nina Hoss, shows plenty of compassion toward the boy at first, but their relationship becomes much more strained as the date of Alexander’s audition nears and Anna begins to put him through musical torture. Come the day of the exam, events take a tragic turn. (Available on Amazon Prime Video)

Pelican Blood (2019) — Katrin Gebbe 

Pelican Blood is written and directed by Katrin Gebbe, who won the 2014 Preis der Deutschen Filmkritik (German Film Critics’ Prize) for her first film.

It tells the story of a woman who trains police horses. She adopts her second child, a severely traumatised five-year-old girl. When the girl shows violent and anti-social behaviour, her new mother becomes determined to help her.

The film has been described as raising fascinating questions – how do you draw boundaries for a child who seems to ignore them or even takes a perverse pleasure in overstepping them? What can you do as a parent when you realize that your love and protection aren’t enough? (Available on Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime)

System Crasher (2019) — Nora Fingscheidt

Another film about a rebellious child, System Crasher picked up a whopping eight German Film Awards after its release in 2019.

The film has a powerful political message about the inadequacies of the universal child care system. The protagonist, Benni, is a violent nine-year-old girl who suffers from psychotic episodes. Her key social worker, Frau Bafané, tries to get Benni into special schools or facilities; dozens turn her down and Benni is too young to be effectively sectioned as an inpatient.

In an interview with The Guardian, Fingscheidt says, “There’s a very German dimension to the film in the obsession with bureaucracy, with rules that need to be adhered to. Rules like, ‘this child cannot stay in this home because they are getting too emotionally attached,’ when that institution may be the first place where a child has begun to open up.”

The film has received an incredible amount of international recognition, garnering 45 international awards. (Available on Netflix)