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Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck was born in 1973. His late father was an executive with Lufthansa German Airlines, and his mother a literary scout for Oldenbourg Academic Publishers. Florian grew up in the US, Germany and Belgium. He lists as the strongest cultural influences of his childhood the Humanistic High Schools he attended in Berlin and Frankfurt, the idea of European integration he was exposed to in Brussels and the nights spent at the New York City Opera, Schauspiel Frankfurt, La Monnaie and other theatres. Upon finishing high school, Florian studied Russian Language and Literature in Saint Petersburg, graduating as a Soviet-certified Teacher of Russian as a Foreign Language. He went on to read Politics and Philosophy at Oxford.
In his final year at Oxford, Florian won an essay competition to become apprentice to director Richard Attenborough on the Hemingway film “In Love and War.” The experience of the apprenticeship convinced him to use his passion for literature, music and spectacle in the medium of cinema. So, from 1997 to 2001, Florian obtained a third degree, this time in filmmaking, from the University for Television and Film, Munich. During that time he won numerous festival awards for his short films, among them the Max Ophüls Prize.
While at film school, Florian wrote an outline, “Sonata for a Good Man”, which told of the relationship between a Stasi agent and the dramatist with whose surveillance he is charged. In this story, looking back at “the century of ideologies”, Florian explored the old aesthetic question of how to bridge the chasm between thinking and feeling. Florian felt this tale would allow him to tackle a subject matter that was personal and important to him, while trying to create on film the dramatic and psychological complexity he had often encountered in novels.
In 2002 Florian moved to East Berlin to research the historical aspects of this plot, and wrote a screenplay which he ended up calling “The Lives of Others”. He teamed up with producer duo Wiedemann & Berg, who were his friends from film school. With support from public broadcaster BR and international sales agent Jan Mojto, it became possible to shoot “The Lives of Others” in November and December of 2004. The shoot lasted 37 days. The finished film was released by Buena Vista in March of 2006. "The Lives of Others" went on to generate US$ 77 million at the worldwide box office, and to win the German and European Film Awards, the Los Angeles and the New York Critics’ Awards, the French Syndicate of Film Critics' Foreign Film Award, Italy’s David di Donatello, and in February 2007 the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. The string of wins continued until February 2008 when “The Lives of Others” received England’s BAFTA and France’s César.
After almost two years of presenting the film and writing and lecturing on cinema and aesthetics, Florian moved to Los Angeles to experience the center of the film world. In December of 2009, he began work on “The Tourist”, a light-hearted thriller set in Paris and Venice. In “The Tourist” Florian saw the opportunity to explore in a familiar European setting the very elements that European cinema is habitually denied: true Opulence of Décor, and the Mystique of the Movie Star. He aimed to create a film that would be gentle, humorous and unpretentious, and make for a soothing, almost contemplative experience of deceleration and elegance.
“The Tourist” was shot in 58 days from late February to early May 2010 and released by Columbia Pictures in early December of the same year. It generated US$ 278 million at the worldwide box office and was nominated for three Golden Globe Awards in the Best Picture, Best Actor and Best Actress: Comedy categories. It was nominated three times at the 37th People's Choice Awards (CBS), winning Favorite Movie Actor for Johnny Depp. It was nominated for three 2011 Teen Choice Awards (Fox) in the Best Picture, Best Actor and Best Actress: Action categories, winning the latter two for Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie. It also won the Redbox Movie Award 2011 for Best Drama, making it the only film ever to be nominated for awards in Comedy, Action and Drama categories.
Florian is a member of the International Council at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the French Ordre des Arts et Lettres and the Bavarian and Northrhine-Westphalian Orders of Merit. In 2013 he was named a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum.