Bertram Verhaag - Director and Producer

For over 30 years, Bertram Verhaag has been making documentary films with his own production company, DENKMAL-FILM. Those three decades have seen the realisation of roughly 130 productions, including eight feature-length films.

During the 1980s, his proximity to the Upper Palatinate area of Bavaria motivated him to make five films exploring the proposed nuclear reprocessing plant at Wackersdorf. The best-known out of these five was „SPALTPROZESSE“ (SPLITTING THE ATOM), whose title refers not only to the process of nuclear fission, but also to the deliberate splitting of the population into supporters and opponents of the nuclear facility.

Verhaag‘s latest film on genetic engineering „SCIENTISTS UNDER ATTACK - GENETIC ENGINEERING IN THE MAGNETIC FIELD OF MONEY“ was screened to great acclaim in German and Austrian cinemas. „SCIENTISTS UNDER ATTACK“ is a documentary thriller on the independence of science. It illustrates the fate of scientists, who investigated genetic engineering, and were mercilessly punished through defamation and the withdrawal of research funds after publishing GM-critical results. Statements from scientists themselves suggest that 95% of those conducting research in the field of genetic engineering are funded by the industry. Merely 5% are independent. This situation is clearly incompatible with principles of freedom of thought - and with democracy. The question is: Can we, the public, still trust our scientists? 

Over the past twelve years, Verhaag has made nine films on genetic engineering. However, given the frustrating nature of the topic, he sees it as vital to also illustrate the other side of the story by portraying people who have consciously chosen to produce food in an ecological, holistic and sustainable way. In doing so, his aim is not only to provoke thought, but also to encourage viewers to take action. These films have garnered an impressive array of awards over the past years. For example, „THE FARMER WHO HEARS THE GRASS GROWING“ has won nine accolades so far, including „Best Ecological Film 2010“.

In June 2013, Bertram Verhaag was awarded the prestigious B.A.U.M environmental award, for his persistent film work.

Verhaag creates productions that serve society as a whole, making DENKmal a truly „social business“.He sees himself as an active participant in the movement towards more humanity, respect for nature, sustainability and courage to intervene.

His evocative works helped to defeat the plans for a reprocessing plant at Wackersdorf and to drive forward the movement against nuclear energy. His films on genetic engineering have encouraged countless people to actively engage with, and resist this deeply flawed technology. „LIFE RUNNING OUT OF CONTROL“ has served as a catalyst for the establishment of a citizens‘ movement, and was - and still is -  the foundation and backbone for the ever-growing GM-free regions.


Director's Note

I have been making films for over 30 years. Nine of them focus on the fatal consequences of genetic engineering. They have opened many people’s eyes to the implications of genetically modified plants: the impacts on our flora, fauna – and on us.

In Germany, no doubt aided partly by these films, resistance to genetic engineering steadily increased. In cinemas and at numerous events organised by environmental groups, my films were screened and hotly debated.

Thanks to the protests of a well-informed public, multinational agribusinesses had a tough time introducing GM products to Germany. There were some first glimmers of hope as, one after the other, the country’s regions declared themselves “GM-free”.

But the ban on growing GM crops didn’t prevent their poisons reaching us through the back door, via animal feed – the soya concentrate fed to our livestock. In a study at the University of Leipzig, Dr Monika Krüger found that the GM poison glyphosate is present in the bodies of almost everyone in the country. The sheer rage I felt at this revelation motivated me to continue making films about genetic engineering. This, the tenth film, aims to counter the sense of powerlessness I, and other citizens and consumers, feel. In Germany, 80% of the population is opposed to genetically modified food. Even so, glyphosate can be detected in each and every one of us. Is that democracy? Did anyone ask us whether it’s what we want?

I sought out practical alternatives: agricultural projects which have enjoyed decades of success without using genetic engineering. My aim was to set these against the reality of GM and, in doing so, to present an alternative to the poisoned chalice offered to us by agribusinesses.

There were a huge number of projects to choose from, and I decided to explore three of them in the film. SEKEM has transformed part of Egypt’s desert into fertile land. Tea plantation AMBOOTIA has rescued a whole region of India from environmental collapse. And Bavarian organic farmer FRANZ AUNKOFER might at first glance seem modest and unremarkable, but is in fact a pioneer: the first in Germany to breed organic pigs and to revive a forgotten grain, spelt. With just ten kilos of seed, he has helped the plant enjoy an incredible renaissance.

The goal of this tenth film is to present counter-examples to the soil-wrecking destruction of genetic engineering – examples which instead treat the soil with deep respect. After watching Code of Survival, viewers find that there are no arguments left for the use of GM in agriculture. In this way, the film tells the story of the end of genetic engineering.


Bertram Verhaag – Filmo/Bio

BERTRAM VERHAAG has been making documentary films for over 30 years and is one of a few filmmakers who continues to engage unflinchingly with political, environmental and social issues.
His multiple-award-winning films bolster democracy and educate people - in the broadest possible sense, by focusing on protagonists who, themselves, engage with important social issues. They encourage the viewers not to submit to the idea that „there‘s nothing I can do about it anyway!“

Born in Sosnowitz (Upper Silesia)
Study of sociology and economics
Three years freelance worker at the department of urban development in Munich
1972 – 75 Munich College of film and TV
1976 Foundation of DENKmal-Film together with Claus Strigel
As a producer, author and director, he has realized over 130 films for cinema and television.


Filmography - a selection

2015    The Farmer and His Prince
2013    Of Lucky Cows
2013    The Beloved Cattle
2012    The Ecobrewery
2011    The Agricultural Trader
2010    Scientists Under Attack
2009    The Farmer Who Hears the Grass Growing
2009    Percy Schmeiser – David versus Monsanto
2008    Life in Plastic ...
2008    Pensioners Inc.
2007    The Farmer and the Earthworms
2007    Sekem – Born of the Sun
2004    Life Running Out of Control
2002    86 000 Seconds
1997    Living on the Borders
1996    Blue Eyed
1991    The Eighth Commandment
1989    Residual Risk
1987    Nuclear Split

Awards – a selection

1st Price for Best Long Production, Goias, Brazil  / Certificate of Creative Excellence, Elmhurst, USA / Best Film of the Festival, Orlando, USA / International Federation of Journalists Media Award: Special Recommendation / Audience Award, Maremma Documentary Festival, Pitigliano, Italy / Best Film by a German Filmmaker, Black International Cinema Film-/Video Festival, Berlin / Findling, DOK Leipzig / CIVIS Award / Audience Award I.D.F.A., Amsterdam, Holland / Audience Award, Palm Springs, USA / Golden Cable for Innovation / Adolf-Grimme-Award / German Youth Video Award / Award of the German Film Critics / Silver Dove Leipzig / Award of the City of Freiburg, Munich and Salzburg / Golden Lynx for best journalistic achievement, Ökomedia / Audience Award, International Filmfestival Eberswalde / Award for Environmental Conversation and Stewardship, Arpa Film Festival / Hoimar von Ditfurth-Award, Ökofilmtour / Best Ecological Film, Greenscreen, Eckernförde / The Columbus Institute for Contemporary Journalism Award / Best of Show, Indie Film Fest / Environmental Great Prize for the best work in the category environment, CineEco, Portugal / Prize of the President of Nitra, Agro FilmFest, Slovakei / Award of the Minister of Agriculture, Life Sciences Film Festival, Czech Republic / Beste Director, Yosemite Film Festival, USA / Horst-Stern-Award for Best Nature Film, Ökofilmtour / International Jury Award – Grand Prix, T-Film Festival, Czech Republic / Prize of the Youth Jury, Green Screen Festival, Eckernförde / Nominee for the German Nature Film Award 2014, Darßer NaturFilmFestival