Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck

Florian Maria Georg Christian Graf Henckel von Donnersmarck[1] (born 2 May 1973) is a German film director, best known for writing and directing the 2006 Oscar-winning dramatic thriller The Lives of Others, the 2010 three time Golden Globe nominated romantic thriller The Tourist starring Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp, and the two-time Oscar-nominated 2018 epic drama Never Look Away.

Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck
von Donnersmarck in 2015
Florian Maria Georg Christian Graf Henckel von Donnersmarck

(1973-05-02) 2 May 1973
OccupationFilm director
Years active1996–present
Spouse(s)Christiane Asschenfeldt

Early years

Donnersmarck was born in 1973 in Cologne, West Germany, into the aristocratic Roman Catholic Henckel von Donnersmarck family, and grew up in New York City, Brussels, Frankfurt, and West Berlin. He is fluent in English, German, French, Russian, and Italian. After graduating at the top of his class from the German section of the European School of Brussels I, he studied Russian literature in St. Petersburg for two years and passed the State Exam for Teachers of Russian as a Foreign Language. He holds a Master of Arts degree in Philosophy, politics and economics at New College, Oxford, and a diploma in Film Directing from the University of Television and Film Munich.[2]


The younger son of Leo-Ferdinand, Count Henckel von Donnersmarck, a former president of the German division of the Order of Malta, and literary scout Anna Maria von Berg, Henckel von Donnersmarck holds German and Austrian citizenships. His father's only brother, Gregor Henckel-Donnersmarck, is the emeritus abbot at Heiligenkreuz Abbey, a Cistercian monastery in the Vienna Woods where Florian spent a month writing the first draft of The Lives of Others (German: Das Leben der Anderen).[3]

Henckel von Donnersmarck is married to Christiane Asschenfeldt, the first International Executive Director of Creative Commons. They have three children and currently live in Los Angeles.[4] He stands 2.10 m (almost 6 ft 11 in) tall.


In 1977, while living as a child in New York, he saw his first movie at the Museum of Modern Art. He expected to see Doctor Dolittle but was "exposed instead to" the German melodrama Varieté. He cites this experience as the start of his interest in film.[5]

In 1996, he won a directing apprenticeship with Richard Attenborough on In Love and War, and then went to study at the Fiction Directing Class of the Hochschule für Fernsehen und Film München (University of Television and Film Munich), Germany, alma mater of directors as diverse as Wim Wenders, Roland Emmerich and Maren Ade, who was Donnersmarck's classmate. His first short film, Dobermann (which he wrote, produced, directed and edited), broke the school record for the number of awards won by a student production. It became an international festival sensation, and Donnersmarck travelled the festival circuit for over a year.[6][7]

His first feature film Das Leben der Anderen (The Lives of Others), which Donnersmarck spent three years writing, directing and completing, won the European Film Award for Best Film, Best Actor and Best Screenplay in 2006. Donnersmarck won the Los Angeles Film Critics Association's award for Best Foreign Film, was nominated for the Golden Globe (which went to Clint Eastwood instead), and on 25 February 2007 won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.[8] In 2007, Donnersmarck was one of 115 new members to be invited to join AMPAS.[9]

His next film, The Tourist, which Donnersmarck re-wrote, directed and completed in under 11 months (telling Charlie Rose he had wanted a break from writing a dark screenplay about suicide), was a thriller starring Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp. The film was nominated for three Golden Globes: Best Musical or Comedy, Depp for Actor Musical or Comedy and Jolie for Actress Musical or Comedy.[10][11] It also won three Teen Choice Awards nominations (Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress) of which it won two. The film opened to middling number, but eventually ended up grossing US$278.3 million at the worldwide box office,[12] prompting The Hollywood Reporter belatedly to proclaim it an "international hit".[13]

In 2019, his third feature film Never Look Away was nominated for the Golden Lion at the 75th Venice International Film Festival, for a Golden Globe by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association and for two Oscars in the Best Foreign Language Film and Best Cinematography categories at the 91st Academy Awards.[14] This was only the second time in history that a German language film by a German director was nominated for an Oscar in multiple categories, the other film being Wolfgang Petersen's Das Boot 36 years prior. It became one of only 16 German language features since the end of WW2 to surpass one million euros at the North American box office[15]. He is the only director who has 2 films in that list. In the Netherlands, one of the first countries to release the movies outside of Germany, Never Look Away became the most successful German language film since The Lives of Others[16][17].


In a 2010 interview with The Guardian, director Howard Davies named Donnersmarck as the artist he most admired.[18]

René Pollesch wrote a play, L'Affaire Martin!, which poked fun at von Donnersmarck. According to Pollesch, the director's parents attended a performance and came backstage to say they liked it.[19]

After meeting him at the Davos World Economic Forum, Jay Nordlinger, writing for the National Review, described Donnersmarck as "one of the most impressive people on the planet".[20]

The Europe List, a largest survey on European culture, named Donnersmarck's The Lives of Others second on a list of the best films in European culture.[21]


Commander of the Bavarian Order of Merit

Commander of the North Rhine-Westphalian Order of Merit

Voting Member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences

In 2011, Donnersmarck was honoured by the University of Oxford, his alma mater, as one of its 100 most distinguished members from 10 centuries. The university named 100 streets in Oxford's historical centre after these graduates, with Upper Oxpens Road renamed for Donnersmarck.[22]

Selected awards and nominations


  • Mitternacht (1997) (short film)
  • Das Datum (1998) (short film)
  • Dobermann (1999) (short film)
  • Der Templer (2002) (short film)
  • The Lives of Others (2006) (writer, director, co-producer)
  • The Tourist (2010) (writer, director)
  • Never Look Away (2018)


  1. O'Neill, Phelim. "First sight: Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck", The Guardian, (6 April 2007)
  2. "Interview: Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck of The Lives of Others". Blog.oregonlive.com. Retrieved 8 October 2010.
  3. Rohter, Larry. "German Director Plunges Beyond His Comfort Zone", The New York Times, 8 December 2010 (9 December 2010 p. C1 NY ed.). Retrieved 8 December 2010.
  4. Academy Invites 115 to Become Members Archived July 1, 2007, at the Wayback Machine
  5. "The 68th Annual Golden Globe Awards NOMINATIONS | OFFICIAL WEBSITE of the HFPA and the GOLDEN GLOBE AWARDS". Goldenglobes.org. 2010-12-14. Archived from the original on 2012-05-05. Retrieved 2011-04-30.
  6. "HFPA - Nominations and Winners 2010". Archived from the original on 2012-09-20. Retrieved 2010-12-22.
  7. "The Tourist (2010)". Box Office Mojo. 24 April 2011. Retrieved 24 April 2011.
  8. "Box Office Shocker: The Tourist has Become an International Hit". The Hollywood Reporter. 2 June 2011. Retrieved 14 September 2011.
  9. "Foreign Language Film Nominations 2019 Oscars". oscar.go.com. 22 January 2019. Retrieved 22 January 2019.
  10. "Foreign Language Movies at the Box Office - Box Office Mojo". www.boxofficemojo.com. Retrieved 2019-04-07.
  11. "2019 Netherlands Yearly Box Office Results". www.boxofficemojo.com. Retrieved 2019-04-07.
  12. "2007 Netherlands Yearly Box Office Results". www.boxofficemojo.com. Retrieved 2019-04-07.
  13. Laura Barnett (18 October 2010). "Portrait of the artist: Howard Davies, director". The Guardian.
  14. J. S. Marcus (17 August 2007). "Theater With a Biting View of Society". Wall Street Journal.
  15. "The self-perception of Europeans in comparison with the perception of other countries". Goethe Institute.
  16. Reference to Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck at Oxford University website Archived 2013-03-23 at the Wayback Machine, 24 March 2013

Further reading

  • Cooke, Paul (2013). The Lives of Others and Contemporary German Film: A Companion. Walter De Gruyter Incorporated. ISBN 978-3110268102.
  • von Donnersmarck, Florian Henckel (2006). Das Leben der anderen. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp. ISBN 3-518-45786-1.
  • von Donnersmarck, Florian Henckel (2007). Das Leben der anderen. Geschwärzte Ausgabe. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp. ISBN 3-518-45908-2.
  • Nagel, Daniela (2008). Das Drehbuch - ein Drama für die Leinwand? Drehbuchanalyse am Beispiel von Florian Henckel von Donnersmarcks "Das Leben der anderen". Tectum Verlag. ISBN 978-3828897243.
  • A list of publications, including many articles

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