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The Challenge of Adapting Fairy Tales for Film – Expert Interviews with the Editors Responsible

Film adaptations of fairy tales on ARD and ZDF successfully bring families together in front of the television. In expert interviews, the editors responsible for these adaptations explained how fairy tale material can be updated and implemented within film, and where the opportunities and challenges lie. 10 of the editors responsible for these adaptations talked about the concerns and approaches behind the current film adaptations of fairy tales, the challenges, opportunities and limitations, initially in individual interviews on site at the broadcasting organisations and then at the IZI annual conference in 2015.

Results: One quality of fairy tales is their cultural proximity and regional anchorage. Another quality is the stories of personal development contained in the fairy tales: people face great challenges, surpass themselves, and are rewarded for this in the end. In terms of content, it is mainly scenes of cruelty which pose challenges for editors. There are terrible scenes in fairy tales: sons are cursed, upon which they turn into swans (Six Swans, ZDF), children are left for dead in the woods because their families cannot feed them, and witches are shoved into the stove to be burned to death (Hansel and Gretel). Content that can be easily read out in a text becomes apparent in all its cruelty when it is translated into images, e.g. when the wolf is slit open in the fairy tale Little Red Riding Hood. In all the expert interviews and conversations on individual film adaptations of fairy tales it becomes clear that the quality of the adaptation depends on how carefully it handles the essence of the fairy tale – its universal message, its emotionality, and how these are translated so they have relevance for today’s world. Much of the written text, which has come down through tradition, is retained; however, some aspects are changed with good reason.        
ARD’s and ZDF’s aim in adapting fairy tales for film was to create a programme value that would hold its ground even within ARD’s and ZDF’s prime time programming, bring families together, and fit well with the atmosphere of national holidays such as Christmas and Easter. They have, without doubt, been successful in this. These film adaptations make fairy tales, as a cultural treasure, available to families in both a classical and a contemporary way, preserving them and transporting them further. In so doing, their quality lies in the detail of their contemporary way of narration and production.