Volker spent 48 years with ARRI; for 32 years, he was CEO of ARRI Inc, the company’s first subsidiary in the USA.
Glenn Kennel will become President of ARRI Inc in the spring, and Simon Broad will be president of ARRI/CSC. More about them in another article, but first a quick review of names.
Arnold & Richter Cine Technik, also known as ARRI, is the company founded in Munich in 1917 by classmates August Arnold and Robert Richter. ARRI Inc is the USA subsidiary of the company. Arriflex and Arricams are cameras built by ARRI.
I’ve known Volker since 1972, the day I first dropped off a battered Arriflex 35-2C for repair. It was a small facility in the larger Berkey building off the Brooklyn Queens Expressway near LaGuardia Airport. “You need a better case for this camera,” Volker said.
Over the next 38 years, he built ARRI Inc. into the formidable company it is today, and has continued providing guru-grade advice to me and an entire generation of filmmakers.
In 1978, Volker advised me to buy a 16SR camera, get married and buy an apartment—all within the span of two weeks.
Ours has been one of the longest collaborations in the business, sort of like Rodgers and Hart, Simon & Schuster, Scorcese and Schoonmaker, Siskel & Ebert, Bonnie & Clyde, Ben & Jerry…
Volker has been mentor, producer, writer, filmmaker or instigator of many productions together. I was always the freelance filmmaker and he was like a Renaissance patron. He produced and wrote five of our films, published and launched ten books, and always looked ahead to the next journey. Along the way, he taught me fundamental economics (buying cameras – without a business plan) and advanced economics (the definition of a business plan).
His advice was good. “Invest in what you know about.” Ninety-nine cases of working Arriflex cameras and accessories accompanied Jon Ercole and me everywhere we shot around the world, and it was a comfort to know we had the equipment we needed for any situation, and an investment more solid than any bank fund.
What most people may not know about Volker is that he is a very talented writer, a Joseph Conrad of the film business. Most of the early ads and articles for ARRI were written by him, or painstakingly parsed with his advertising agencies and writing partners. He would discuss dangling participles with Columbia University English post-doc Steve Chamberlain or punctilious copywriters like Alastair Riach.
Our most recent and most interesting project together was the “Cinematographer Style” film and books, which began as a short film and grew into a feature length 35mm motion picture, and eventually returned as a two volume paperback set. Volker was executive producer, writer and ombudsman—collecting and managing a diverse coalition of collaborating companies from around the world, and not letting us finish the film until it truly felt complete.
Volker Bahnemann was born in Munich, Germany on April 7, 1942.
When he was sixteen he decided to become an apprentice at Arnold & Richter, which was a few blocks from his home. He completed his three and a half year apprenticeship and another year of specialized service training. The first job apprentices did was to file, by hand, a piece of aluminum into a perfect square. This took about 6 weeks.
Each of the 17 apprentices were graded on their success with perfectly square angles, and of course, the larger the final cube, the fewer mistakes you had made along the way. Later on, the apprentices had to cut, by hand, a triangular opening in one piece of metal, and a corresponding triangular solid from another piece. The closer they fit together, the better was deemed your potential success at ARRI.
Shortly after, he left Arnold & Richter to join a friend in Mexico to work as assistant to the managing director of an agricultural machinery manufacturer, Bombas Nationales, S.A.
Throughout his Mexican adventure, Volker stayed in touch with a colleague at Arnold & Richter. He learned that Paul Klingenstein, the distributor of Arriflex equipment in the United States at the time, needed technical support for his expanding business. Klingenstein offered Volker a position as a camera service technician, and in 1962 Volker left Mexico for New York and a new career in the American film industry.
He became Service Manager and rose steadily through the ranks until he was promoted to VP Marketing for ARRI’s expanding product line in 1971. When I met him the following year, Volker had a bandito style mustache and bell bottom trousers.
Juergen Schwinzer was in the service department along with Wolfie Schmidt and Wolfgang Roessel. Some of the famous names working with Volker at Arriflex Company at the time were Anton Wilson, who founded Anton/Bauer, and Alfred Chrosziel.
In 1974 Volker was named President of Arriflex Company, a division of Berkey Photo Inc. which was a large photographic product marketing company, listed on the New York stock exchange.
Volker immersed himself in every aspect of the film business. He worked hard and took business courses in his spare time. He got a pilot’s license and became the youngest Associate Member of the American Society of Cinematographers in 1974. He built relationships with many cinematographers, assistants and camera crews—friendships that continue to this day. I don’t think we’re getting overly weepy when we point out how important these relationships are and how unique they are within the family of motion picture craftsmen and women.
In 1978, with the support of Arnold & Richter, Volker separated Arriflex Company from Berkey Photo Inc. and formed the new Arriflex Corporation as a subsidiary of the German company. Operating in the USA, the largest film market in the world, Volker had a huge influence initiating the development of new products to meet or anticipate industry demand.
Volker holds five U.S. patents in motion picture imaging technology and is well-known as one of a handful of motion picture executives with a strong technical background combined with a thorough understanding of filmmakers’ needs. The early days in Hollywood were interesting. He and his company were competing with an established studio system and a long-standing way of shooting things. The idea of a lighter, smaller camera that fit inside a bus (Cinemobile) along with grip, electric, cast and crew was totally outrageous.
Volker understood how ARRI products, which were largely created from a European filmmaking perspective, would need to evolve dramatically to meet the demands of Hollywood and rest-of-the-world film production.
At ARRI Inc, Volker was responsible for the initiation, development and refinement of many important filmmaking technologies, including the Arriflex 35-3, Arriflex 765, Arriflex 435, Arriflex 235 cameras, ARRI/Zeiss High Speed and Variable Prime lenses. These products had a huge impact on the way films were shot and have all been recognized by the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences with Scientific (AMPAS) and Technical Awards.
In 1996, AMPAS also recognized Bahnemann with the John A. Bonner Award, “in appreciation for outstanding service and dedication in upholding the high standards of the Academy.” Volker became a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 1977 and served on the Scientific and Technical committee for many years. In 2002, for his contributions, S.M.P.T.E. honored him with the Fuji Gold Medal Award.
He was married in 1967 and became a citizen of the United States in 1984. Volker and Barbara Bahnemann live with their family and many pets in Connecticut.
Volker has been an active pilot since 1968, and holds a commercial pilot’s license with Instrument, Multi-Engine and Flight Instructor ratings. This passion once had him actually thinking of becoming a pilot as a career option. Well, it’s never too late for him to decide what he wants to do when he grows up.
I look forward to stepping aboard a small plane in the Florida Keys, and hearing Volker’s voice coming from the cockpit. In his spare time, I hope he’ll consider writing editorials for Film and Digital Times. I’m grateful for all of Volker’s guru guidance and friendship. It’s been an amazing run, and I look forward to our continued adventures together in the many years to come.
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