East German Film Biz Still A World Apart

Germany has reunited, but former East German film and tv companies will still maintain a separate identity at this year’s Berlin market, which will be a testing ground for their ability to survive.

If all goes well, they’ll successfully master capitalism to become players at next year’s market as full-fledged German companies. If not, they won’t be around at future markets.

Berlin is a critical test for East German pic and tube companies Progress Filmverleih, DEFA Studios, DEFA Dokumentarfilme and DFF because it’s an international marketplace on home turf, enabling the cash-poor companies to do business without assuming the overhead of traveling to another fest.

Hans Muller, director of Progress Film, is confident that Progress can make it in Berlin. Progress was formerly the 100% state-subsidized distribution monopoly in East Germany. The distribbery is now a limited-liability company, but until March will still shoulder distribution responsibilities for all features produced by the mammoth DEFA studio. After that, the lot’s future is unclear.

Progress will be offering nine DEFA films at the market this year including Roland Grafs “Tangospieler,” which preems in competition. The film tells the story of a man sentenced to two years in prison for the crime of playing a tango on piano. German pubcaster WDR and Switzerland’s CSM Film were co-producers on the project. Progress holds world rights to it and all other DEFA films.

Muller is optimistic about the chances of Siegfried Kuhn’s “Heute Sterben Immer Nur Die Anderen,” starring Katrin Sass as a woman with terminal cancer. Pic examines elements of illness, death, dying and euthanasia.

Another offering, “Tanz Auf Der Kippe,” which will play in the Panorama section of the festival, looks back at the fall of the Berlin wall examining the relationship between a 17-year old student and his much older teacher/love interest. “Das Madchen Aus Dem Fahrstuhl” by helmer Hermann Zschoche, who was banned from directing under the Communist regime, is another Progress film dealing with the recent political upheavals in East Germany.

One of Progress’ new priorities is to shop for what Muller calls “not-spectacular-quality films.” The company must expand its catalog soon with non-DEFA product, as DEFA is about to undergo a dramatic transformation and probably will no longer be a source for Progress.

Lot for hire

DEFA is, in fact, sharing a stand with Progress to sell its services as a studio. The lot is working with market director Beki Probst to provide tours of the studio to encourage investment and production in the facility. Located in Babelsberg, which abuts Berlin, Europe’s largest production facility is only 10 minutes out of town.

DEFA spokesman Karl-Heinz Dorschner says the studio will also produce a video extolling and enumerating its offerings as a full-service production facility. DEFA is now prepared to rent everything from soundstages to access to Europe’s biggest prop and costumes departments. Other studio services include set design, special effects, sound facilities and equipment rental.

DEFA Dokumentarfilme is no longer affiliated with the studio of the same name. The company will be at the Berlin mart to sell some 50 productions from the past year. Many have been picked up by indie German distribs but world rights are available, according to spokesman Richard Muller. Company president Friedrich Seidel will be at the market along with co-director Richard Ritterbusch, veep Thomas Schmidt, Manfred Schmidt, Susanne Fieenhold and p.r. reps Heinrich Burger and Beate Fischer.

DEFA Dok’s lineup of shorts and features is especially heavy on films critical of the former East German regime, such as Andreas Voight’s “Letztes Jahr Titanic,” showing in the Forum, and pics depicting the uprising that preceded the fall of the Wall. DFF, the former GDR broadcast monopoly, is now just another German pubcaster. The web won’t rent a stand this year, but plans to send several reps.

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