Government, filmmakers seek to better biz

BERLIN — At a film summit over the weekend, Michael Naumann, minister of culture, and the newly formed Federation for Film have agreed to work together to improve the movie industry at home and abroad.

Responding to an invitation by Naumann, some 60 German directors, producers, actors, representatives from television broadcasters and officials from various state film funds gathered in the Potsdam district of Abelsberg to discuss ways in which the federal government can help the entertainment industry strengthen its position abroad.

Drop in local fare

The summit explored a number of obstacles and problems facing filmmakers locally and sought ways to remedy the situation. Conference participants at the conference, who included Oscar-winning director Volker Schlondorff, expressed alarm at the poor showing of German films last year. While 1997 saw home-made productions on 17.5 percent of the nation’s screens, last year that number dropped to 9.5 percent — a reason to worry, they all agreed.

While Naumann pointed out that “the cinema landscape is dominated by American imports,” he refused the introduction of any punitive measures, like a quota system. An improvement only can come about “by making German films competitive in Europe,” he added.

It was a sentiment shared by Elke Leonhard, chairwoman of the parliamentary Committee for Culture. While it was positive to see so many film business reps sitting together at one table, Leonhard said the industry must prosper through competition.

Naumann stressed the necessity for German filmmakers to look beyond local markets to the rest of the Continent to ensure the survival of German production companies. He also praised the federation, saying the industry can only prosper through cooperation: “Every good film is a product of teamwork, and the federation can only succeed through good teamwork.”

Business focus

Berlin-based producer Regina Ziegler said the federation can help in focusing the industry’s perspectives so that the industry can move together in the right direction.

Most agreed that the government can help, however, by taking a more active role to help production companies export their films. Naumann said a first step would be to review film-funding regulations.

In addition, the minister of culture said conditions for independent producers have to be improved. Currently, a handful of big production companies usually land most of the contracts that are given out by commercial and public broadcasters. That has to change, said Naumann.

Alfred Hurmer, a member of the AG Neue Deutsche Spielfilmproduzenten (an association of film producers), added that another problem faced by production companies was a growing tendency among TV broadcasters to establish their own production subsidiaries, leaving independent companies empty-handed.

There have been some positive signs, however. Naumann noted that German films have been tackling more serious subject matter — and receiving critical praise — rather than simply churning out comedies.

Outside influx

Television films and series have been doing increasingly better in the European market, and private investment in German film also has been on the rise.

Naumann stressed that the Federation for Film not only will try to improve conditions for the industry, but also invest in the biz’s obligation to the nation’s culture.

A second conference is scheduled for the fall in Munich.

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