Films with messages turn out to be hot titles

BERLIN — Last year’s political posturing on the eve of the war in Iraq seems to have translated to a crop of weighty, politically charged pics at this year’s Berlin Film Festival.

A film from Paris-based Celluloid Dreams about two young Palestinian suicide bombers, for example, turned out to be one of the market’s hottest presale titles. “Paradise Now,” a French-Dutch-German-Israeli co-production, sold throughout Europe and in Israel.

Even some of the more popular and “lighthearted” titles were saddled with heavy political baggage.

Panorama screener and European Film Market hit “Walk on Water” from Israeli director Eytan Fox tells the story of a jaded Mossad assassin who befriends the grandchildren of the Nazi war criminal he is hunting.

Celluloid Dreams topper Hengameh Panahi says “Walk on Water” had performed much better than expected and she was eager to screen it at the upcoming American Film Market.

Finding a niche

“It definitely has more mainstream potential than we had originally thought, so we want to take our time and find the right distributor,” Panahi says. “We don’t simply want to sell it to the highest bidder; we just want to be sure to find the right distributor that will take care of the film.”

Similarly, Dirk Schuerhoff, head of distribution at EOS Distribution, says interest was high for Oliver Hirschbiegel’s “The Downfall,” about the last days of the Third Reich, but that the real business would likely take place at AFM.

Meanwhile, it was all business at the Berlinale’s new Co-Production Market, which turned out to be a hit with attendees.

Producer Lina Todd met potential German partners for “Hounddog,” a pic about a 9-year-old girl living in a dysfunctional family in 1950s North Carolina.

New York-based director Deborah Kampmeier (“Virgin”) says she’s set to shoot “Hounddog” as soon as possible, adding that it was definitely worthwhile to take the project to Berlin.

Also notable at the mart was the number of distribs looking to buy back-catalog titles for DVD release, such as Germany’s Kinowelt. DVD boom in several Euro territories has made older titles attractive once again.

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