Germany: Leggy ‘Smith’ is rare Yank pic to pique interest

Territory reports

B.O. cume (through Sept. 28): $607 million
Top title: “Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith” (Fox, $45.6 million)

“Babel” (Tobis)
“The Constant Gardener” (Kinowelt)
“The Descent” (Universum)
“Domino” (Constantin)
“Match Point” (Prokino)

“Almost Heaven”: A quirky and bittersweet tale of a terminally ill woman who leaves hospital and her husband to fulfill a lifelong dream: to make it as a country music singer in Nashville, only to end up in Jamaica. Pic is helmed by Ed Herzog, with cast including Heike Makatsch, Wotan Wilke Moehring, Nikki Amuka-Bird and Michael Gwisdek. (Sales: Bavaria Film Intl.)
“Ghetto”: WWII-set pic, helmed by Audrius Juzenas, is a Euro co-production based on Joshua Sobol’s play about a Jewish theater in the Vilna Ghetto in Nazi-occupied Lithuania. Heino Ferch and Erika Marozsan star. (Sales: Beta Cinema)
“Unveiled”: An Iranian lesbian who fled her homeland assumes the identity of a man to survive while seeking asylum in Germany. Working illegally in a factory, she meets a woman and is in danger of being discovered. Cast includes Jasmin Tabatabai, Anneke Kim Sarnau and Navid Akhavan. Helmed by Angelina Maccarone. (Sales: Media Luna)

BERLIN — While the general health of Germany’s indie biz largely depends on what one means by “indie,” homegrown fare continued to perform above average despite a lack of Teutonic blockbusters, garnering an impressive 20% share in the first half of the year.

Flagging interest in U.S. pics has resulted in an overall 20% drop in sales in the first 9 months, but “Mr. & Mrs. Smith” was a huge summer hit for Kinowelt.

“A film like this doesn’t come around often,” says Rainer Koelmel, managing director of Kinowelt Intl. Gossip surrounding the offscreen relationship of its stars Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie generated plenty of free publicity.

Ira von Gienanth, head of Munich distrib Prokino, says that despite fewer crossover pics, “more films are performing at middle level, which when accumulated, also generates business.” Recent Prokino titles have included French pics “Holy Lola” and “Crustaces & coquillages.”

Local productions have done exceptionally well this year. Constantin Film has enjoyed boffo biz with African love story “The White Masai.” Other local hits include X Filme’s German Film Award winner “Go for Zucker,” German foreign language Oscar entry “Sophie Scholl — The Final Days” and “Barfuss.”

Tobis did well with Jim Jarmusch’s “Broken Flowers,” which lit up the arthouse circuit. Company expects a strong showing from Ang Lee’s Venice film festival winner “Brokeback Mountain,” scheduled for release in February.

Current performers can be characterized as films that are more entertaining than challenging and pics that have a warmth and a certain naivete missing from most of the overly constructed event films, says von Gienanth, who also sees a niche for films aimed at auds over 30.

Yet the market remains tough for many small indie films, which are largely ignored by German TV, despite the country’s many free-to-air channels.

“We try not to take TV rights when we don’t have to,” notes Koelmel.

DVD sales, however, remain vital. For Kinowelt, they account for the lion’s share of the revenue. But while DVD sales rose 4.5% in the first half of the year to $911 million, the double-digit growth of recent years has ended.

Prokino earlier this year inked a DVD distribution deal with Paramount. “The costs of releasing a film increase yearly, and the fight for viewers won’t get easier,” says von Gienanth. “Any money that comes in after the shorter and shorter theatrical run is more than important. Our main objective is to increase the value of a film theatrically to profit from these rights.”

The local industry, meanwhile, is anxiously awaiting the sale of producer-distrib Senator Entertainment, which Deutsche Bank has on the block. Kinowelt is one of a number of bidders for the company.

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