Fund puts the focus on hope

Initiative aims to back pix from less-developed regions

BERLIN — After just two years in existence, the Berlinale’s World Cinema Fund can claim a major critical and commercial success: Hany Abu-Assad’s “Paradise Now” picked up the Golden Globe for best foreign-language film Jan. 16 in addition to a slew of other awards since it preemed in Berlin last year. The French/German/Dutch/ Israeli co-production also is Palestine’s contender for the foreign-language Oscar this year.

The Berlinale launched the World Cinema Fund in 2004 to support filmmakers from less-developed regions. Since its start, 367 projects have been submitted from 52 countries in the WCF’s focus regions of Africa, Latin America, the Middle East and Central Asia. Of the 20 projects that have received production or distribution funding, three films have been completed: “Paradise Now,” Ernest Abdyjaparov’s Kyrgyzstani pic “Saratan” and Lebanese pic “Naousse” (A Perfect Day) from Khalid Joreige and Joana Hadjithomas.

Developed by Berlinale director Dieter Kosslick and Vincenzo Bugno, Berlinale’s delegate to Italy, the WCF is now co-managed by Bugno and Sonja Heinen, who also heads the Co-Production Market.

By founding the WCF, the Berlinale sought to achieve a “positive globalization,” says Bugno. “I believe that this funding idea can also contribute to cultural diversity. We are also trying to make it possible for neglected countries to participate in the global market, because you can’t talk about film without talking about the film industry. Even with our modest funds, we’ve managed to give certain countries a chance on the international film market.”

A joint initiative of the Berlinale, the German Federal Cultural Foundation and the Goethe Institute, the WCF has an annual budget of around e575,000 ($698,000). The WCF supports film projects abroad as well as their distribution in Germany. Projects with budgets between $245,000 and $1.2 million can receive up to $120,000, although that limit has yet to be reached.

Heinen says three concerns were especially important:

“First, that we support cooperation between German and foreign producers.

“Second — and here we distinguish ourselves from other institutions — we want to spend as much of the money as possible in the regions themselves.”

Third, says Heinen, is that the WCF is not interested in Euro-centric or German-centered stories.

“If only German producers were eligible, we would have less submissions and therefore less work. But then we would get a large number of projects that have already passed through a ‘German filter.’ One of the unique things about the WCF is that we receive projects and stories directly from the focus countries.”

The WCF requires that foreign recipients of financial support have a German partner, although the funds should be spent in the respective regions.

Either the German producer or the foreign company can apply for financing, but not the filmmaker directly.

“We want to bring people together. If they don’t already have a German producer, we can help them to find one,” Heinen explains.

In addition to production financing, the WCF provides distribution support in Germany up to $18,000 per project.

One recent film to get distribution assistance was Daniel Burman’s “El abrazo partido,” which picked up two Silver Bears at the Berlinale in 2004.

The WCF also is helping projects by partnering with the Berlinale Co-Production Market. Four films funded by the WCF are presented as part of the World Cinema Market. Last year all the projects — “Waiting for an Angel,” “A Perfect Day,” “Barca!” and “El otro” found partners.

While similar initiatives exist in Europe, Bugno says Germany’s significant role in cinema made the development of the WCF and its aim of supporting the film industries of countries in transition something of a duty.

“It’s also an economic point,” Bugno adds. “If you don’t work in this new global business, you’re going to disappear. We support German producers, and we are trying to support their need to develop new links with producers abroad.”

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