Berlin beckons to indies

Ernst's 'House' sure to make an impression on festgoers

BERLIN — German films may be underrepresented at this year’s Cannes fest, but the three Teutonic screeners that did make the cut underscore the growing creative potential of Berlin’s indie film scene and the city’s close-knit community.

Holger Ernst’s gritty “The House Is Burning,” produced by Wim Wenders’ Berlin-based Reverse Angle Intl., is sure to make an impression on festgoers with its uncompromising look at a group of troubled American teens struggling with drugs, violence, parental abuse and the lure of the U.S. military as the only means of escaping a seemingly hopeless existence.

Pic, showing in the Official Selection as a special screening, is a very American tale, but Ernst says the story he set out to tell is a universal one.

Indeed, the film evolved from an earlier project entitled “Wir sind die Groessten” (We Are the Greatest), which Ernst had originally planned to shoot in Germany in 2002 with Berlin producer Junifilm. Financing for that project fell through after local TV broadcasters declined to come aboard the project, however. Ernst later approached Wenders with a new script and a revamped story set in the U.S.

“Wim was able to open a lot of doors and was able to get the necessary financing very quickly,” says Ernst, who lived for some time in the U.S. “The House Is Burning” received coin from subsidy orgs Medienboard Berlin-Brandenburg and the German Federal Film Board.

Junifilm is also represented in Cannes with Matthias Luthardt’s “Pingpong,” screening in the Critics Week section.

Unspooling in the Directors Fortnight, meanwhile, is Stefan Krohmer’s “Summer ’04,” from Berlin shingle Ö-Filmproduktion. Both Luthardt’s and Krohmer’s pics deal with inner personal conflict and fragile family relationships. “Pingpong” examines a seemingly ideal family that’s shaken to its core by the arrival of a troubled 16-year-old nephew.

In Ö-Filmproduktion’s “Summer ’04,” Martina Gedeck (“The Lives of Others”) plays a middle-aged woman who falls for an attractive but troubled stranger while on summer holiday with her family.

” ‘Summer ’04’ is the best German film we have seen in a very long time and the first we have invited to Directors Fortnight in three years,” says Olivier Pere, head of the Directors Fortnight sidebar. Krohmer is destined to be “one of the next important auteurs” in Europe, he adds.

Reverse Angle Pictures and its sales agent partner, Roger Kaas, are handling world sales for “The House Is Burning”; Media Luna Entertainment has picked up “Pingpong,” and Bavaria Film Intl. is repping “Summer ’04.”

Ernst’s next project will be “DOPE: Dreaming of Paradise Europe,” about drug trafficking and illegal immigration between North Africa and Europe. Ernst ambitiously calls it a cross between “The Godfather,” “Traffic,” “Syriana” and “Black Cat, White Cat.”

Junifilm will next produce “Rosie … oder der Luft der Freiheit” (Rosie … or the Scent of Freedom), a fact-based tale of a woman who hijacks an East German airliner in order to get to West Berlin, and Norbert Baumgarten’s tyke tale “Gute Kinder” (Good Children).

Baumgarten helmed Junifilm’s first theatrical feature, 2004’s small-town satire “Befreite Zone.” Next up for Ö-Filmproduktion is Ulrich Koehler’s “The Evaluation,” about Western expats working in the humanitarian sector in Africa.

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