BERLIN — Five years after its launch, Beta Cinema has become one of Germany’s leading international film distributors with a catalogue that has grown more impressive by the year. Established as the theatrical division of Jan Mojto’s TV sales group Beta Film in 2001, Beta Cinema has raised the profile of German film around the globe with titles such as the Lola-winning “The Lives of Others,” about the East German secret police’s chilling domestic surveillance operation, and “Downfall,” a chronicle of Adolf Hitler’s final days.
“It’s been a natural growth since we started,” says Andreas Rothbauer, who heads sales and acquisitions at Beta Cinema. “We are now at the point where we can offer high quality German films that play well to domestic audiences and attract interest abroad as well as strong world cinema titles that do well on the festival circuit.” The strategy has paid off.
At the recent Cannes market, Beta closed more deals than ever before thanks to an increasingly diverse catalogue. In addition to “The Lives of Others,” which sold to Sony Pictures Classics for the U.S., Beta’s lineup also includes upcoming titles such as “Mongol,” Sergei Bodrov’s epic about Genghis Khan, which has already sold in 31 territories including the U.S.; Stefan Ruzowitzky’s “The Counterfeiter,” a true story of a Jewish con artist forced to counterfeit money for the Nazi war effort; and Manuel Huerga’s Cannes screener “Salvador,” which stars German thesp Daniel Bruehl (Good Bye, Lenin!) as an anarchist bank robber in 1970s Spain.
Beta’s major successes have been German, Rothbauer is confident “Mongol” will be the company’s next big international hit, describing it as an historical epic along the lines of “Downfall” or “Passion of the Christ.” Pic stars Japanese heartthrob Tadanobu Asano (“Zatoichi”) in the title role. Among Beta’s new titles, Hans Steinbichler’s drama “Winter Journey,” about an aging businessman who rediscovers a long suppressed talent while on a desperate trip to Africa, will run in competition at the upcoming Karlovy Vary Film Festival; and “Four Minutes” from writer/director Chris Kraus (“Shattered Glass”), about an 80-year-old piano instructor at a women’s penitentiary who trains a 17-year-old girl serving time for her violent altercations for an upcoming music competition; pic will screen in competition at this year’s Shanghai Film Festival. Company also has “Heart of Fire” from Luigi Falorni (The Story of the Weeping Camel), the true story of Senait Mehari, who came of age as a young girl soldier during the Eritrean civil war.
While Beta has quickly established itself as one of Germany’s main international film sales companies, Rothbauer says increased competition has only helped German film.
“When a movie like ‘Downfall’ does really well, it generates interest in German film as a whole and that also helps companies like Bavaria and Telepool. When [Bavaria’s] “Good Bye, Lenin!” became a huge success, it also helped Beta. Sure, occasionally there’s a film everyone wants, but there is enough room here for all of us. In the end, its German films that benefit the most from the competition.”
Once part of the now defunct Kirch Media, Beta went to Mojto in 2004 as part of his acquisition of the vast Kirch library. A former Kirch exec, Mojto headed Beta and oversaw international sales and co-productions at Kirch before leaving in 2002.
Since Mojto’s acquisition, Beta has continued to operate as one of Europe’s biggest TV programming sales companies and also reps Mojto’s production shingle, EOS Entertainment. While Mojto’s production activities have been primarily focused on TV, EOS occasionally coproduces feature films, such as “Downfall.”
Beta also handles sales for theatrical versions of EOS’ TV event productions, like Roland Suso Richter’s Word War II drama “Dresden.” Despite its recent success, Rothbauer says the company is keeping its ambitions in check. “We want to distribute a maximum of 10 to 12 high quality films a year. We want to be able to take proper care of them on an individual basis, so we won’t be acquiring a huge amount of titles.”