Local movies have topped charts for past 11 weeks

BERLIN — It’s been an autumn renaissance for German film at the domestic box office, where local pics have topped the charts for the past 11 weeks — a feat unprecedented in the past 20 years.

Serial killers (“Perfume: The Story of a Murderer”) and dwarfs (“7 Dwarves — The Wood Is Not Enough,”) were at the top of local titles, but an unlikely title about an 11-year-old Bavarian boy’s obsession with religion and spirituality, “Grave Decisions,” has also turned out to be surprise sleeper hit.

The coming-of-age tale has struck a chord with viewers and remained in the top 10 for an impressive 14 weeks, grossing e6.9 million ($9.2 million).

Local films have in recent weeks accounted for as much as 26% of the overall box office.

The German wave hit Sept. 14 with “Perfume,” and domestic pics dominated the box office through November. Constantin Film’s hit adaptation of Patrick Suskind’s gothic novel topped the charts for three weeks before giving way to Kinowelt’s World Cup docu “Germany: A Summer Fairytale,” which again gave the nation soccer fever and likewise remained No. 1 for three weeks, followed by “7 Dwarves,” the sequel to 2004’s hit laffer, another three-week top-ranker.

The box office also saw strong local performers at the beginning of the year, such as Buena Vista Intl.’s European Film Award favorite “The Lives of Others” and “The Wild Soccer Bunch 3″ as well as Constantin’s “Elementary Particles.”

“Viewers naturally feel drawn to stories from their own cultural background, because it’s subject matter they’re familiar with and they can relate to,” notes one local exhib.

According to Thomas Menne, BVI’s VP of sales and marketing, the increasing success of local productions reflects a vast improvement in German scripts and in the fact that today’s Teutonic filmmakers are more successfully meeting the taste of mainstream auds.

“Without doubt there is a clear improvement in scriptwriting and storytelling that allows all of us to release more commercial local movies,” says Menne, adding that BVI has fostered a strong relationship with local filmmakers for the past decade.

Eager to attract family auds with local product, BVI’s upcoming German releases next year include Florian Baxmeyer’s teen sleuth caper “The Three Detectives,” the first of a planned franchise, and “The Wild Soccer Bunch 4,” the latest installment in what has turned out to be a hugely successful family-targeted franchise.

Overall, Germany’s box office is up 11% (through Dec. 3) compared with the same period in 2005. Through Nov. 26, ticket sales reached $704,579,112, and the boffo start of “Casino Royale” will further bolster an already strong year.

Yet the current box office is still 9.3% below 2004 figures, which were boosted by local blockbusters such as “Spaceship Surprise,” the original “7 Dwarves” and Adolf Hitler pic “Downfall.”

Top five earners so far this year include “Ice Age: The Meltdown” ($64.7 million), followed by “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest” ($63.5 million), “The Da Vinci Code” ($51.9 million), “Perfume: The Story of a Murderer” ($50.7 million) and “Germany: A Summer Fairytale” ($31.6 million).

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