MUNICH — This year’s soccer World Cup was a turning point for Germany, which has existed uneasily in the dark shadow of its Nazi past for the past 60 years. Ever since WWII, patriotism has not sat easily with Teutons and national symbols such as the German colors were signifiers of national guilt rather than pride or joy.
But the unprecedented surge of flagwaving during the World Cup took the world and even the Teutons themselves by surprise. The entire nation was dazed by a patriotic party stupor, eager to give visitors from all over the world a good time and proud that the young Teuton soccer team represented a new, more joyful Germany.
Now that the party is over and the country’s huge economic crisis is re-surfacing, a fly-on-the-wall docu by Teuton helmer Sonke Wortmann (“The Miracle of Bern”) entitled “Deutschland — Ein sommermärchen” (Germany — A Summer’s Fairytale) allows Teuton auds to relive their midsummer madness. It follows the trials and tribulations of the German soccer team, including locker-room pep talks and shots of the ecstatic crowds from the p.o.v. of the players.
Pic bowed on Oct. 3, the national holiday of German unity, which many Teutons still don’t consider a reason to celebrate, as the divide between the old East and West remains stark. But the World Cup had acted as cultural glue, with soccer fever infecting the entire nation.
With the release of the film, the fever is flaring up again at the box office with the pic cuming e6.4 million ($5.08 million) during its opening weekend. The pic’s core audience are staunch soccer fans, some of whom turn up at the cinemas with their faces painted in Teuton colors as if to a soccer match. Nevertheless, in September it looked as if the pic might not take off at all as Teuton exhibs threatened to boycott the pic. Financed by Teuton pubcaster ARD, maverick distrib Kinowelt, risen from the ashes of its 2001 bankruptcy, had picked up theatrical and DVD rights.
Because no subsidy coin was involved in the finance, the pic is not subject to German media law, which dictates that there has to be at least six months between theatrical and DVD release and generally two years between theatrical and free TV preem.
To Kinowelt the short theatrical release posed a gamble that other Teuton distribs were not prepared to take. However, Kinowelt — never afraid to step on toes — recognized that it also posed a business opportunity as it allowed the company to schedule the DVD release for early December and thus cash in on Christmas sales prior to ARD’s free TV preem, scheduled for late December.
Teuton exhibs saw Kinowelt’s scheduling as a severe provocation. For years now they’ve been fighting off continuing attempts by U.S. majors to move the DVD window closer to the theatrical release. To them, having the DVD release of a German film so close to its theatrical window would have opened the door to the U.S. majors.
More than 60% of Teuton exhibs refused to screen the pic, including the main cinema chains, which would have made a theatrical release impossible. As a result, Kinowelt agreed to move the DVD window after ARD’s free TV preem. The pic will now bow on free TV on Dec. 29, with the DVD release to follow in February. In addition, exhibs were offered extremely favorable rental deals.
What’s certainly helped the theatrical release is the fact that ARD, in an unprecedented case of self-promotion, aired a 30-minute live broadcast from the Berlin preem, in which the TV presenters unreservedly hyped the pic. Against its own standard practice, the pubcaster later reported about the pic in its primetime newsprogram “Tagesschau.” Though Teuton distribs are usually told by ARD that “Tagesschau” will not report about preems or film releases as this equals free advertising, “Deutschland — Ein sommermärchen” clearly sets precedents in many ways.