Berlin stocks up on German funded films

Festival boasts 59 German co-productions

BERLIN — German cinema may be enjoying a renaissance of sorts, but there’s a conspicuous dearth of Teutonic titles in the main Berlinale event.

Organizers are quick to point out that the overall number of Teutonic films in the Berlinale has remained unchanged: Think German co-productions, unspooling in most sections, and not just European films but also pics from as far away as Brazil and Argentina.

While the number of German-language films may be down this year, German producers have been busy partnering on international projects — a trend that is sure to continue as film financing becomes increasingly global.

If those pics carry a significant amount of German coin, they’re seen as German films.

“We have 59 German films or German co-productions — the same as in 2006,” said Berlinale spokeswoman Frauke Greiner.

At first glance it looks like there are only two German (or at least German-language) films in the main competition section: “Yella,” Christian Petzold’s drama about a young woman trying to escape a wretched marriage; and Stefan Ruzowitzky’s German-Austrian co-production “The Counterfeiters,” a fact-based story of concentration camp prisoners recruited to counterfeit money for the Nazi war effort.

The also competition lineup includes international co-productions with significant Teutonic participation, such as Bille August’s South African tale “Goodbye Bafana,” the true story of a prison guard who befriends Nelson Mandela; and Sam Garbarski’s “Irina Palm,” about a 50-year-old widow so desperately in need of money that she takes a job in a sex club.

Ariel Rotter’s Argentinean pic “El Otro” (The Other) also is a German co-production, having picked up financing through the Berlinale’s World Cinema Fund.

Indeed, one of the Berlinale’s main goals has been to bring together German producers with like-minded colleagues from around the globe with ambitious initiatives such as the WCF, the Co-Production Market and Talent Campus, and it has succeeded in doing just that.

Similarly, among the screeners in the fest’s Panorama arthouse section are Teutonic co-productions such as Hal Hartley’s “Fay Grim” starring Parker Posey and Jeff Goldblum; Julie Delpy’s “2 Days in Paris”; and Serbian-language selection “Gucha — Distant Trumpet” from Dusan Milic.

Pure-blooded German pics in Panorama are down to nine from 13 a year ago, and most are docs. The only two features include Lars Kraume’s “Guten Morgen, Herr Grothe” (Good Morning, Mr. Grothe), about a passionate Berlin school teacher whose devotion to his students comes at a heavy price; and Thomas Arslan’s “Ferien” (Vacation), about a dysfunctional family trying unsuccessfully to enjoy a getaway in the country.

In Generation, the children and youth sidebar, only Johannes Schmid’s “Silly’s Sweet Summer” is a German-language pic, although Dror Shaul’s Israeli drama “Sweet Mud” is a German co-production.

Local screeners enjoyed an extraordinarily strong year at the fest in 2006 and it’s unrealistic to expect that Germany could again produce such a large and noteworthy crop of films.

Nevertheless, Teutonic films have enjoyed much greater representation since Dieter Kosslick took over the festival in 2001. For one thing, he introduced the Perspektive Deutsches Kino sidebar, which showcases nothing but German fare.

This year’s lineup presents a number of works examining the challenges faced by children and teens on the streets of German cities, including Astrid Schult’s doc “Zirkus is nich,” a distressing portrait of an 8-year-old boy from the Berlin district of Hellersdorf, and Bettina Bluemner’s doc “Prinzessinnenbad,” which looks at female gangs in Berlin’s Kreuzberg district.

For a more classic bleak look at the German capital, the Berlinale Special section is screening for the first time a digitally restored version of Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s 1980 magnum opus “Berlin Alexanderplatz,” a dark, gritty and unforgiving made-for-TV, 14-part, 15½-hour miniseries chronicling the life of an ex-con trying unsuccessfully to straighten himself out.

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