Senator, Kinowelt up after downturns

For Senator Entertainment and Kinowelt, both the good times and bad have been far more palpable than to any other domestic players in recent memory.

Both are currently enjoying remarkable resurgences after having lost their ways following the heady excesses of the Neuer Markt era that left both companies shipwrecked.

Senator, which crawled out of insolvency in the first quarter of last year, managed a complete turnaround in 2006 as annual revenue more than doubled from E15.4 million ($20.5 million) to $46.4 million. Company reached breakeven after an $8.9 million loss in 2005.

Local media attorney Helge Sasse and L.A.-based producer Marco Weber took over the insolvent Senator from Deutsche Bank in 2005, and subsequent restructuring has paved the way for further growth.

Positioned as a director-led outfit, company is handling high-profile U.S. and international indie productions as well as smaller, edgier genre titles.

Last year Senator released six films, including Anno Saul’s local hit “Where Is Fred?,” John Cameron Mitchell’s “Shortbus,” Rian Johnson’s “Brick” and David Slade’s “Hard Candy.”

Company’s current slate — a similar combination of local comedies, indie arthouse fare, horror pics and high-profile titles — includes 30 releases for this year, including “Grindhouse” and “Pan’s Labyrinth.”

Amid a dramatic increase in film acquisitions this year, Senator is expanding its distribution operations with the launch of new distribution arm Central Film to handle the growing number of releases, including “Clerks II,” “The Flying Scotsman” and “School for Scoundrels.”

Senator is also ratcheting up its production activities. Filming recently began on its first U.S. pic, Dennis Lee’s ensemble family drama “Fireflies in the Garden.” Produced by Weber, pic stars Julia Roberts, Willem Dafoe and Carrie-Anne Moss.

As for Kinowelt, original founders Michael and Rainer Koelmel bought back the company’s core assets in 2003, a little more than a year after the group filed for insolvency.

While it initially relied on its bustling home entertainment business to generate the lion’s share of revenue, consistent theatrical hits in recent years have made a success of its theatrical distrib division.

Hugely lucrative releases have included the smash World Cup soccer documentary “Germany: A Summer Fairytale” — which became the second biggest German film of 2006 — as well as boffo performers “Mr. & Mrs. Smith” and “March of the Penguins” in 2005.

Company also released such critical hits as the Oscar-winning “Million Dollar Baby,” “The Constant Gardener” and “Good Night, and Good Luck.”

Due in part to the succss of “A Summer Fairytale,” Kinowelt is expecting revenue this year to reach $135 million — a 100% increase over the past two years, according to Michael Koelmel.

Embracing a bold growth strategy, company has taken over a number of faltering distribs in the past few years, including Intertainment, Pegasus and Epsilon.

It even managed to ease a settlement deal between Elie Samaha and Intertainment. The parties reached agreement last year for $3 million in connection with a $122 million damage claim Intertainment won in U.S. federal court in 2004. Samaha and his company were found guilty of defrauding Intertainment into paying wildly inflated budgets on a slate of films the companies had agreed to produce.

After failing to recoup that sum, Intertainment went belly up last year, creating a prime opportunity for Kinowelt to move in.

Kinowelt subsequently merged Intertainment with Epsilon, an international distrib and co-financier that once belonged to the now-defunct Kirch Group. Epsilon has agreements with Regency and Lakeshore and provided Kinowelt with hits such as “Mr. & Mrs. Smith” and “Million Dollar Baby.”

Meanwhile, Kinowelt is getting back into production with Adnan G. Koese’s “Lauf um dein Leben — Vom Junkie zum Ironman” (Run for Your Life — From Junkie to Ironman), the true story of Andreas Niedrig, a former drug addict who found a new lease on life as a triathlete.

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