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Germans tempted by true story

Ex-junkie serves as inspiration

BERLIN — An improbable but true story of a heroin junkie who manages to escape a life of drug addiction and find redemption and success as a world-class Ironman triathlete, has become the latest project for Enigma Film, one of Germany’s newest production companies.

“Lauf um dein Leben — Vom Junkie zum Ironman” also marks the return to film production for producer-distrib Kinowelt, which has in recent years focused on home entertainment and theatrical distribution.

“Ironman” is the first co-production out of the company’s new Berlin-based shingle Neue Kinowelt.

For writer-producer Fritjof Hohagen, who launched Enigma in 2004, bringing the story of Andreas Niedrig to the bigscreen has been an exercise in perseverance. Hohagen first sought rights to Niedrig’s autobiography while a producer at Odeon Film and took part in a bidding frenzy that ultimately led nowhere. After setting up Enigma, he again went after Niedrig, this time winning over the athlete.

Directed by tyro helmer Adnan Koese, “Ironman” stars Max Riemelt, who gained noticeable attention from his stellar performance in Dennis Gansel’s 2004 hit World War II drama “Napola” (Before the Fall) and in Dominik Graf’s 2006 East German love story “The Red Cockatoo.”

An amateur kickboxer, Riemelt slimmed down to portray Niedrig, a one-time closet junkie whose life hit rock bottom in the early 1990s when his wife found him unconscious in the bathroom of their home with a needle in his arm.

“Max is an athlete himself, and he has the necessary intensity to play Andreas Niedrig,” Hohagen says. “Andreas always lived on the edge, in extreme situations. As a junky, he wanted to go all the way on drugs, while as an athlete, that same intensity made him a successful triathlete.”

Abandoned by his wife and in debt to drug dealers, Niedrig ended up on the street and suicidal, but a visit home to his parents and a fateful run in the woods with his father helped transform his life.

“It’s not a typical sports story,” says Hohagen, who penned the script with Koese. “It’s a fascinating tale of the human spirit, of a person who sinks to the very bottom, but manages to pull himself out and fix his life.”

The pitch easily convinced local subsidy boards, which are putting up nearly two-thirds of the film’s E2 million ($2.7 million) budget. In February, “Ironman” was among the first four films granted money by the new German Federal Film Fund, which provided some $491,000 toward the budget. An additional $1.6 million in combined grants came from the Federal Film Board and regional orgs Filmstiftung NRW and Bavaria’s FFF.

Munich-based Beta Cinema was quick to nab international rights to “Ironman” and will be offering it at the upcoming Cannes Film Market.

Since launching Enigma in 2004, Hohagen has come full circle: Odeon last year acquired a 51% stake in the company, adding it to more than a dozen production, distribution and financing shingles under the Odeon banner, although Hohagen and partner Clarens Grollmann continue to develop and oversee Enigma’s own projects.

“Ironman” is Enigma’s second feature following Simon Gross’ upcoming thriller “Fata Morgana,” about a young couple who lose their way while touring the Moroccan desert and find themselves in the hands of an enigmatic savior; Beta is also handling international sales for that film.

“Ironman” is set to hit local theaters in January 2008 via Kinowelt, which is looking to position the film as a crossover title with commercial potential in mainstream multiplexes as well as on the arthouse circuit.

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