Producer returns after 'End of Time'
For producer Karel Dirka, everything that could go wrong with a film went wrong with “Till the End of Time,” his 2000 biopic about the steamy relationship between Georgia O’Keeffe and Alfred Stieglitz that was to star Ben Kingsley and Linda Fiorentino.Seven years later, however, the producer is celebrating a major legal battle and is working on a slew of new projects, including the O’Keeffe film. The problems were legion. Fiorentino claimed that last-minute script changes violated her contract’s no-nudity rider; Dirka filed a lawsuit against the actress, claiming that she’d walked off the set. (He dropped the suit in late 2002.) And the German insurance company that had agreed to provide a completion bond for the project pulled out at the last minute, triggering the production’s collapse. The cancellation of the $10 million production left Dirka millions of dollars in debt and put his career in deep freeze. In November, an appellate court in Cologne upheld a lower court decision awarding Dirka some $6 million in damages after ruling that Cologne-based insurance group Gerling Allgemeine Versicherung wrongly withdrew its completion bond after agreeing to cover the film in 1999 — a move that killed the production. Dirka, producing via his Munich-based Art-Oko Film, partnered on the project with German companies Das Werk and Cinemedia, with financing from film subsidy FFF Bayern and pubcaster Bayerischer Rundfunk. Dirka, who accused the insurance company of fraud, says the case should be a warning to fellow filmmakers. The legal victory has given Dirka renewed hope of finally completing “Till the End of Time” as well as a number of other high-profile projects he has in the works. Dirka is developing “The Nazi and the Barber,” an adaptation of Edgar Hilsenrath’s best-selling novel about a Nazi SS officer who, after the war, steals the identity of the childhood Jewish friend he murdered and flees to Tel Aviv, where he begins a new life; “Dead Man Talking No. 99,” a drama based on the life of Juan Melendez, who became the 99th prisoner in the U.S. to be released from death row after spending 17 years awaiting execution for a murder he didn’t commit; and the German-language “Habermanns Mueller,” a World War II drama about German refugees fleeing the lost Sudetenland territory in Czechoslovakia. Dirka last produced Agnieszka Holland’s 2002 drama “Julie Walking Home” and Clement Virgo’s “Love Come Down” in 2000. While the collapse of “Till the End of Time” may have hurt Dirka’s reputation and career — he has been unable to secure local film subsidies since — he says he’s hopeful the recent legal victory will change that.