Somber Teutonic titles make up lucrative slate

BERLIN — As this year’s lineup of Teutonic titles at Toronto clearly illustrate, German cinema is thriving on the international stage.

It should be no surprise that German cinema has become a hot export, considering that in the last five years, three German-language films have taken the best foreign-film Oscar, while three Teutonic pics have also won the European Film Awards’ top honor.

With the resulting attention, even major foreign sales companies are muscling in on the act.

Much to the chagrin of local players, it was U.S. indie giant Summit Entertainment that picked up what is arguably the most anticipated German film of the year, Uli Edel’s terrorist drama “The Baader Meinhof Complex,” which chronicles the rise and fall of West Germany’s notorious Red Army Faction.

While Summit has handled English-language German productions such as Constantin Film’s “Perfume: The Story of a Murderer” and its upcoming “Pope Joan,” “Baader Meinhof” marks the first time the company has acquired a German-language film.

Likewise, Celluloid Dreams nabbed Caroline Link’s Toronto screener “A Year Ago in Winter.”

Such encroachment on domestic territory by foreign players has irked some local distribs who fear growing competition from abroad.

Germany’s world sales outfits are already facing tough times due to the weakened greenback, which has meant a 10% to 15% drop in revenue from U.S. dollar territories like North and South America.

“It’s obviously a disadvantage in countries where the dollar is used, but overall, business has been relatively stable,” says Dirk Schuerhoff, managing director of Beta Film. While nearly all German distribs point to growing difficulties in Japan, where sales for foreign films have been drying up due in part to the changing demands of exhibitors, Schuerhoff says the older, affluent viewers of foreign-language films remain loyal and less susceptible to the factors that may affect the performance of more mainstream films.

With major international hits such as “The Lives of Others,” “The Counterfeiters” and Chris Kraus’ award-winning drama “Four Minutes,” Beta has enjoyed top-selling titles over the past year. Among the company’s current crop of films are Max Faerberboeck’s “A Woman in Berlin” and Hans Steinbichler’s “My Mother, My Bride and I.”

The popularity of Teutonic cinema has benefited Bavaria Film Intl., which ratcheted up strong sales for Doris Doerrie’s “Cherry Blossoms” and Michael Herbig’s “Lissi and the Wild Emperor.”

Bavaria Film’s Toronto screener “Krabat,” Marco Kreuzpaintner’s highly anticipated fantasy epic, looks certain to be the distrib’s top seller in the coming year. The $15.5 million production, which is based on a 17th-

century legend, stars David Kross (“The Reader”) and Daniel Bruehl (“The Countess”).

Yet Bavaria has also enjoyed an unexpected hit in Tomas Alfredson’s hot-selling vampire drama “Let the Right One In.” The Swedish pic, which won this year’s feature prize at the Tribeca Film Festival, is set for an English-language remake by Hammer Films and Spitfire Pictures.

” ‘Let the Right One In’ is phenomenal,” says Thorsten Ritter, head of Bavaria Film. “It’s a film with great crossover appeal that works with arthouse audiences as well as horror fans.”

Pic will be released Stateside by Magnet, Magnolia Pictures’ new genre arm.

Another Swedish pic has been flying off the shelves at Munich-based Telepool: Peter Flinth’s $31 million historical epic “Arn: The Knight Templar,” the most expensive Scandinavian production of all time and a success with both theatrical distribs and TV broadcasters in major markets.

Says Irina Ignatiew, Telepool’s executive VP of international: “We normally sell all rights for features, but with ‘Arn’ it was easier to split rights because there is a theatrical version and a longer TV version, and to maximize revenue, you have to work every single window.”

Telepool also is handling Leon Geller and Marcus Vetter’s Locarno- and Toronto-screening docu “The Heart of Jenin.”

Affirming that “Buyers have been increasingly interested in German films, especially our family film titles,” Ignatiew says, Telepool’s top sellers include the holiday-themed animated feature “Niko and the Way to the Stars,” which already sold to the Weinstein Co. for English-

language and Latin American territories, and “Lilly the Witch,” director Stefan Ruzowitzky’s follow-up to his World War II hit “The Counterfeiters” and based on the popular children’s books of German scribe Knister.

As competition for local product heats up, sales companies are eager to explore new frontiers. Yet sales execs agree that real business from video-on-demand and mobile content platforms are still years away.

“People would be lying if they said they were making money with digital distribution,” Ignatiew says. Yet she predicts that in three to five years’ time, it will be a much bigger part of the business. Indeed, Telepool recently agreed to a trial deal with one VOD service for the U.S. and the U.K., providing some 40 films on a non-exclusive basis.

“We’re trying to avoid long exclusivity,” Ignatiew says.

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