But German box office sees record year

While the global meltdown has most of the international film industry rattled, Germans are celebrating the start of the Berlinale with a record year for domestic films at the local box office.

German titles made up nearly 27% of the overall box office last year — the highest share since 1991 — thanks to boffo performers like “The Baader Meinhof Complex,” “The Wave” and the most successful pic of the year, “Keinohrhasen” (Rabbit Without Ears), which alone made a whopping $52 million. Total box office revenue climbed 5% to EUR 795 million ($1 billion).

But the celebration will likely be lost on most non-Teutonic festgoers.

While gloom and doom did not exactly dampen the opening of this year’s European Film Market, it’s impossible to escape the global financial crisis, which is hanging like the sword of Damocles over attendees.

The unusually heavy snow storm that hit the U.K. on Monday, grinding that island to a halt and trapping Berlinale-bound industryites, also provided an inauspicious start for the week.

And while all the spaces at the Martin Gropius Bau and Marriott are booked, EFM organizers are seeing fewer films screening.

Even the fest’s opener, Tom Tykwer’s “The International,” offers a potent reminder of world events: It follows the efforts of two do-gooders trying to bring to justice one of the world’s most powerful and evil banks.

In the same vein, the Berlinale’s Panorama sidebar unspools what is sure to be another much-talked-about title, Michael Winterbottom and Mat Whitecross’ “The Shock Doctrine,” which examines the geopolitical impact of “disaster capitalism” — the exploitation of military conflicts and natural disasters by governments and corporations.

Berlin has always been heavy on gloomy political works, but this year’s titles may strike a tad too close to home.

While producers in the U.S. and the U.K. are facing increasingly tougher times with the disappearance of hedge funds and other sophisticated financial tools, Continental players appear to be riding out the storm better than most.

With Germany’s deep-pocketed subsidies and financially supportive TV broadcasters, local producers are experiencing few problems mounting productions.

“The financial crisis has been primarily felt in the banking sector,” said Constantin exec Martin Moszkowicz. “There are still credit lines available here but it is affecting the international indie sector. In terms of acquisitions, there are fewer films available today.”

“The distribs have a business to run. We have never been a business where people have had to pay particular heed to the future.”

Brian O’Shea, head of sales at Odd Lot Intl., which is screening “The Open Road” with Justin Timberlake at the EFM, sees fewer problems for big pics.

“Prices are coming down — I think they are in general, but people will spend money on big films. For U.S. films, the U.S. distributor takes the lead worldwide. The Europeans are going to ask what kind of support is the film going to get in the U.S. first. If you have those elements in place and the film looks like it will get wide release in the U.S., then the rest follows.”

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