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German production company UFA ramps up ambitious slate

Two English-language films included in pic pipeline

Two years after launching what is likely Germany’s biggest film production company after Constantin Film, UFA Cinema is rolling out a slew of titles and ramping up production on its growing slate of local and international projects.

Berlin

Despite its illustrious and historically tinged name, the Berlin-based UFA Cinema is a modern outfit, directly plugged into Bertelsmann, one of the world’s biggest media congloms.

Launched in 2008 by TV production giant UFA Film & TV Produktion, a subsidiary of RTL Group, UFA Cinema is looking to produce between six and 10 pics a year. Last year it inked a wide-ranging distribution and co-production pact with Universal Pictures Intl. and Focus Features Intl., with UPI handling theatrical and home entertainment distribution in German-speaking territories. Focus will distribute selected titles internationally.

While most of its films will be aimed at local auds, UFA Cinema is looking to produce one to two English-language productions for the international market.

First up is “The Physician,” based on Noah Gordon’s bestselling novel about an 11th-century Englishman who travels to Persia to study medicine. Pic is expected to shoot next year.

Also in the works is “Three Bags Full,” a CGI 3D animated adaptation of Leonie Swann’s mystery novel about a flock of sheep investigating the murder of their shepherd, and “Fatherland,” a German-language adaptation of Robert Harris’ novel about an alternate reality in which Nazi Germany won the war and conquered all of Europe.

“I couldn’t imagine doing such a story set in the Third Reich with English-speaking actors. That would not make any sense,” says Thomas Friedl, managing director at UFA.

The strategy, he adds, has always been based on a very broad range of films.

UFA’s most important market, however, remains the domestic one.

“The focus is to work with the exceptional creative talent that we have in Germany to produce films for the German market,” says Friedl, who spent 18 years at Constantin Film, most recently as head of distribution and marketing.

The company’s newest project is “Im Jahr des Hundes” (In the Year of the Dog), a political thriller written and directed by Dennis Gansel, who helmed Constantin’s 2008 hit modern-day fascist drama “The Wave” and the upcoming vampire love story “We Are the Night.” The pic, set in Germany and Russia, starts shooting in October.

Hitting theaters later this year is “Days to Come,” Lars Kraume’s near-future drama starring Daniel Bruehl, Johanna Wokalek and August Diehl, which tells the story of a German family torn apart by terrorism, political instability and an ongoing war for the last Asian oil fields.

UFA is also prepping the second installment in its “Teufelskicker” (Devil’s Kickers) franchise, which follows a gang of fearless kids who play street soccer while running parkour.

It’s an ambitious slate and, in Germany, comparable only to that of Constantin. For Friedl, that’s hardly coincidental.

“Naturally the Constantin model is extremely professional and well thought out, and it has been very successful. If I were going to do something completely different, I would have already done it at Constantin. Constantin is the ideal form of a European production and distribution company.”

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