Local films, subsidies and Oscar contenders pump German biz

As the Berlin festival kicks off its 60th year today, attendees are bundled up as this is expected to be one of the coldest Berlinales on record.

Coming off an equally chilly but active Sundance, pic buyers and sellers are cautiously optimistic in a country that’s become the film finance capital of Europe.

While the financial crisis has hit the independent film sector hard, high-profile screeners from Sundance and Rotterdam and other hot titles look certain to generate interest at the fest’s European Film Market. Those pics include Christopher Morris’ jihadist satire “Four Lions”; John Lennon biopic “Nowhere Boy”; and Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman’s fest contender “Howl,” about the obscenity trial of Beat poet Allen Ginsberg.

Festgoers are looking forward to world preems of Martin Scorsese’s “Shutter Island” and Roman Polanski’s “The Ghost Writer,” along with world cinema auteur fare like opener “Apart Together” from Wang Quanan and Shah Rukh Khan’s “My Name Is Khan.”

Other market titles drawing interest include IM Global’s “Sympathy for the Devil,” starring Samuel L. Jackson and Josh Duhamel; Mandate’s remake of Gallic hit “LOL,” starring Miley Cyrus and Demi Moore; Affinity Intl.’s “Rabbit Hole,” now in post and starring Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart; and GK Films’ Scorsese project “The Invention of Hugo Cabret,” which doesn’t have a complete script yet.

One of the most buzzed-about events is Friday’s screening of the fully restored version of Fritz Lang’s “Metropolis” at the Friedrichstadtpalast with an additional special outdoor screening at the iconic Brandenberg Gate.

And while the German capital may be covered in ice and snow, the country’s film industry is red hot.

Thanks to Germany’s generous subsidies and film incentives — annual federal and regional support amounts to some $380 million — the country has become an attractive region for both independent filmmakers like Stephen Daldry and Quentin Tarantino as well as studio producers like Joel Silver.

Among this year’s Golden Bear contenders, Polanski’s “The Ghost Writer” and Jazmila Zbanic’s “On the Path” picked up local coin, while “The Hunter,” from Iranian helmer Rafi Pitts, received backing from the fest’s own World Cinema Fund. They are among a slew of recent and upcoming international productions to secure funding here and, in many cases, take advantage of German locations.

Others include Scandar Copti and Yaron Shani’s “Ajami,” Israel’s contender for this year’s foreign-language Oscar; Christopher Smith’s European Film Market screener “The Black Death,” starring Sean Bean; Jaume Collet-Serra’s thriller “Unknown White Male,” with Liam Neeson; and Roland Emmerich’s upcoming Shakespeare drama “Anonymous,” which has already nabbed nearly $8 million in subsidy backing; pic is set to shoot next month in Studio Babelsberg.

(Ali Jaafar contributed to this report.)

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