BERLIN — The wider the net, the better the return for Zentropa Entertainments Berlin, one of two German subsidiaries of Peter Aalbaek Jensen’s and Lars von Trier’s Copenhagen-based group that has spread across Europe to become a leading cross-border player, with a network of shingles in 13 European countries, including Spain, Poland, Sweden, Norway, the U.K., Italy and France.
“We are not interested in specific languages or specific nationalities, but if you have a film that needs to be produced cross-border and financed cross-border, that’s what we can offer — one company that represents two, three or four countries — whatever you need to make your film,” says Aalbaek Jensen.
Hendrik Handloegten’s surreal drama “Summer Window,” loosely based on a 1967 novel by Austrian author Hannelore Valencak, reps a tailor-made production for the Zentropa arm. Shot in Berlin, Hamburg, Leipzig and Finland, and budgeted at €3.3 million ($4.6 million), the production tapped regional and federal funds in Germany as well as Finnish coin. TrustNordisk is selling the film internationally.
Maria Koepf, who heads Zentropa Entertainments Berlin, developed the project with writer-director Handloegten, who spent his early childhood in Finland, and his memories found their way into the film’s story.
While “Summer Window” is Handloegten’s first film with Zentropa, it’s his third film with Koepf, who produced his previous pics “Paul Is Dead” and “Learning to Lie” while she was at Berlin-based X Filme Creative Pool. The two had been developing “Summer Window” when Koepf joined Zentropa in 2007.
“This continuity is very important to me. We know each other very well,” Handloegten told a local magazine. “When I work with Maria, I know she believes in it — that gives me security.”
Zentropa’s European subsidiary network not only gives the company a significant advantage in producing diverse international films, it also makes the group an ideal co-production partner.
” ‘Summer Window’ is an ideal project (for Zentropa) because it had the Finnish part of the story,” Koepf. Indeed, adding Finland to the story provided Liisa Penttila, head and co-owner of Zentropa’s Helsinki-based subsid Edith Film, the opportunity to board the project as co-producer.
While “Summer Window” marks the shingle’s first full inhouse production, Zentropa Berlin has played a significant role as a co-producer on a slew of films, both Zentropa productions as well as pics from third-party producers, since its launch in 2007. These include Mans Herngren’s “The Swimsuit Issue,” Lukas Moodysson’s “Mammoth” and Han-Christian Schmid’s “Storm.”
Koepf is co-producing Peter Naess’ World War II drama “Comrade,” starring Rupert Grint, with Zentropa Intl. Norway, and Nikolaj Arcel’s Danish historical romance “A Royal Affair,” starring Mads Mikkelsen and Alicia Vikander, which shot in Prague and Dresden.
For Koepf, working for the Zentropa group offers significant plusses. “Being part of a big company is a major advantage when you’re getting bank credit. It’s a very different situation when you have this company, this big label behind you.”
Another advantage: Filmmakers can contact one Zentropa office and the group will manage production services and financing from more than one territory in Europe.
In addition to the Berlin subsidiary, the network includes Zentropa Intl. Cologne. Run by Bettina Brokemper, the Cologne office serves primarily as a co-production arm for the parent company and further underscores the importance of Germany for the group.
Indeed, Aalbaek Jensen says Germany is not only a main co-production country for all of Zentropa’s big films but also a significant market for the rest of the company’s pics.
Zentropa Berlin is among the group’s most active international subsidiaries, but Aalbaek Jensen says it is quality, not quantity, that is essential.
“Maria is quite picky about what she is doing,” he adds. “In this business, it’s about choosing the right films, not making a certain number of films. We lose so much money when we make mistakes, so I support her being picky.”Aalbaek Jensen says that U.S. producers are searching for additional funding out of Europe, and Zentropa has a U.S. co-production in the works that will likely start shooting next spring, although he wouldn’t be drawn on details.
“The world is becoming smaller following the financial crisis. Everybody is much more open to collaborations, even the Americans,” he says. “Zentropa’s pan-European model is therefore more important than ever.”