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Funds target Teuton titles

'Seven Dwarfs' B.O. likely to aid homegrown products

BERLIN — High tax-bracketed Teutons may soon have a change of heart when it comes to financing local product. A number of private film funds that have for years bankrolled U.S. films while providing nifty tax shelters for high earners in desperate need of writeoffs, are suddenly investing their money in local film and TV projects and even helping to bring Hollywood projects to Germany.

With the massive success of Sven Unterwaldt’s “7 Zwerge — Maenner allein im Wald” (“Seven Dwarfs — Men Alone in the Woods” ), a comedic look at the Snow White story, it’s a trend that might continue — pic generated a brow-raising $12 million at the box office on its opening weekend.

“Seven Dwarfs” is one of the very few all-German films to have been financed by a private German film fund — it was co-produced by VIP Medienfonds and Universal Pictures Germany.

VIP topper Andreas Schmid says there has been no strategic change in the company’s policy to focus more on local pics, but he adds, “If I have two equally good projects on the table, one to be shot in Germany and one to be shot in South Africa, I’ll definitely go with the German one.”

Yet “Seven Dwarfs” follows recent boffo performers like sci-fi spoof “Spaceship Surprise — Period 1” and World War II drama “The Downfall” and will undoubtedly help propel the market share of German films well beyond the 20% mark this year.

“Seven Dwarfs” also boasts impressive pedigree: Pic assembles Germany’s top comedic talent in one pic for the first time, led by veteran comedian Otto Waalkes, who produced, co-wrote and stars in the film.

(Also toplining are iconic pop star Nina Hagen as the evil queen and daughter Cosma Shiva Hagen as Snow White. Waalkes himself, one of the most well-known comedians in Germany, is no stranger to box office prowess: His 1985 comedy “Otto — Der Film” remained Germany’s most successful film ever until Michael Herbig, of “Spaceship Surprise” fame, unseated him in 2001 with comedy oater “Manitu’s Shoe.”)

The pic’s success is good news for German culture minister Christina Weiss, who has rallied against the estimated $12 billion in German money that has been funneled to Hollywood in the past five years. She is pushing for an overhaul of film financing regulations — and specifically a U.K.-style sales-and-leaseback program — in an effort to entice local investors with German projects.

VIP remains committed to Hollywood — company recently inked a deal with Tinseltown Teuton Roland Emmerich to finance his upcoming projects, which may include “The Girls Next Door” and “King Tut,” and has bankrolled pics like “Monster,” “The Punisher” and upcoming Robin Williams starrer “The Big White.”

But it recently backed other local product such as “Kingdom in Twilight,” a retelling of “The Ring of the Nibelung” saga, and German helmer Roland Suso Richter’s first English-language pic, “The I Inside.”

Companies like Victory Media, Roland Pellegrino’s Miromar and Marco Mehlitz’s Lago Films are financing both local and international projects through investment funds or by way of private-placement financing, which usually relies on one major investor. Victory is financing a $25 million film adaptation of Noah Gordon’s bestselling novel “The Physician” for German pubcaster ZDF.

Miromar is tapping private placements to finance the similarly budgeted World War I pic “The Red Baron.”

Mehlitz is likewise seeking to use private placements to develop international and local projects and is keen to bring projects to Germany. He is currently overseeing Lions Gate zombie pic “Flight of the Dead,” which is backed by film fund Cinerenta and set to shoot at Studio Babelsberg near Berlin.

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