Last year's local market surge a tough act to follow

· Brokeback Mountain (Tobis)
· Die Hoehle des gelben Hundes (X Verleih)
· Howl’s Moving Castle (Universum)
· Mr and Mrs Smith (Kinowelt)
· Now (Constantin)
2004 STATS
Top film: Spaceship Surprise — Period 1 (Constantin, $66.7 million)
Top indie: as above
Total B.O.: $1.2 billion
Releases: 430
Screens: 4,870

BERLIN — A record year for German productions and a dramatic boost at the local box office last year provided ample reason for the Teutonic industry to celebrate.

Local pic marketshare increased about 6% to 24% in 2004 thanks to the huge success of comedies “Spaceship Surprise,” which grossed $66.7 million, “Seven Dwarfs” ($49.4 million) and German Oscar contender “Downfall” ($39 million). Overall, Germany’s B.O. revenues rose 5.1% to $1.2 billion.

The local market has seen the resurgence of old players like Kinowelt, which picked up titles such as “Million Dollar Baby,” “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” and “Guess Who” from Epsilon, the Swiss-based distribution subsid of insolvent Kirch Media.

According to Kinowelt CEO Bertil le Claire, company is aiming to expand theatrical distribution to more than 10% of total revenue. Home entertainment sales accounted for 81% of Kinowelt’s revenue in 2004, with licensing and theatrical distribution making up 13% and 6%, respectively.

“We are concentrating on a broad spectrum of high-quality films from German, European and U.S. independent producers,” says Le Claire, adding that all of the films in this year’s Cannes competition lineup would be attractive titles for Kinowelt.

“Although the German theatrical market is dominated by multiplexes, not all multiplexes are focusing on mainstream Hollywood films,” le Claire adds. “More and more multiplexes are adapting to moviegoers’ needs and showcasing arthouse and quality films that appeal to an older and more discerning demographic.”

Similarly, Tania Reichert-Facilides, managing director of RTL Group’s Universum Film, is actively expanding the homevid group into theatrical distribution. Company enjoyed a surprise hit last year with “Around the World in 80 Days” and this year is releasing such eclectic titles as “Maria Full of Grace,” “Sahara” and Hayao Miyazaki’s “Howl’s Moving Castle.”

Germany’s homevid market is booming, clocking record figures last year. More than 100 million DVD and VHS units were sold in 2004, boosting industry sales by 4% to $1.09 billion.