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X Filme ups pic budgets

Recent personnel changes shake up company

BERLIN — Having come to epitomize Berlin cinema in the decade after the fall of the Wall, X Filme Creative Pool helped define modern German film with groundbreaking pics such as “Run Lola Run” and “Good Bye Lenin!”

As the company has grown, so too has its horizons. Although X Filme has embraced its evolution, it hasn’t escaped growing pains, a fact underlined by recent personnel changes.

Long-time X Filme producer and co-managing director Maria Koepf has decided to ankle the company to pursue her own projects. And three of the company’s four original founders, directors Wolfgang Becker (“Good Bye Lenin!”), Dani Levy (“Go for Zucker!”) and Tom Tykwer (“Run Lola Run”), have set up a new company — the aptly-named Y Filme — after X Filme’s own independence was compromised by a Neuer Markt-era pact with the once cash-flushed Senator Entertainment.

Part of X Filme’s lasting mystique has been the artistic commitment by its founders, who also include producer Stefan Arndt. The filmmakers were inspired by United Artists when they launched the shingle in 1994 as a creative pool, striving for the same kind of independence once sought by the film pioneers who established UA at the dawn of Hollywood. While X Filme finds itself at a crossroads, it remains one of the country’s major players, rivaling Munich-based powerhouse Constantin Film. And much could change if X Filme manages to rework its relationship with Berlin-based Senator, which recently emerged from a two-year insolvency under new management.

In 2000, X Filme agreed to sell Senator a 51% stake in the company. At the time, it seemed like a smart strategic move since Senator was eager to make English-language films out of its former Los Angeles subsidiary, while X Filme was focusing squarely on domestic product. It made sense to work together at the time, Arndt says.

Six years later, however, X Filme has overtaken its parent, growing both domestically and internationally, with cross-border projects at an all-time high. Working with foreign partners has allowed X Filme to tackle more ambitious, bigger-budgeted projects, Arndt explains.

Upcoming coproductions include Bille August’s “Good Bye Bafana” with Banana Films from Belgium, the U.K.’s Future Films, France’s ARSAM, South Africa’s Film Afrika and Fonema from Italy.

Pic, which stars Joseph Fiennes and Dennis Haysbert, is based on James Gregory’s autobiographical book about a white South African racist whose life was profoundly altered by the black prisoner he guarded for 20 years, Nelson Mandela.

Also coming soon is Maria Schrader’s “Love Life,” an adaptation of Zeruya Shalev’s novel of obsessive love set in Israel, which X Filme is producing with Tel Aviv’s Transfax; “Mongol — The Early Years of Genghis Khan,” with Russia’s CTB Film Co. and Andreevsky Flag; the animated “Grass Roots,” with U.K. producers Bruce Higham, Andy Leighton and David Lascelles; and “Imagine Me and You,” with the U.K.’s Ealing Studios, BBC Films, Cougar Films and Fragile Films.

Recent critical and box office hits have included last year’s German Film Award winner “Go for Zucker!” and this year’s box office wonder and Lola-nominated “Summer in Berlin.”

In October, Sebastian Schipper’s much anticipated “Ein Freund von mir” (“A Friend of Mine”) starring Daniel Bruehl (“Good Bye Lenin!”) and Juergen Vogel (“The Free Will”) hits local theaters.

Oskar Roehler, who directed Berlinale screener “The Elementary Particles” for Constantin’s Bernd Eichinger, is back at X Filme for his next project, “Lulu and Jimmy,” a teen love story between a wealthy German girl and the son of a black G.I.

As for X Filme’s relationship with Becker, Levi and Tykwer, Arndt says they remain X Filme shareholders, but they also value their independence.

“They are Autoren,” Their own films are much more important for them than a single film is for X Filme as a whole. We want the directors to be content.

“There are experienced new players at Senator, and we have to see that there’s trust and think about where it makes sense to work together and where it wouldn’t. We have to see what the guidelines are, and if ultimately we don’t get along, we have to know beforehand how we can split up,” Arndt adds.

According to Senator execs, the two companies are having constructive talks and moving in a positive direction for both parties. Not surprisingly, X Filme will work closely with the new Y Filme on its projects, including the upcoming “Mein Fuehrer — Die wirklich wahrste Wahrheit ueber Adolf Hitler” (“My Fuhrer — The Absolutely Truest Truth About Adolf Hitler”) — Levy’s zany and satirical answer to Constantin Film’s much ballyhooed “Downfall.”

“This will undoubtedly be the final film on Adolf Hitler,” quips Arndt.

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