Soccer doc triumphs on ARD

'Deutschland' attracts 10.4 million viewers in Germany

BERLIN — More than 10.4 million tuned in to watch pubcaster ARD’s broadcast of Germany’s hot fall film “Deutschland: ein Sommermaerchen” (Germany: A Summer’s Fairytale) on Wednesday.

Pic was rushed on air just two months after its cinema release, an unprecedented fast-forward that de-lighted auds but angered exhibs and probably cost the surprise B.O. smash any chance of winning German Film Academy’s best docu prize next year.

Director Soenke Wortmann’s fly-on-the-wall glimpse of Germany’s soccer team as it morphed from a lowly underdog into a nearly unbeatable powerhouse while riding a tide of high-spirited patriotic fervor at last summer’s World Cup. Pic scored a surprisingly strong B.O. run with a Euros 23.8 million ($31.6 million) gross from 4 million admissions, a spectacular return on investment for a film that its makers have said cost less than $1.3 million to make.

Because no subsidy coin was involved and WDR financed the film that was first conceived as a TV production on its own, the pubcaster was not bound by the usual rules that protect exhibs: a six-month theatrical window before the vid release, 12 months until the video-on-demand release, 18 months until a pay TV airing and 24 months before free TV broadcast.

“This was our early Christmas present to ARD viewers,” said WDR TV director Ulrich Deppendorf.

The 100 minute pic was watched by an aud of 10.46 million, which repped a 31% market share. A 15-minute special afterwards on the pic’s production also dominated. It was watched by 8.28 million (a 28% market share).

But WDR’s decision to rush the film onto free TV after its Oct. 5 bow had Teuton exhibs howling and An-dreas Kramer, deputy topper of the HDF cinema operators association, said the pic was still performing well on 138 screens and might have hit 5 million admissions if the pubcaster had not sabotaged it.

“The film was by no means even come close to exhausting its cinematic potential,” he said. “But who’s going to bother going to see it in the cinema now after it’s been on TV?”

WDR, which in agreement with Wortmann has given the pic’s profits to charity, refused to reconsider, even though the TV screening in 2006 disqualified the pic from the lucrative German film prize contention. The most successful docu in German history, an intimate look behind the scenes at the soccer players as they grew into a force that enthralled the nation, was expected to easily win the Lola for best docu.

“It’s going to be difficult for audiences to understand how the second-most successful film of the year (after ‘Perfume’) won’t be eligible for the film prize,” said Michael Koelmel, founder of distrib Kinowelt, which took a risk on the pic despite the tight theatrical window. Koelmel is hoping the German Film Academy will make an exception.

When the pic was first conceived and right up until the tournament started, there were concerns that interest in the pic would be limited. The team had gone through a rough patch earlier in the year and was expected to be knocked out of the tournament in its early stages. Germany advanced all the way to the semi-final, before losing a heartbreaker to Italy at the end of overtime.

ARD program director Guenter Struve rejected the criticism against the pubcaster for its insistence on airing the film so soon after its release. He said that the World Cup took place in 2006 and it was vital as a “crowning achievement” that the film was broadcast in the same year.

The DVD won’t be out until February.