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UFA returns to film production

Eight pics a year planned

BERLIN — UFA, one of the biggest TV shingles in Germany, will return to film production in January with the creation of UFA Cinema, to be led by Teuton heavyweights Nico Hofmann, Wolf Bauer, Juergen Schuster and Thomas Friedl.

UFA intends the new venture, which will produce up to eight films a year from its Potsdam base outside Berlin, to become one of Germany’s leading film producers. Distribution is also part of the game plan. UFA has pulled off a coup by bringing on board Friedl, who joins in April after 18 years at Constantin, Germany’s top indie producer-distrib.

“We want to take the long cinema tradition of UFA Cinema and build on it,” said Bauer, the managing board chairman of the new venture. “It gives UFA an all-round program again. The German market is growing and changing rapidly, and we sense there is great potential for a new ambitious commercial player with quality in mind. The vision is to create a major European studio.”

Known as Universum Film when first created in 1917, UFA became a major worldwide cinema power in the 1920s with pics like “Metropolis” and Marlene Dietrich’s “The Blue Angel.” But it later fell under Nazi control, producing propaganda films.

UFA collapsed in 1945, but its studios were taken over by East Germany’s DEFA behind the Iron Curtain. The Communist company disappeared with German unification in 1990.

UFA in post-war West Germany was focused on cinema until it was acquired in 1964 by the Bertelsmann empire. After that, it shifted attention to TV output, en route to becoming Germany’s largest production company.

UFA, which only sporadically produced films after that, also holds a majority stake in German film and TV production outfit Teamworx.

UFA Cinema will be the seventh unit in the UFA Holding.

Bauer, who has been mulling the new project for nearly a year, said the conditions for higher quality films with bigger budgets in Germany have improved considerably, especially with the German government’s ramped up film support that, he said, should further boost export opportunities for German output.

He said there are already 40 projects in development. The first concrete projects will be presented in the spring of 2008.

“There are no limits,” Bauer told the Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper when asked how many films were planned in the longer term. “But we do want to make films with considerably larger budgets. We urgently need to raise the appeal of cinema productions in Germany. We’re going to do films with Euros 15 million ($22 million) budgets and possibly on occasions even more. In France, the budgets are an average Euros 6 million ($8.7 million), in England, more than Euros 11 million ($15.9 million). To be competitive, we’re going to have to keep up. We’re confident UFA Cinema can do that.”

Friedl told the newspaper that smaller indies in Germany had struggled in recent years and there was plenty of room for a counter-weight to Constantin.

“The market needs a second major producer,” he said. “There used to be more. Tobis, Senator, Kinowelt — they’re not there the way they once were. We’ve got a situation now where there are too many films made each year but too few with commercial quality.”

Gerhard Zeiler, topper of the RTL group, said UFA’s return to cinema was a logical step.

“The UFA group has produced a number of cinema-quality films in recent years that rank among the best in European television,” he said. “So it’s only logical for UFA to return to the cinema. I’ve got complete confidence in this first-class team.”

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