International partnerships boost pics

Global producers tap into German funding

BERLIN — Germany may be the cornerstone of the EU’s financial comeback plan, and now it’s looking more like a film financing savior for some of its cash-strapped neighbors.

The country boasts nine regional and federal film funds offering a combined $375 million in annual coin, a plethora of production companies eager to team with foreign partners, and state-of-the-art studio and post-production facilities.

Reflecting the introduction of the new $80 million-a-year Federal Film Fund (DFFF) in 2007, the number of German international co-productions jumped 35% from 2008 to 2009, resulting in a total of 77 co-productions.

Pandora Film, Pallas Film, Razor Film, Rohfilm, Bavaria Film and Studio Babelsberg are just a few of the domestic players who actively partner with international co-producers; other notable players include sales company Match Factory and local distrib Neue Visionen Filmverleih, which specialize in international indie films and co-productions.

A funding crisis in Hungary, where the government has ordered a complete overhaul of public film finance, has made co-production coin even more important this year. With its historic links to German-speaking Europe, Hungary has long been active in co-productions with Teutonic partners.

Marco Mehlitz, chief exec of Berlin-based Lago Film, partnered with Jeno Habermann of Budapest-based FilmArt and Sandor Soeth of Berlin’s Intuit Pictures on Hungarian helmer Isztvan Szabo’s “The Door,” about a female writer and her enigmatic housekeeper, which received $2.27 million in German funding; the pic shot in Germany and Hungary, and stars Helen Mirren and Martina Gedeck.

In addition to veteran helmers like Bela Tarr, who picked up a Silver Bear in Berlin this year for “The Turin Horse,” Hungary’s new wave of young directors, including Benedek Fliegauf (“Womb”), Szabolcs Hajdu (“Bibliotheque Pascal”) and Kornel Mundruczo (“Tender Son: The Frankenstein Project”), have also tapped German coin for their recent films.

Germany has become an increasingly essential co-production partner for Bulgaria, where similar government spending cuts have left the film industry in turmoil.

Producer Ivan Doykov says that some 90% of Bulgarian co-productions are realized with German partners and funds.

Sofia-based RFF Intl. partnered with Halle-based Pallas Film on Bulgaria’s biggest pic in decades, Stephan Komandarev’s hit “The World Is Big and Salvation Lurks Around the Corner,” starring German thesp Carlo Ljubek.

Germany is a natural partner for the Czechs, too.

“Germany is obviously very important co-production country thanks to the open policy of its regional funds, even though it comes with the spending requirements,” says Pavel Strnad of Prague’s Negativ Film, which is producing Bohdan Slama’s “The Blue Tiger” and Thomas Lunak’s animation feature “Alois Nebel” with German partners.

Russia has been very active in tapping German funds for projects in recent years.

Bavaria Film co-produced Alexander Mindadze’s Russian pic “Innocent Saturday,” about the Chernobyl nuclear disaster.

Germany will soon see a rise in co-productions from Turkey following the recent launch of the German-Turkish Co-Production Development Fund, which is sure to spur joint film projects between the two countries.

While greater funding opportunities have transformed Germany into a key co-production player, local producers warn that it’s not a free-for-all.

“There’s always this expectation (of producers that) come to (Germany) and (think) it will be easy to collect money here to make there films, and that’s actually not the case,” says Mehlitz, who’s also co-producer of David Cronenberg’s upcoming shrink drama “A Dangerous Method,” starring Viggo Mortensen and Michael Fassbender.

“Not every film is a co-production. Just because you ask for money in Germany doesn’t make it a co-production. … A co-production needs to be a film that actually has something in it for both sides and some reason for it to be co-produced with two countries, otherwise it won’t fly with any of the funders here.”

Mehlitz points to “A Dangerous Method” as a good example of a natural co-production. The pic, which analyzes the relationship between Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud and the troubled woman who comes between them, has a Canadian director, Canadian, U.K. and German backing, shot throughout Germany and secured more than $5 million in German subsidy coin. In addition to the existing subsidy funds and potential partners, Germany has an array of bilateral co-production agreements with many countries, including Australia, Brazil, India, Israel, Canada, New Zealand and South Africa, aimed at strengthening cultural ties and providing foreign access to domestic film funds.

Both on federal and state levels, the country has specific co-production and co-development initiatives with France, Austria, Switzerland, Poland and Turkey.

The German government sees the country’s increasingly cosmopolitan industry as a major plus.

“This collaboration overcomes borders, creates understanding and trust, and more capital makes greater quality possible,” notes German Federal Culture Commissioner Bernd Neumann.

Recent productions include Gustavo Taretto’s Argentinean romantic drama “Medianeras” (Pandora); Aktan Abdykalykov’s Kyrgyz tragicomic drama “The Light Thief” (Pallas); Miranda July’s “The Future” (Razor); Marat Sarulu’s “Songs From the Southern Seas” (Rohfilm), a family drama set in a small Kazakh village; and Vincent Paronnaud and Marjane Satrapi’s Iranian tale “Chicken With Plums” (Studio Babelsberg).

Buenos Aires-based Rizoma Films has become a regular partner for German producers. In addition to “Medianeras,” it’s also co-producing Pablo Stoll’s upcoming “Tres” (Three) with Pandora and partnered with Berlin-based Rohfilm on Rodrigo Moreno’s “A Mysterious World.”