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Agency topper flies German flag in U.S.

Toronto Daily Spotlight 2012: Hanns Wolters Intl. @ 50

Besides Hanns Wolters Intl., Oliver Mahrdt is also the North American rep for German Films Service + Marketing, the official body that promotes Teutonic films and filmmakers worldwide.

Per Mahrdt, he “answers all questions German! I get new films into fests, get them exposure, help facilitate directors, promote the max out of them!”

Given the multi-voiced shareholders behind GFS+M, this is not always easy: “Sometimes,” says Mahrdt ruefully, “I see films that don’t cross my desk and I wonder why. But then again: Germany produces so many films each year.”

Mahrdt has even managed to get the word on films where there was no critical consensus, such as “Lollipop Monster,” which he introduced to MoMA’s senior curator for film, Laurence Kardish, who slotted the Ziska Riemann feature into the museum’s Kino! 2012: New Films From Germany series as the opener.

“The New York Times recommended as its weekend choice with a picture but there was still a backlash from some who felt the attention shouldn’t have gone to a first-time filmmaker,” says Mahrdt. “I also got ‘Kaddish for a Friend’ to be seen by programmers at MoMA.”

Among the slew of films that have received Academy Award nominations, including “Downfall,” “Sophie Scholl — The Final Days,” and “The Baader Meinhof Complex,” two have taken home statuettes: “Nowhere in Africa” and “The Lives of Others.”

” ‘Nowhere in Africa’ was our highest grosser,” says Zeitgeist Films’ co-prexy Nancy Gerstman. “Several distributors had passed, (then) Oliver called us. Michael Weber, then at Bavaria Film, was also very encouraging. We made $6.2 million box office; it won the Academy Award. We couldn’t ask for more.”

In representing a country’s output, Mahrdt has noticed a sea change in attitudes.

“When Americans like a film, the world wants to see what there is to like about it,” he says. “Selling to the U.S. might attract only a low price, but when a film breaks then you can make great money. Six-figure (minimum guarantees) are very, very rare, but with smart marketing, the money can come in over a film’s life. If you can sell to the U.S., then do it! It also increases the price in other markets.”

Since German Films Service + Marketing operates with a budget of $6 million a year (“not nearly enough!”), Mahrdt looks for strategic partners.

“We have an ongoing gig with MoMA, the consulate and the Goethe Institute. I look for sponsors. We do German premieres. I work closely with the CEO, Mariette Rissenbeek, where we select one film for special sales. Our last premiere was Tim Fehlbaum’s sci-fi horror film ‘Hell,’ which went down really well. Beta Film then sold it at AFM. That’s how to do it.”

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