Int’l Sellers, Buyers Talk Oscars in Dresden

Distribs size up latest crop of Teutonic pix at German Films Previews

It’s only July, but international film sales companies and distributors are already talking Oscars.

At the recent German Films Previews, a week of buyers-only screenings of films repped by German sales agents, the consensus seemed to be that Beta Cinema’s “Oh Boy” — Jan Ole Gerster’s Berlin-set slacker comedy — is the front runner to be Germany’s official entry in the Academy Awards’ foreign-language film category.

Germany has a stellar track record in the category, with its entries picking up five Oscar nominations in the past 10 years, which is matched by only one other country, Canada.

Another pic being touted as a hot Oscar contender at the German Films Previews in Dresden, which was attended by 75 international distributors, was Beta Cinema’s “Le Grand Cahier” (The Notebook), which won top prize at the recent Karlovy Vary Film Festival. Janos Szasz’s pic, which transposes the Brothers Grimm’s fairytale “Hansel and Gretel” to Nazi-occupied Hungary, was backed by co-production partners in Hungary and Germany, and was mostly shot in Germany, so it could qualify as either country’s submission, but it is more likely to be selected by Hungary as it is the flagship production of the fledgling Hungarian National Film Fund.

Variety asked a cross-section of the buyers who were in Dresden whether any of the films they saw stood out. Most were happy to go on the record, although many wished to remain anonymous.

One North American buyer described “Le Grand Cahier” as “a difficult film to watch, but I felt it was very well lensed and acted.” Although he said it wouldn’t be a “huge hit,” he felt it had a good chance in the awards season. “With the proper U.S. distributor behind it, I believe it has a decent chance to get an Oscar nom. The film has stayed with me. It is reminiscent of ‘Europa Europa’ and ‘In Darkness,’ two films that were both critically and commercially successful.”

The same buyer had mixed feelings about “Oh Boy,” which he described as “the German ‘Frances Ha’.” “The question is: Is the English-language ‘real’ ‘Frances Ha’ enough, so the German comp — about a man — might attract enough of an audience? Not so sure about it.” After getting his theatrical team to check it out, he concluded, “I did like this, and felt it resonated with honesty and insight.”

A U.K. buyer said, “ ‘La Grand Cahier’ did stand out as something that could win prizes and appeal to art-house audiences. ‘Exit Marrakech’ (which is repped by Arri) could do some business outside of (Germany) as the story felt quite universal, and both the performances and direction were to a high standard.”

A Hong Kong buyer agreed that “La Grand Cahier” and “Exit Marrakech” stood out, and added The Match Factory’s “Adieu Paris” to that list of star performers.

Jeff Lipsky, exec VP, marketing and distribution at U.S. shingle Adopt Films, said he was considering acquiring two pics, although he wouldn’t specify the titles.

“I saw nine films in two days this year; two were exceptional,” he said. “They both present huge marketing challenges for the U.S. though. That said, I look forward to acquiring one or both, and relish the challenge, that’s how good they are. Even if one or the other were to be submitted by Germany as its official best foreign-language film Academy Award entry, as we learned last year with Christian Petzold’s masterpiece ‘Barbara,’ rough seas would still lie ahead.”

Ray Murray, prexy at U.S. distrib Artsploitation, selected The Match Factory’s “Wetlands,” which will world premiere at Locarno, as his standout pic. He said David Wnendt’s pic was “definitely one of the most challenging, disturbing, explicit and provocative films of recent years. Loads of walkouts, but I loved it — a kinetic tale of a young kind of wildly wacky woman, obsessed with her bodily fluids, and based on a German best-seller. Not sure how people outside of Germany will receive it, but I know our crowd will absolutely love it. The best of the market for me.”

He described The Match Factory’s “Sources of Life” as “a big budget historical drama that is made for pop international audiences. Really good, despite some weird acting and editing.”

Global Screen’s “A Pact” was “a very good, involving tale of a love triangle with a twist. Should get into a few festivals because of its thriller aspect as well as its setting in old Communist East Germany. Had me guessing to (almost) the end.”

A Russian buyer also singled out “Wetlands,” complimenting its cinematography, editing and soundtrack. “I also liked it for its uplifting temper, as well as the female actress (Carla Juri). Some audience will definitely have fun.” But, given the film’s explicit content and the tightening of rules in Russia regarding the depiction of sexuality, an acquisition in that country is unlikely, the buyer said.

She added that “A Pact” and Picture Tree’s “Silent Summer” were of interest, but “more for TV than theaters.” She singled out the cast of the latter film for praise – in particular Dagmar Manzel – but added that well-known German actors “are totally unknown for our audience.”

An Israeli buyer, who said she’d acquired one of the films in Dresden, reported that: “I liked very much (Arri’s) ‘And Tomorrow Afternoon I’ll Be Dead,’ which, regretfully, is not commercial. However, it leaves you full of thoughts and emotions. This film is no doubt suitable for festivals.

“I was surprised by (Beta Cinema’s) ‘Quality Time,’ a human film about family relationships, which I liked. I am still thinking of it as a possibility.”

For a Hungarian buyer, two titles stood out: “Wetlands,” which she described as a “provocative, strong film,” and “Le Grand Cahier,” about which she said, “The director really did a great job; the twins with their dispassionate voice and faces while going through hell and training themselves to survive the cruelty. The film makes one think over big questions.”

Joanna Sawicka of Poland’s Spectator reported that a few titles had a chance on the festival circuit, such as Asli Ozge’s “Lifelong,” which she described as a “beautiful and sad story. Minimalism and the way silence is used are perfect.” The film is repped by Films Boutique.

She also singled out The Match Factory’s “Vijay and I,” which also world preems at Locarno, as having an “international character.” “It’s comedy with a great cast: Moritz Bleibtreu (well-known not only in Germany), Patricia Arquette and Michael Imperioli (whom everyone remembers from ‘The Sopranos’). A simple story with a lot of humor.”

“Wetlands” also caught her eye. “It has a lot of chance at festivals. Wnendt speaks directly about the things people usually are trying to hide.”

A few buyers said that this Previews edition was not a vintage year, while acknowledging that some films had been kept back for Venice; others disagreed, complimenting the broad range and high quality of the pics on offer. But all relished the opportunity to talk to sellers and other buyers in a relaxed environment.

Lipsky said: “German Films, once again, hosted a remarkable event, not just as a sampling of films, but as a rare opportunity for some of the most interesting buyers in the world to network on a much smaller and intimate stage than Cannes or Berlin.”

He added: “I hope this event continues for years to come because once the market for digital distribution of foreign-language films in the U.S. matures, and it will, once realistic price points for digital viewing of such films are addressed, and they will be, a market like this will be a potential bonanza for buyers.”

Other films making their market preems in Dresden included Beta Cinema’s “The Taste of Apple Seeds” and Global Screen’s “Black Brothers.”

The other sales companies attending the Previews were Media Luna, Sola Media and Valuetainment.

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