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German Co-prods Woo the World

Teuton producers tap India, Turkey and Russia

Germany has long played a significant role in international co-productions, but in recent months clear commercial interests as well as new funding initiatives have boosted collaboration with partners from Eastern Europe to Turkey to Russia to India.

Mathias Schwerbrock of Film Base Berlin is co-producing Indian-born director Prashant Nair’s quirky, 1980s-set Hindi-language comedy “Umrika,” about a young Indian boy trying to find out what happened to his older brother, who set out years earlier for America.

Film Base Berlin is co-producing the $1.5 million Umrika with Jim Birmant of Paris-based Bliss and Ajai Rai and Alan McAlex’s Mumbai-based Jar Pictures, which recently boarded the project. The producers are aiming to secure financing support from Germany, France and India in addition to private equity. The pic is scheduled to shoot in India and the U.S. later this year, with post-production to be done in Germany and France.

Schwerbrock says he sees a definitive interest among Indian filmmakers in collaborating with European partners.

“Traditionally, India had never been a co-production market, but that is changing,” says Schwerbrock, adding that recent co-production initiatives at the Intl. Film Festival of India in Goa and its film bazaar have helped to boost interest in foreign co-productions among local filmmakers.

While many in Germany see great potential in working with partners in Russia, turmoil at the Russian Cinema Fund has left the future of some international co-productions in question.

German superstar Til Schweiger, who also enjoys huge popularity in Russia, is set to star in “Antalyagrad,” a German-Russian comedy co-starring Russian multihyphenate Fyodor Bondarchuk (director and star of such films as “The 9th Company” and “The Inhabited Island”) and the most mainstream production in the works between the two countries. Berlin-based licensing group A Co. Filmed Entertainment and Moscow’s Non-Stop Production are partnering on the project.

Alexander van Duelmen, A Co. CEO and “Antalyagrad” producer, says there are lucrative opportunities for filmmakers to make movies that appeal to both German and Russian auds, pointing out that both Germany and Russia are huge theatrical markets.

Van Duelmen has had the idea of bringing Schweiger and Bondarchuk together for years, saying the two really complement each other well, and with “Antalyagrad”, he found a commercially appealing film aimed at both markets.

Antalyagrad follows two families, one German, one Russian, and their stubborn male heads, who clash while on vacation in Turkey. Antalyagrad has received initial financing from the German-Russia Co-Development Fund.

The initiative, launched in 2011 by the German Federal Film Board (FFA), regional funders Medienboard Berlin-Brandenburg (MBB) and Mitteldeutsche Medienfoerderung (MDM) and the Russian Cinema Fund, has backed eight projects with more than $200,000 so far but whether it will continue remains unclear.

The Russian Cinema Fund suddenly shut down the initiative in April due to internal restructuring measures that led to the cancelation of all of its international activities, including existing co-production agreements with various countries, as it refocuses on primarily improving the box office market share of local films.

The Russian Culture Ministry is nevertheless expected to re-sign international pacts, including the German-Russian Co-Development Fund.

“Obviously the current cancellation of the Co-Development Fund does not affect previous funding commitments like that for ‘Antalyagrad,’ ” says A Co.’s Annegret Winkler. “All these agreements will be fully honored. But for the producers this is a very disappointing development since co-productions between Germany and Russia are a very exciting opportunity for both countries. We hope and are quietly optimistic that this initiative will be pursued in the future.”

FFA CEO Peter Dinges adds: “Right now we are looking at the developments in Russia with some concern. However, we have been told that the development agreement will be re-signed by Russia’s culture ministry. We will be more than glad if we can continue with the development fund.”

Alexey Uchitel’s Rock Films in St. Petersburg is working on two German-Russian co-productions backed by the Co-Development Fund.

“We are hoping that the work that has been done to encourage the German-Russian co-productions will continue and we will be able to complete the two projects and start new ones,” says Rock Films producer Olga Aylarova. “Development grants are essential help for us — it is always so much easier to find financing once you have got a great script.”

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