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Toronto: German Hits at Home Help Biz Ride Big B.O. Wave in 2017

Germany’s film industry is set for a very good year, with a slew of high-profile local films drawing strong B.O. at home, while also performing well on the international festival circuit, while the government gave a major boost in film funding.

The return of Michael Herbig with Warner’s “Bullyparade — Der Film,” an adaptation of the multi-hyphenate’s hit TV comedy sketch show, has already lit up the box office: The film opened Aug. 17 with 485,000 admissions, the best start of any German film since the hit high school comedy “Fack ju Goehte 2” bowed in September 2015.

Not surprisingly, the third installment of Constantin Film’s hugely successful “Fack Ju Goehte” franchise is among the most highly anticipated of this year’s releases.

Local pics are sure to propel the year’s box office, which could use a boost after declining more than 12% last year from €1.17 billion ($1.38 billion) in 2015 to just over $1.2 billion. German films accounted for 22.7% of the total 121.1 million admissions in 2016, down from 27.5% the previous year. Yet local productions already saw an improved performance in the first half of the year with a 10.3% revenue increase to $84 million, according to trade publication Blickpunkt Film.

Top German titles in the first six months included DCM’s “Bibi & Tina: Perfect Pandemonium,” Detlev Buck’s latest installment in his hugely successful franchise about a teen witch with $10 million; Studiocanal’s “My Blind Date With Life,” Marc Rothemund’s true story of a visually impaired man whose extraordinary determination lands him a job at a prestigious hotel, with $4.6 million; and “Vier gegen die Bank,” Warner’s star-studded comedy heist pic and Wolfgang Petersen’s first German-language film in more than 30 years, released at the end of 2016 and taking in some $8 million-plus.

Martin Moszkowicz, Constantin’s executive chairman, says the group has so far enjoyed a good year and is expecting an even better second half.
“‘Fack Ju Goehte 3,’ the third installment of the most successful German movie franchise of all time, will be this year’s No. 1 movie opening in October everywhere in Germany,” he says. “Constantin is having a very strong third quarter so far. We currently have three movies in the top 10 on approximately 1,500 screens and with an overall market share of more than 25%.”

The producer-distributor’s current hits include Bavarian cop comedy “Griesnockerlaffaire”; “Ostwind — Aufbruch nach Ora,” the second sequel to the popular franchise about a girl and her horse, this time around on a galloping adventure in Spain; and Leander Haussmann’s family comedy “Das Pubertier,” about a hapless father witnessing the transformation if his sweet little girl into a petulant teen with the onset of puberty.

Moszkowicz expects “an outstandingly strong year overall — with several blockbusters coming until the end of the year.”

Those include “Jugend ohne Gott” (Youth Without God), a dystopian drama set in the near future in a school for high achievers and loosely based on the 1937 anti-fascist novel by Odon von Horváth (published in English as “The Age of the Fish”); “Tigermilch” (Tiger Milk), about the close friendship of two teenage girls coming of age in Berlin’s urban jungle; and Rothemund’s other fact-based drama, “Das Bescheuerte Herz” (This Crazy Heart), which stars Elyas M’Barek (of “Fack ju Goehte” fame) as a privileged young man who befriends a terminally ill teenage boy.

“These are all very commercial titles — I can’t think of a year with a similarly strong line-up,” Moszkowicz says.

A number of German productions are set to make a splash on the international circuit, including Wim Wenders’ “Submergence,” starring Alicia Vikander and James McAvoy, which world premieres in Toronto and subsequently opens the San Sebastian Festival.

Also unspooling is Fatih Akin’s timely thriller “In the Fade,” starring Diane Kruger as a woman seeking justice against neo-Nazis murder of her husband and son anchors this skilled though familiar drama. The film bowed at Cannes in May and is Germany’s entry in the Oscar foreign-language film race.

Jan Zabeil’s critically acclaimed family drama “Three Peaks,” starring Alexander Fehling, won the Variety Piazza Grande Award in Locarno and makes its North American premiere in Toronto. Fehling also appears in Robert Schwentke’s World War II drama “Der Hauptmann” (The Captain), which likewise bows in Toronto.

Speaking to Variety, Fehling stresses that a young breed of filmmakers is taking fresh new approaches to cinema.

“A new generation of storytellers is rising, whose main focus is neither the history of our country nor to always be understood and liked by the audience, but more to open up a window to certain ways of seeing the world and experiencing the crazy streams of life as it is today, which ultimately creates interesting parts for actors.”

For Fehling, “Ambiguity is the key. The abysses and anxieties of a character are much more interesting than some sort of shiny side. If a great understanding and a big question mark come together, I become alert.”

That was one of the factors that led Fehling to “Three Peaks,” a tense drama focusing on the “ambiguous relationship” between a man and his girlfriend’s young son during a trip in the mountains.

The local industry back home, meanwhile, is celebrating a major boost in federal film funding after new regulations went into effect in August.

Announced earlier this year by German culture and media minister Monika Gruetters, the move enlarges the German Federal Film Fund (DFFF), adding a new €25 million ($29.5 million) fund, dubbed DFFF II, aimed at large-scale domestic and international productions, which is set to grow to €75 million ($88.6 million) next year. The DFFF I will be continued with €50 million ($59 million) for a total funding pot next year of €125 million ($147.7 million)

The DFFF II will also allow local visual effects studios in addition to local production companies to apply for funding for commissioned projects, something Germany’s dynamic vfx sector has long been seeking.

Marvel Studios, in particular, has been a major international client of German vfx companies and the new regulations will likely mean even more work for studios in Berlin, Munich and Stuttgart.

The overall increase also raises the amount of funding the DFFF can provide per film.

Until now the program offered a 20% rebate on productions if they spend at least 25% of their budget in Germany. The DFFF I and II will now provide up to a 25% rebate.

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